It’s not surprising that one of several ways George Shirley has given back is by helping to get safe water and adequate sanitation to some of the billions of people in the world who don’t have one or the other — or neither.
The 27-year Ahwatukee resident spent most of his career with Carollo Engineers — a Phoenix company that, since 1933, has been the largest in the nation devoted solely to water-related projects.
For his achievements in those projects and his philanthropy, Shirley last month was inducted into The University of Arizona (UA) College of Engineering Hall of Fame — a rare honor, because one of the requirements is that graduates of the college must have spent at least 50 years in the field of engineering.
But the honor is reserved for alumni “who have made significant contributions to their professions, the college and society — from local communities to global economies.”
In that regard, Shirley has hit not just one or two of those marks, but all of them.
A native of Miami now living in Gila County, Arizona, — as is his wife Dixie — Shirley said he was inspired to become a civil engineer by a family friend named Herb Hall.
“He took me out to do surveying and talked about engineering and construction,” Shirley recalled.
And that inspired him to attend UA, where he earned his BS and master’s in the mid-1960s.
After a three-year stint as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Shirley in 1971 joined Carollo as a project engineer, gradually working his way up to partner and vice president.
He is proudest of the work he did on two projects that have impacted Arizonans and Nevadans for decades.
One was a corridor study he led for the Arizona Department of Transportation for the East Papago and Hohokam freeways in 1987, which he noted “set major components for the development of Tempe and east Phoenix.”
He also was the resident engineer for the development of a plant on Lake Mead that treats 400 million gallons of water a day.
While he pursued his engineering career, Dixie also was fashioning her own.
After a 10-year hiatus for family reasons, Dixie went back to college as a “re-entry student” at Mesa Community College, then went on to Arizona State University where she got her degree and eventually became a teacher and then the first principal of Sierra Elementary School when it opened in Ahwatukee. She even selected the site for the school nearly 30 years ago during her time as an administrator.
The Shirleys’ careers have merged in their philanthropic endeavors.
They support Water for People, a global nonprofit that tries to bring access to clean water for the estimated 2.1 billion people in the world who don’t have it as well as adequate sanitation facilities to some 4.5 billion people.
They also support Habitat for Humanity. “I do some home building construction around the Valley” for Habitat, George said.
The Shirleys also support education in two ways that reflect their individual career paths — the George and Dixie Graduate Fellowship at UA’s College of Engineering and the Dixie and George Shirley Re-Entry Student Endowment Fund for Maricopa Community Colleges.
“The motivation for graduate fellowship endowment was to help young students pursuing studies in water resource engineering – like Carollo Engineers does.
Fittingly, the UA College of Engineering Hall of Fame also recognizes alumni who “inspire the next generation of engineers to pursue positions of leadership and serve their communities and country.”