Good timing is an essential ingredient of success. For Lara Tyler Chambers ’03, the Institute’s decision to open its doors to women came at just the right moment in her life.
As the daughter of an alumnus, VMI had always been a part of her life. “I grew up with VMI. It was a household name. My father’s brother rats stopped by my home routinely, and my family cheered on the Keydets from the bleachers.” Yet she had no expectations of attending, because until her junior year in high school, VMI was a single-gender college.
During her senior year in high school, her long-held anxieties about college admission peaked. As she recalled, “I was preoccupied with the academic challenges, determining the best major and the overwhelming scale of collegiate life.” When she decided to study civil engineering, she was able to focus on determining which school offered her the best program. After evaluating various programs in terms of structure, class size and access to professors, she concluded that VMI best suited her. “Its academics and structure, combined with my familiarity with and trust in the Institute, made it the best choice for me.”
One of VMI’s first female cadets, Chambers succeeded in the classroom and within the Corps, eventually becoming a cadet captain – in fact the first S-7 captain responsible for cadet life and Corps morale. It was an experience that underlined one lesson she had learned while growing up. “Put simply: Don’t be afraid to be a trailblazer. Being an older child, involved in athletics and from an entrepreneurial family, I always gravitated toward people doing something first and taking the associated risks with doing so.”
She also learned another critical leadership lesson from her experience, one she carried forward throughout her business and that she said is “ingrained in my character.” Again, she put it simply, “Leadership is personal and that means getting your hands dirty.” Asked to explain what she meant, Chambers replied, “As the first S-7 captain, there wasn’t any past plan to be followed or data to be examined. We had to work as a team to develop a plan, execute it, monitor the results and then adapt based on those results. Reflecting on my career, I’ve encountered the same lesson over and over again, whether it’s dealing with a change order at my own business, or figuring out how to get this new class of rats over a certain ‘mountain.’ There’s never going to be an easy plan that applies to everyone. Leadership requires you to roll up your sleeves and figure it out with your team.”
After graduation, Chambers returned to the Richmond area and almost immediately started applying her education and her leadership experience, establishing the Tyler Development Group LLC, an engineering and real estate development group. Under her leadership, the company has developed to manage all aspects of the land development cycle; including re-zoning, land acquisition, plan development and design, project construction and financial management.
Although she often visited the Institute and had an interest in helping VMI, she had never seriously examined the possibility of serving the Institute in a formal fashion, such as member of the board of one of the VMI Alumni Agencies. Then, in early 2015, George P. Ramsey III ’72, then-president of the Board of Visitors, called her and asked her to serve as the first alumna on the BOV. “I’ll never forget my response,” Chambers said. “‘Are you sure you have the right number?’”
Chambers admits to having reservations about joining the Board of Visitors. At 34, she thought herself too young, “that the position was meant for someone older, seemingly wiser, more experienced in life.” She took time to evaluate both the responsibilities of being on the board and her ability to contribute meaningfully to its work. She then embarked on what she recalls as “exhaustive soul searching.”
“I recalled my time as a cadet, contemplated my personal career, considered the impact to my family and sought wisdom from my father and my brother rats. Ultimately, I said yes. I decided that my family’s VMI legacy, my love for the school, the career path I chose, along with being lucky enough to attend VMI during a critical turning point in its history, would give me a perspective that not many people have and made me a perfect fit for the BOV.” Chambers admits that it also took some courage to accept the post. “I vividly remember when General Peay called to congratulate me. My immediate – genuine but embarrassing – response was, ‘I’m scared.’ Let’s just say General Peay put me at ease, and for that, he’s a five-star in my book.”
Being on the Board of Visitors gives Chambers a different perspective of VMI that most alumni don’t have and a more detailed understanding of what it is that makes the Institute tick. One thing that struck her immediately was, “Since I graduated 15 years ago, all aspects of the Institute – from financial stability, physical improvements, academic advancement, to leadership studies – have undergone transformative change. It is dramatically humbling to observe how this unbelievable change has occurred – through the tireless, selflessness and unwavering commitment of the VMI family. Their efforts and hearts are so large that it’s nearly unquantifiable.”
Asked what positive things going on at VMI today, she responded, “First, it’s the faculty and staff. They’re utterly dedicated to making VMI better and improving the experience our cadets have. But, without question, the most positive, the most impressive aspect of VMI are the cadets. Every cadet I have talked to over the last four years has been impressive. Not only are they off-the-charts intelligent, they seem to know exactly where they want to go. And they know exactly how to get there. Moreover, cadets treat other people in a way that is beyond their years.”
“As citizen-soldiers, the cadets I have encountered are redefining the standard. Most people their age wouldn’t take on the demanding requirements they face daily, but they seem to carry them willingly. They see the value of a VMI education.”
Looking ahead at VMI’s future, Chambers said that VMI has a great opportunity: To show the world the value of the citizen-soldier. “As our globe becomes more connected, as physical and figurative borders shrink, people will demand more of their leaders and their societies. VMI has the tangible opportunity to align its rich history, capabilities, and resources to deliver what modern society is screaming for: Capable, purposeful and honorable men and women who are ready to succeed and, above all, to serve. In other words, they want, they need, citizen-soldiers.”
While the responsibilities of being a member of the Board of Visitors are demanding, Chambers has no complaints. “I love VMI, and I could not be more proud of it and its graduates. VMI has given me so much, and I will be forever indebted to it. Being able to contribute to VMI’s future is truly its own reward.”
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.