After helping nearly 1,000 families find affordable housing, Mesa native and activist Teresa Brice-Heames is about to live her Ivy League dream.
She has won one of 10 Loeb Fellowships at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where she will spend the next academic year complementing her 15 years of hands-on training in housing policy and urban design.
She said her late father, Jack Brice, lost many friends and family when he "married the first Mexican he ever met" and was fully integrated into his wife’s family by the time Brice-Heames was ready to become the first daughter of the family to go to college.
She wanted to go to New York’s Cornell University, but "by then he was the typical Mexican dad, and girls didn’t leave home until they were married," she said.
Brice-Heames, 50, senior vice president of Housing for Mesa, seems almost giddy at the prospect of sitting in on any Harvard class or lecture, and of regularly meeting with high-profile professors like Clinton-era Cabinet member Robert Reich.
"Imagine getting the secretary of labor to sit down and asking him, ‘Hey, how are we going to attract hightech jobs to Mesa, Ariz.?" she said.
Her goal of attracting more jobs is one of the few things she has in common with Mayor Keno Hawker, whom she tried last year to unseat to become Mesa’s first Hispanic female mayor.
Housing for Mesa, which she helped start, was recognized by President Bush during his Phoenix visit last year. It’s also spun off a Las Vegas agency. The group provides financial education to help families buy their first homes.
She said she will explore issues with citywide ramifications while at Harvard, most of which boil down to the question, "How do you create a community where people aren’t alienated by the sheer size of it?"
Brice-Heames is married and has two daughters in college. Housing for Mesa president John Smith said he won’t replace what Brice-Heames brings, understanding he may face a future without her.
"I think the door has been opened to a world of opportunities," he said.