Leading with resilience

Leadership comes naturally for Chemical Technology grad

When Tara Chahl left the military at age 31 and decided to study Chemical Technology at NAIT, she had no background in chemistry.

She took the prerequisite courses at night school, then worked tirelessly to succeed in her program. “I would do 16 hours of homework on the weekends – I had no life,” says Tara, who graduated in 2008 on the dean’s list.

She later returned to NAIT for her project management certificate and exam prep course. She now works as a project manager for Keymay Industries, a pipeline and civil engineering company, and is a member of NAIT’s Board of Governors.

“From the military, I learned about being committed to something and following it through; not just finishing it with a moderate effort but with everything you have,” she says.

It’s the same attitude that has propelled her to success in her career and in athletics. Tara competes in ironman triathlons and runs ultramarathons. Last year she completed the gruelling, 106-km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc through the French, Italian and Swiss Alps, after breaking her shin half way through the race.

She completed the grueling, 106-km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc after breaking her shin half way through the race.

Giving up wasn’t an option for her. “I’m not saying it was smart, but I’m just not programmed that way. It took me 18 months to qualify while trying to work my job. Then I travelled 8,000 kilometres to run in the grandfather of all ultras. I knew if I could just take the pain and run/walk for 48 hours, I would finish.” Needless to say, she did.

That she runs at all is an accomplishment, after severely injuring her knee during a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Despite seven reconstructive surgeries, she decided to start running again. Why? “Because they told me I couldn’t,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve been running endurance since I was 12 – it’s a big part of who I am.”

“Even now, I can run on a treadmill for four hours straight. I’m just very disciplined and focused, and I use it to figure things out. If I have a problem or an issue, I go for a long run.”

Rising through the ranks

Tara brings that same determination to everything she does, from excelling at school as a mature student to rising through the ranks in her career.

She credits her polytechnic education at NAIT with much of her success, because it gave her the skills she needed to work in her field right out of school. When she was promoted to manage projects, she returned to NAIT to learn those skills as well. “You see a lot of university students come to NAIT to learn the practical part of the job, because they have the education, but not the experience,” she adds.

When she was promoted to manage projects, she returned to NAIT to learn those skills as well.

Tara sits on the Council of the Association of Science and Engineering Technologists of Alberta (ASET), where she works to promote the organization and encourage more women in technology fields to take on senior leadership roles.

In 2017, she won the Young Women in Energy award from the Calgary-based organization of the same name which champions the interests of young women in the energy industry.

In her current role, Tara oversees crews in the field and is responsible for quality assurance.

“I like the leadership aspect of it,” she says. “I don’t think I could sit at a desk 9-5 doing the same thing all the time.”

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