collage graphic with pink squares and image of Felicia Perez MLA '24 working on model

“Why do drains look the way they look? Why is the mulch higher here, and why is it that color? Why does that stormwater drain sit the way it does? Whatever I make in life, I hope someone asks, ‘Why did you do this that way?’ because we can’t be confident that everything that’s been designed so far is right. It’s these kinds of questions that arise in landscape architecture that I find so meaningful—as complex as they are, we get to investigate them all the time.”

Felicia Perez MLA ’24


Felicia Perez’s journey to attending the GSD and becoming a landscape architect followed an organic path, emerging from a background in food and a passion for feeding people at scale.

After graduating from the University of San Francisco with a degree in business administration and marketing, Felicia, a first-generation college student, took a leap and moved to Washington, DC to work in restaurants. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she started hosting events for DC restaurants in outdoor spaces to allow communities to gather safely around food.

“I taught people how to grow seedlings from their homes and how to turn mugs into planters, and I started redesigning residential yards. It sparked in me a passion to learn about large-scale landscaping. I have this background in food, and [I was developing] this new interest in the design of the built environment. Is there a way to blend these worlds together? What does it mean to build more resilient food systems?”

Felicia enjoyed the elements of design in these small residential projects, but recognized that she lacked essential design experience. She decided to take an internship at a residential landscaping firm in Virginia, providing them with marketing support while gaining experience firsthand. At the firm, she shadowed seasoned designers to learn how they approached analyzing new sites out in the field.

“I would wake up at five in the morning and go meet the team who would build an installation and ask, ‘Hey, I know I’m not supposed to be out here, but can I pick up a shovel and learn how to do this? I want to know how to put this pipe into the ground.’”

Felicia recognized that in order to make a difference at scale for the communities she cared about, she needed to continue her education. She began researching graduate programs in landscape architecture, initially applying to five different programs across the country. Then, two minutes before the deadline, she applied to a sixth—the GSD.

She was accepted to all six.

“As a person of color, having a degree from Harvard can open doors for someone like me. I have so many nephews and a niece who are going to be looking at college in the next three-to-five years, and having someone in their family associated with Harvard can open doors for them, too. This isn’t only about me.”

The cost of attending graduate school was daunting. Felicia created a spreadsheet analyzing the costs of various programs to help make her decision. After receiving an initial financial aid package, she was then awarded a tier-two grant from the GSD that made Harvard an attainable opportunity. With this financial support and the urging of her parents, Felicia chose the GSD.

“I was [considering attending UC Berkeley] to be closer to my family, but my mom said: ‘No. You’re going to Harvard. We need people like you at Harvard.’”

Without a formal design background, Felicia knew she had much to learn, and she threw herself into her studies. She had many conversations with faculty and peers, learning from their experiences in the field and reading whatever she could to build competencies as a designer. A self-proclaimed “tinkerer,” she spent as much time as she could in the fabrication lab, gaining hands-on experience in bringing abstract ideas to life.

“Having access to laser cutters, 3D printers, and the woodshop—tools one person would never be able to afford on their own—I realized I’d be able to tinker and build all day. I love making things and innovating with new materials because it’s where, I feel, the built environment is very much lacking. We need new materials that are more environmentally conscious, which is why I will continue researching material innovation [throughout my career].

As she dove into her core studios in the MLA I program, Felicia’s interest in food systems quickly expanded to other elements of the built environment. During a studio centered around Franklin Park in Boston, Felicia was able to examine the role of water systems, and she quickly saw how these systems connected back to questions around food and sustainability, even if the project wasn’t directly related to those themes.

“Everything is connected. [At Franklin Park] I got to learn about integrated water systems and stormwater systems, and I was fascinated by how we capture stormwater and what it means to harvest and reuse stormwater. The circularity of the whole system matters for everything in life, especially for food systems.”

After graduating from the GSD this spring, Felicia looks forward to working at an architecture firm, where she can continue honing her technical skills as a designer. Once she becomes a licensed landscape architect, she hopes to start her own firm and combine her curiosities and passions as a designer to help build a more sustainable world. This career vision has been shaped both by her education and her peers at the GSD.

“Without the GSD, I wouldn’t be able to envision so clearly the possibilities that I have ahead of me in the next five to ten years. Much of that is because of my peers, and the passions and skill sets they bring to the school. I’ve learned so much from my cohort by digging into big questions amid discourse in the trays. It’s important to have different perspectives at the table—with classmates from different income levels and backgrounds—so that conversations aren’t one-sided or from a single point of view.”