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The Power of #BrandFam

Amanda Thao (XD, 2021)

I remember Brandcenter orientation. Flashes of a group picture, socializing, sweaty palms, and a name: Ashley Sommardahl, Senior Director of Academic and Student Affairs. The gist was Networking? Talk to Ashley.’

In my gap year post-undergrad, I had a great manager who helped me witness firsthand just how important relationships are to a career. But as a new Brandcenter student, networking was maybe number eight on the list after “Panic” and before “Try that sandwich place across the street.”

After a few months of transition and loads of thinking about the future, I sent the Ashley Email, asking for help connecting with folks working in product design (also called UX/UI). My laptop beeped a few minutes later with a hearty reply and 10+ contacts, all of whom I was ecstatic to chat with. And it was in that exact moment I recognized the power of #BrandFam. In one of those calls, Alex Rice (XD, 2017) reminded me of the program’s strengths. The Brandcenter teaches us how to value intuition to solve problems in a way that resonates. 

Insightful conversations with alums like Alex opened the door to a realm of design I didn’t know I was looking for. After diving a bit deeper and connecting with more resources, I was honored to become 1 of 35 Made In The Future fellows in December 2020. Made In The Future is a career-building fellowship connecting emerging underrepresented design talent with design leaders from companies like InVision, Google, Lyft, Instagram, and Netflix. The fellowship kicked off with a 3-day summit, which left me feeling awestruck and humbled by the industry’s support.

I am learning so much so quickly from this opportunity and looking back, I wouldn’t be here without our fantastic group of alumni. Even more so, I wouldn’t be here without the Brandcenter. One of my dreams is to hop on a call with a Brandcenter student one day and pay it forward. It would be an honor and privilege to give back to the place that gave me so much. And that’s what #BrandFam is all about. 

Amanda Thao (XD, 2021)