Terri Mestas poses inside the Architecture building at CUA

As a child of Cuban immigrants, Terri (Caballero) Mestas, B.S.Arch. 1991, has never taken anything for granted. 

“My parents came into this country with $2.50,” Mestas said. “They left (Cuba) with the clothes on their back. Their journey is incredible.”

Mestas’ parents built an architecture practice as they settled in Northern Virginia. As a 10-year-old, Mestas sat at a drafting table inside her family’s firm, pressing on letters, and learning the basics of the business. 

Eventually, Mestas and her brother, James, B.S.Arch. 2005, attended Catholic University and received architecture degrees. Mestas was a commuter student, which meant thriving in class and working in the family business for the rest of the day. 

“I learned the practical side of architecture (at the family’s business) and here (at the University) I got to be more creative and do a little more of the blue sky, dreaming big and visioning. I think there’s beauty to both. Had I not had my experience here, it would have taken me down a very different path,” she said.

All of her family’s sacrifices have led to something special. 

Mestas is chief development officer at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA). LAWA owns Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), one of the nation’s busiest hubs with more than 48 million passengers a year.  LAWA selected Mestas to lead its $30 billion capital improvement program in 2022. At LAX, the improvement program will touch terminals, airfields, facilities, cargo modernization, roadways, and more. 

Mestas’ career saw her become vice president of AECOM during a 15-year stint with the infrastructure consulting firm. Earlier this decade, she worked in Pasadena, Calif., as the director of design and construction at the California Institute of Technology. 

The opportunity to steer Los Angeles’ airport landscape was too tempting. 

“Everybody knows LAX in the world,” she said. “I don’t care where you are in the world. There’s a big opportunity to do something really special.”

Mestas leads a team of over 400 employees, 31 prime firms, and 303 subconsultants executing work at LAX, Van Nuys, and Palmdale Airports. 

Guiding the direction of LAWA is “a privilege,” Mestas said, adding that her work will coincide with Los Angeles hosting the 2028 Summer Olympics. Mestas said that her leadership strategy stems from sharing a vision, highlighting momentum, and reducing obstacles for her team. 

It’s a long way away from the intense days as an architecture student at the Edward M. Crough Center for Architectural Studies.

Through the years, Mestas has returned to campus on recruiting missions for potential staff members. May 2 was her first visit inside Crough since she graduated. Mestas returned to talk about the unexpected roads architecture graduates can travel during their career.

Memories immediately flooded back as she peered from her favorite vantage point as a student on the second floor. She could watch all the action as a young person and dream of the future.

“It’s taken me on so many twists and turns,” Mestas said of her career. “I thought I was going to be drawing and designing. That’s where my love was. It’s not what I do at all. There’s the operational side, the business side, the marketing side, and the going out and winning work side. There’s what I do, there is an entity that has a bunch of money, and ‘how do they spend it in a meaningful way?’ It’s really fun but not what you would think of with an architecture degree. My skills lend themselves perfectly to that.”

— M.P.