All in the family

Generations of Schulich scholars follow in engineering footsteps

When George Zahary moved his family to Calgary from small town Ontario in 1978, he had one goal in mind: to give his children the chance to attend a good university in a city full of opportunity. 

Zahary was a mining engineer working in Elliot Lake when he took a job in Calgary doing coal mining research for the federal government. Little did he know, that decision would result in generations of Zaharys following each other’s footsteps down the halls of what is now the Schulich School of Engineering.

“We have a long family history of being engineers in the resource industry in Canada,” says John Zahary, who was in high school when the family moved. “And I give my father full credit.”

Older sister went first

It started with John’s older sister, who enrolled in Civil Engineering at the University of Calgary. John followed close behind, graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1983.

Years later, John’s three children, along with their two cousins, made Schulich their new home. Soon, pursuing engineering at the University of Calgary became a family habit, born of a mutual love for the city and the role it plays in Canada’s resource industry.

“I knew it was pretty much between being an NHL superstar - which didn’t really pan out with my athletic abilities - and being an engineer,” says Paul Zahary, BSc 2012, the eldest of John’s three kids. “Growing up seeing my dad being successful and my grandpa as a successful mining engineer, there really wasn’t any question that I would be anything other than an engineer.”

Schulich an easy choice

The decision to attend Schulich was just as easy. Paul, who works as a research engineer at Imperial, says the school’s connections and proximity to the oil and gas sector allowed him to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Petroleum and gave him the opportunity to intern at Imperial Oil, the company where he now works as a research engineer. 

The path towards Schulich wasn’t as obvious for Paul’s younger sister, Camila, who completed a masters in Mechanical Engineering in 2017.

“I didn’t always know I would be an engineer,” she says. But as her love of math and science grew throughout high school, it started to make more sense. Of course, it helped to have familial inspiration.

“We’re all kind of inquisitive minds,” says Camila, who now works as a project engineer at Keyera. “To me, engineering is about problem solving. We learn how things work, why they work and how to apply that to problems. That’s what made it really interesting for me. It’s a new challenge every day.”

The latest entry

Their youngest sibling, Shannon, is the latest Zahary to walk through Schulich’s doors, a decision that was celebrated within the family. Shannon is also pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering and decided to take advantage of a relatively new program that’s allowed her to travel to Spain for a spring semester.

“You want your kids to be successful and do something they enjoy and love,” says their dad, John. He describes all his children as hard workers and good students who are interested in a variety of subjects. He figures the fact that they all decided to continue the family’s engineering legacy was more a matter of him leading by example rather than forcible suggestion.

“I didn’t guide them into doing it but I was certainly supportive,” he says. “I’m very fond of the University of Calgary and the engineering program—it’s been very good for me and very good for my kids—but my advice was be interested in whatever you want to be and pursue your best passion.”