Rancho Santa Fe resident Diane Koester-Byron values the importance of a well-rounded, quality education. For that reason, she’s contributed $250,000 to the capital campaign of Academy of Our Lady of Peace, which is an all-girls’ private Catholic high school located in the North Park area of San Diego. It’s the oldest high school in the city. Koester-Byron is an OLP board member, whose oldest daughter graduated from the school. Her youngest daughter is a junior there.
The capital campaign – called Boundless -- will help create a campus for the next generation of OLP students while actively preserving its historical architecture. The campaign is the next critical step that will bring to life a strategic plan 15 years in the making.
Koester-Byron is no stranger to visionary planning. She is the founder and majority owner of I.E. – Pacific, Inc., a construction and engineering services contracting company. She credits her perseverance in a male-dominated profession to her solid upbringing in a family that owned a concrete and excavating business, and the support of her husband and family. But she still gets a lot of pushback.
“Many people assume that I am not a real woman-owned company. They assume the company is run by my husband and I am just a figurehead. We actually still get calls asking for my husband, after being in business for 26 years. Needless to say, I don’t return those calls!”
IEP has been listed as one of the top-10, largest women-owned businesses in the San Diego Business Journal for the past 10 years. But Koester-Byron admits she’s had her challenges in the industry. “Even though I had a civil engineering degree, it seemed there was always a time that you needed to prove yourself. I still get questions when I am with my male peers today, questioning how or why I got into construction. It still isn’t the norm for women to be in construction. The industry is changing but is still very much male-dominated.”
Despite that reality, Koester-Byron has learned to trust in her own knowledge and be comfortable in her own skin. “I actually think, in many ways, the female mind is well suited for construction. We tend to be detail oriented and tend to have the ability to multi-task. To be honest, if I don’t have several projects going on at work and home, I feel lost. I enjoy being challenged and having my mind occupied.”
Koester-Byron wants her daughters to grow up with that same sense of confidence and courage, which is one of the reasons she chose to send them to OLP. “My oldest daughter, Madison, graduated from OLP in 2015. It was a very positive experience and she came out knowing how to study and learn and be very confident. We could see a marked difference between her and some of her peers who did not graduate from an all-girl education. She is very comfortable speaking in public. I attribute that comfort to the self-esteem and confidence she received during her education at OLP. My youngest daughter, Alison, is currently a junior at OLP and will graduate in 2021. She is also having a very positive experience in her education at OLP.”
When her oldest daughter, Madison, was still attending the school, Koester-Byron was asked to join the Facilities Committee due to her construction background. She worked on the early stages of the school’s renovation and construction planning process. After that, she was asked to join the board. “I am a strong believer in all-girl education and accepted the board position.”
Koester-Byron has also become very involved with the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, which is quite robust at OLP. “There was a handful of women who graduated with me when I received my engineering degree, so it has always been a pursuit of mine to promote engineering to more women.”
Part of the Boundless campaign is devoted to building more classrooms that support the learning needed for STEM programs. To that end, Koester-Byron is funding the Maker’s Space and Innovation Lab at OLP. The lab will support engineering and robotics, to engage learners in higher-order problem solving, along with hands-on design and construction. It will feature roll-up doors so students can move outside to use power tools or to move robots.
Koester-Byron is dedicated to supporting those working against the odds – especially girls in poor countries. She is involved with a Mexican philanthropic organization called FANLAP, whose mission is to provide basic support for food and education to kids in impoverished areas. “We lend our support to girls in this program because, in Mexican culture, girls are not supported to go on to higher education. I am passionate about promoting girls and giving them opportunities to further their education.”
To learn more about Academy of Our Lady of Peace, go to www.aolp.org.