Poli-Sci Professor Leads Another Life as a Brigadier General

Duquesne U.

Lewis G. Irwin
October 08, 2012

Lewis G. Irwin, a Duquesne University associate professor of public policy and American government who is also a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve, finishes class at the end of the week and heads to the airport. One weekend he's in Knoxville, Tenn. Another, Fort Knox in Kentucky. Still another, Fort Bliss, Texas.

After a 26-year career in the Army and Army Reserve, Mr. Irwin, 47, was named brigadier general this summer—a position that less than 1 percent of officers reach. But despite the difference between talk of demolitions or route clearance, and public policy or residential learning, Mr. Irwin says the two careers fit well together.

"When I'm commanding 45 different combat engineer units, when I'm in that setting, the Army refers to us at that level as strategic leaders. I can't have that impact on each individual soldier," Mr. Irwin says. "But when I'm in the classroom, I'm all the way down at the tactical level. I get to interact with students and help them to develop and to learn as critical thinkers and as students."

Mr. Irwin left active duty in 2000—the same year he began teaching at Duquesne—but he still felt called to serve, he says. Duquesne and Mr. Irwin's colleagues supported him. Now, the professor, who has a Ph.D. in political science from Yale University and previously taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, spends his weekdays teaching and working with a university residential-learning community. On weekends, he travels across the southeastern states, commanding 5,300 soldiers in the 926th Engineer Brigade.

"I'm able not just to talk about an academic discussion of how things work in government, but I'm also able to bring real-world talk about things that I've seen into the classroom," Mr. Irwin says. That means stories about his time on tour in Operation Desert Storm or the year he spent leading the effort to design and enact reforms in the Afghan National Police. His book on the latter experience, Disjointed Ways, Disunified Means: Learning From America's Struggle to Build an Afghan Nation, was released in May.

Doing it all is challenging, he says, but "it's also a tremendous opportunity and tremendous honor."