Sarah Tallman, Office of the Vice President for Research

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Sarah Tallman doesn’t mind leaving her comfort zone.

Tallman, business manager for the compliance units under the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), ran for Staff Council, even though the prospect didn’t sound particularly enjoyable at the time. (She has served for six years now, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience.) Her family recently started a new business in North Liberty, investing money in this venture during times of economic uncertainty.

Heck, she once lived as a farm wife of sorts, moving with her newlywed husband to Mississippi to live and work on a catfish farm.

“I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason,” Tallman says about the events of her life. “I have a sense that things are meant to be.”

Tallman has worked at the University for 14 years, 10 of those with OVPR. She oversees the budgets and human resources for the human subjects, animal resources, conflict of interest in research, and environmental health and safety offices. Sometimes she wishes her work was more centralized—she has two workspaces on campus—but she has the opportunity to get out and about as a result. “It’s probably a good thing. I have a lot of energy,” she says.

Tallman took a few minutes out of her day to talk with fyi about her time on Staff Council, how she discovered her love for accounting, and what she does when she has a minute of free time.

Talk about Staff Council: why did you run, and what has been most enjoyable?

Shortly after Cheryl Reardon became the budget officer and senior HR rep for OVPR, she suggested I should run. My first thought: “Oh, that stuff isn’t for me!” My second thought: “What if I don’t win? I’ll be embarrassed and sad!” But she said it would be a good experience, so I ran and was elected. And it turns out she was right. It’s been unbelievable. This is my sixth year, so I’m almost done. I’m really going to miss it when I’m done.

Staff Council is a wonderful network. I’ve met people I normally wouldn’t encounter. I’ve learned about numerous campus issues, and I see how other people feel about them. When I served on the executive committee, I was able to meet with the president once a month. I’ve gained a new appreciation for what the whole university does. It got me outside of my own small world.

Are your colleagues aware of your past life as a catfish farmer’s wife?

A few of my favorite things…
Anything with cream cheese


Light lunches at the Bread Garden (especially with Cheddar Bacon Potato soup)

Books by John Grisham or David Baldacci

The Eagles (as in Don Henley and Glenn Frey, not the Philadelphia football team)

Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand; “chick flicks”

Castle, The Good Wife, Desperate Housewives, Brothers and Sisters

The Hawkeyes AND the Cyclones

Iowa City West Trojans

No—that was some time ago. I met my husband in high school. We went off to college—I went here, he went to Iowa State. After graduation, he landed this job with ConAgra, managing a catfish farm in Greenville, Miss. The farm supplied restaurants and grocery stores. We literally got married on a Saturday, opened presents on a Sunday, then loaded our trailer and drove down to Mississippi. We did our honeymoon on the way, at the Ozarks.

It was quite an adjustment, moving out of the Midwest and moving to the heart of the Delta. We were terribly homesick, but in retrospect it was the best thing we could have done. We situated ourselves far from our family, we met some dear friends, and we had our first son down there. Once he was born, we decided it was time to go back home. Those couple of years gave us an appreciation for the Midwest. We didn’t realize how much we took for granted.

When you were young, did you dream about living on a catfish farm?

Well, no, but I don’t think I had any clear ideas back then about what I wanted to be. I do know I wanted nothing to do with jobs that dealt with blood. My mom is a nurse, my sister is a nurse, my mother-in-law was a nurse. Not me.

I got my degree in psychology and social work. I thought working in social services was my calling, until I did an internship with the Department of Human Services in Tipton—no way could I do that kind of work. I had some odd jobs before I fell into some bookkeeping work. I eventually went back to school to get an accounting degree. I really like this sort of work.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

My husband just opened Alpha Graphics, a digital marketing printing business in North Liberty. He had been traveling and selling research equipment for 25 years, and grew tired of being away from home so often. I do the books and HR for our business on the weekends and at night. My older son also works with us. We have completely changed gears, investing a lot of money, time, and effort. This is my biggest risk.

Has the risk paid off?

We’ve been cautiously optimistic. Every month looks a little better. We’re getting there—but I’m not about to retire from the University or anything!

What do you like to do in your free time?

I work out at Body and Balance. I go to yoga at least once a week. And I love to cook and bake. I’m always bringing cookies or banana bread for my colleagues. Baking and shopping are my therapeutic activities. We had two Thanksgiving feasts this year, both at my house.

Why would you do that to yourself?

I like it that way—maybe because I’m very organized and a bit of a control freak! (laughs)