Kathleen and Jacqueline Byron

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Few twins are as close as the Byron twins

Best friends “since the day [they] were born,” Kathleen and Jacqueline Byron ’92 have shared everything, from a bedroom in childhood to college degrees and career paths. Both sisters earned associates degrees from Grays Harbor College and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington. Both graduated magna cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering from Saint Martin’s University. In their professional lives, they’ve worked together at Boeing, MC Squared Engineering in Olympia, and Engineered Software Inc. in Lacey.

These days, they live together in Hoquiam and co-own Byron Engineering. Their two-woman shop, which they started in January 2007, offers civil engineering services including wind and seismic design, storm water management, on-site septic system design, site grading, erosion control, and more. Their office is in downtown Hoquiam, near the foot of the Simpson Avenue Bridge.

Starting a business during such tough economic times has been difficult; contract work dropped off significantly at the end of 2008 and the residential construction, from which they draw much of their work, remains stagnant. Diversification of services, though, has helped the sisters keep their business viable. In addition to engineering work, they also provide computer services such as drafting, website design, and custom programming for Excel applications.

While the past few years have been pretty tough, the sisters wouldn’t trade what they’re doing now for any other job. “Since we first started our careers, it’s always been our dream to have our own engineering firm,” says Jacqueline.

Born in Aberdeen and raised in Hoquiam, Jacqueline and Kathleen were the youngest of eight children. Their father, Robert Byron Jr., was a self-employed log truck driver most of his life, while their mother, Mary, was a full-time homemaker until the kids were grown and later went to work as a bookkeeper for her sons’ trucking business.

When they were young, school administrators intentionally put the girls in different classes. “Probably the idea was to make us more independent,” says Jacqueline, “but I think it made us closer.”

The twins didn’t start out wanting to be engineers. Instead, they headed to Grays Harbor Community College planning to major in pharmacy. “After three quarters in the chemistry lab, we decided to change our majors to computer science,” says Kathleen. “At that point, we took our second quarter of calculus and we Kathleen Byron ’92 Jacqueline Byron ’92 Alumni Profile by Mary Boone FALL 2010 37 loved it. We had a really great instructor for that class, Vincent Aleksey. He suggested to us that we consider majoring in engineering since we liked math so much.”

The sisters took his suggestion to heart and changed their majors for the third and final time. They stayed an extra year at Grays Harbor College to take sophomore-evel engineering courses and then went on to UW to study mechanical engineering. Upon graduating, they both went to work for Boeing: Kathleen in the Commercial Airplane Division’s thrust reverser and cowling group, and Jacqueline in the Aerospace Division’s inertial upper stage program. The sisters liked working for Boeing, but they missed life on the Washington coast.

Says Kathleen. “We wanted to move back to Hoquiam and we thought there would be more employment opportunities for us in the Grays Harbor-Thurston County area if we had a background in civil engineering.”

The two started attending classes at Saint Martin’s while they were still working at Boeing. By 1990, they had moved home, to Hoquiam, and were commuting to Saint Martin’s while maintaining new jobs at MC Squared Engineering Inc. and later as testing and product support engineers for Engineered Software Inc. “Our plan was to take evening classes when possible and earn a civil engineering degree in our spare time,” recalls Kathleen.

Attending UW prior to their time at Saint Martin’s gave the twins a unique perspective. “At UW, the class sizes were large—sometimes held in an auditorium – and one-on-one contact with the professors was minimal,” says Jacqueline. “Saint Martin’s was the complete opposite: smaller class sizes and the professors were very accessible. We always felt that our professors’ top priority was teaching.”

“I remember we had some problems with scheduling and Chris Allaire, who was our advisor, was a great help to us. That was typical of our experience at Saint Martin’s; the faculty and staff cared about their students were always very helpful,” remembers Kathleen.

In addition to their engineering lab classes with Bob Kelley, Kathleen and Jacqueline loved philosophy classes with Father George and religious studies with Father Kilian. Professors Dintie Mahamah, Chris Allaire, Vince McClure, and Denny Raush also made lasting impressions. They enjoyed their senior design class in which they were divided into small “engineering” firms responsible for planning and designing a campus maintenance facility. And, the concrete canoe competition at the end of their senior year was a major highlight.

“They’re really quite brilliant,” says Father Paul Weckert, who has maintained a friendship with the Byrons since meeting them in a philosophy course at Saint Martin’s. “They’re delightful and magnetic. There’s truly a positive sense about them.”

When they’re not working, the sisters love to garden, ride bicycles, cook, and cheer for the Mariners . They’re both Eucharistic ministers at Our Lady of Good Help Catholic Church, where they also help with gardening around the church and work on the parish website. The sisters say they often recommend Saint Martin’s University to students who are considering careers in engineering. Says Jacqueline, “At Saint Martin’s, students receive an excellent, well-rounded education and are very well-prepared for their entry into the workforce.”

Engineering has been a rewarding career for Jacqueline and Kathleen Byron. “It’s hard to think of any aspect of our daily lives that is not touched by engineers in some way, from the roads we drive on to the appliances we use, and the buildings we live and work in,” says Jacqueline. “A career in engineering can provide you with any many opportunities to have a positive impact on peoples’ lives.”