Vann GravesExecutive Director
Dr. Graves joined the Brandcenter as executive director in 2018. He brings 25+ years of creative, business, and executive leadership experience, having worked with some of the world’s leading global brands (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, MasterCard, Visa, GE, and M&Ms, to name a few). His work has been recognized with numerous industry awards, including Cannes Lions, a Grand London International Award, a Grand Clio, and a D&AD Graphite Pencil. Vann also serves as the Dean of the Cannes Creative Academy.
Graves’ military experience contributes to his approach to leadership; he puts a high value on collaboration and commitment to support innovation and high-quality creative work. Prior to the Brandcenter, he served as a Chief Creative Officer at J. Walter Thompson; EVP, Global Executive Creative Director at McCann New York; VP, Creative Director at BBDO New York; and CoFounder at FL+G, a full-service branding agency in Denver.
A Fulbright scholar, Graves holds degrees from Howard University, the Pratt Institute, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Ashley SommardahlAssociate Director
Sometimes it seems like Ashley Sommardahl knows everyone in this crazy industry of ours. Seriously though—she has connections around the globe, and she never forgets a name, face, or what year a student graduated from the Brandcenter. That’s because Ashley isn’t just our associate director—she’s a powerhouse asset to our students who are just beginning to pave their way in the world of brands.
Ashley bends over backwards to get our students the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. Orientation, Forum, Recruiter Session, BCsprint… Ashley runs the show for these and so much more. She has a wealth of alumni, industry, and general Brandcenter knowledge, which she utilizes to make sure our students are prepared to enter the industry and grow in their careers. Students often refer to Ashley as “amazing,” “magical,” and simply put, “the best.”
A graduate of the Brandcenter herself, Ashley also holds a bachelor’s from the University of Virginia. Ashley worked as an account manager at The Martin Agency before coming back to the Brandcenter in the early 2000s. She is an avid tennis player and mother of twins.
Emma BaroneAssistant Director of Student Affairs
Emma is all about building relationships that prioritize student success. As assistant director of student affairs, she works to create an engaging, meaningful experience for all of our students. From the moment a student commits to attending the Brandcenter, Emma is doing everything in her power to ensure they have the resources they need to achieve greatness during their time here. Whether it's organizing Orientation, Friday Forums, workshops, or our annual Recruiter Session, Emma is behind the scenes of just about everything our students participate in. As a middle schooler, Emma was suspended for holding a peace protest, so it’s evident that she is naturally inclined to plan and host unforgettable events.
Prior to joining the Brandcenter, Emma spent nearly a decade working with undergraduate and high school students around Virginia in their pursuit of higher education. She graduated from Hollins University with a degree in Communication Studies and Film Studies.
A native New Yorker, Emma and her family have made Richmond their home. In her “free” time, Emma is busy volunteering with the Junior League of Richmond and studying the intricacies and sophistication of reality TV, with a concentration in the Bravo franchises.
Brian BrownVisiting professor, creative brand management
Dr. Brian P. Brown is adept at bringing the corporate and academic communities together. Prior to embarking on his second career as a professor, he had a 15-year corporate career that included brand management positions at Coca-Cola, Director of Marketing at a “dotcom” startup, VP of Marketing at Snapper Power Equipment, and account executive at AT&T.
Dr. Brown is currently a Professor in the Department of Marketing at VCU, with teaching interests in brand strategy and marketing management. His research focuses on brand strategy, specifically brand strategy in B2B settings, and has been published in several of marketing’s top academic journals. Dr. Brown received the VCU School of Business Award of Excellence for his scholarship, teaching and service in 2019.
Dr. Brown earned his Ph.D. at Georgia State University, his MBA at Duke University, and his BA at the University of Virginia (UVA).
Caley CantrellProfessor, strategy and creative brand management
Dog mom and high school science fair champion, Caley Cantrell brings a special energy to the Brandcenter.
Caley’s advertising background spans across top agencies, including Grey, J.Walter Thompson, and The Martin Agency. Her experience touches numerous industries from telecommunications to beauty, with work on clients like CoverGirl Cosmetics, Sprint, Colgate, Kelloggs, Chase, Olympus, Hamilton Beach, and more. She says there’s nothing quite like the challenge of developing an interesting strategy and the feeling of “game day” adrenaline when pitching new business. The only thing that energizes her more is seeing a group of talented students hit a project completely out of the park. Afterall, that’s why we’re all here.
To date, Caley has completed marathons in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. So, when she’s not running up and down the stairs at Mike Hughes Hall, she’s running all over the world—or at least North America.
Dean CollinsAssistant Director of IT Operations
Computer janitor and resident thaumaturgist
Benita CondeWellness Strategist
Sabrina ConnorFirst Impressions Coordinator
If you walk into the Brandcenter and feel overcome with joy, it’s probably because you just met Sabrina Connor. As the Brandcenter’s First Impressions Coordinator, Sabrina works to ensure current and prospective students have a positive impression of the space, whether it’s their first or hundredth time here.
Originally hailing from the island of Anguilla, the four-time Women's Tennis MVP from Virginia Union University holds a bachelor's in Mass Communications. When not at the Brandcenter, Sabrina can be found exploring Belle Isle with her dog, floating around the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, or laying in the grass somewhere cloud watching.
Peter CoughterProfessor, persuasion
Peter Coughter is the author of the highly acclaimed The Art of the Pitch: Persuasion and Presentation Skills that Win Business, so it makes perfect sense that he teaches persuasion to students in all concentrations.
He knows what he’s talking about, having spent the past 40 years persuading audiences, first as a founder and president of Siddall, Matus & Coughter, for years one of the most respected advertising agencies in the Southeast, and more recently as president of Coughter & Company, helping businesses and people from all over the world prosper and grow.
In the past few years, he’s helped win over $100 million in revenue for his advertising agency clients. Perhaps his biggest win was helping the city of Boston convince the U.S. Olympic Committee to choose Boston as the candidate for the 2024 Olympic Games.
He’s been called “the preeminent trainer of presentation skills for the advertising industry,” and his lessons are a valuable component of the Brandcenter curriculum.
Peter resides in Richmond, Virginia, with his wife, Cynthia.
Allison DuffeeAdjunct professor, creative brand management
At the Brandcenter, Allison Duffee isn't just a professor. With more than 20 years of work in advertising, brand marketing, and business development, Allison is more like a career coach for our students. She loves working with individuals who are at a transition point in their careers, helping them get "unstuck" and discover new ways to move forward.
A “Possibility Thinker” and experienced leader of high-performing teams, Allison is also the Director of Communications Strategy at CarLotz. Prior to CarLotz, she spent 14 years at Capital One and held several positions with The Martin Agency.
Allison's impactful coaching doesn't stop at the Brandcenter—she enjoys coaching herself for a variety of running races throughout the year, including the Richmond Monument Ave 10k and New England Ragnar Relay.
Allison Duffee has a bachelor's from Virginia Tech in Marketing Management, a master's from the Brandcenter, and a Certificate in Evidence Based Coaching from Fielding University.
AJ DunnBusiness Manager
AJ is a mother of a spirited 9-year-old boy and proud native of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She loves all music, wine, and naps.
Holly HesslerProfessor, copywriting
Holly Hessler is an Executive Creative Director with over a decade of experience in the advertising industry. After graduating from the Brandcenter, she moved to LA where she worked at 72andSunny on brands such as Nike and Bugaboo, Chiat LA on Crate&Barrel and Diet Pepsi, Deutsch on Target and finally, Media Arts Lab on Apple. In 2018, she moved to NYC to take a job at McCann on Verizon. Her work has received recognition at Cannes, the One Show, D&AD, the Clios, the Webbys, and more but what she finds most satisfying is knowing something she helped create had a positive impact on the world.
Throughout her career she has worked with non-profits including Conservation International, The One Love Foundation and the AdCouncil.
Holly has a son named George who will always be infinitely cooler than she is.
Michal HowickAssociate Director for Strategic Enrollment and Communications
Michal is a veteran cheerleader and communications professional who excels with a plan but also thrives in uncertainty—or as she puts it “function in chaos, finish in style.”
Prior to joining the Brandcenter as the Associate Director for Strategic Enrollment and Communications, Michal worked for 11 years in communications, marketing, and admissions at an all-girls school in Chattanooga, Tennessee. During that time, she also served as the director and head coach of the school’s cheerleading program.
Michal holds a master’s degree from the Brandcenter (with a concentration in strategy) and bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Michal was a varsity cheerleader for the Tennessee Vols, and is currently the first and only cheerleader to be inducted into her high school’s athletic hall of fame.
Pulling from her professional, academic, and athletic experiences, Michal’s goal in life is to be a positive force in the lives of those around her—the ultimate team player. She is happiest when she is with her yellow lab Forrest or living it up with her five nieces and nephews.
Berwyn HungProfessor, creative
Curious philosopher and Professor of Creative Practice, Berwyn Hung has always been fascinated by how things work. A tinkerer from a young age, he’s taken countless items apart over the years to see how they tic but his tinkering isn’t limited to physical builds. Looking at the intersections of technology, society, what drives us is the heart of his courses.
His goal for his students is to teach them how to be problem solvers. And the first step to that goal is to learn how to identify a problem. Don’t expect to walk in a straight line in his classes, as solutions can come from any direction and sometimes the journey is the lesson.
Berwyn holds both a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a Master of Fine Arts degree. Before coming to the Brandcenter, Berwyn was Director of Program Development at The Creative Circus, where he taught Design and Art Direction. His artwork and other pieces are in museum collections across the world, including The MoMA and The Met, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the London V+A Museum, to name a few.
When he’s not challenging Brandcenter students to innovate further than they thought possible, you may find Berwyn learning a new skill, researching about some new trend or building another project.
Andrew LeVasseurProfessor, experience design
On any given day, you will find Andrew working with others to concept, design, prototype and bring their original ideas to life. He helps students make things—ads, interfaces, apps, wearables, robots, flying machines—things we haven't yet dreamed of.
As head of the Experience Design concentration, he helps shape the vision, curriculum and course content at the Brandcenter. As a professor, he teaches multiple courses focused on strategy, design and technology. Andrew joined the Brandcenter as an adjunct in 2009, where he played a large role in establishing the Creative Technology concentration (a precursor to the Experience Design concentration).
In his career, Andrew has worked for top agencies like Razorfish and The Martin Agency. He has also launched and helped grow multiple start-up companies. His brand credits include Barclays, Best Buy, Capella University, Capital One, Harrahs Entertainment, Hawaiian Airlines, Holland America, Microsoft, Michelin–BFGoodrich, Verizon FiOS and Weight Watchers, among others.
His focus areas include brand strategy, user experience design, information architecture, interaction design, software, information systems and process design, technology and new media, applied research and analytics.
Ken MarcusAdjunct Professor, copywriting
Ken has been a copywriter in this nutty business for more than 25 years. In addition to teaching the Brand Integration class at the Brandcenter, Ken is a senior copywriter at The Martin Agency, where he’s worked for just over 12 years on clients as varied as Walmart, Pizza Hut, Nespresso, Ritz, Sling, Carmax and GEICO. For GEICO, Ken has worked on the “Happier Than,” “It’s What You Do,” “It’s GEICO Easy,” and most recently, “Believe It!” campaigns.
Ken’s work has been recognized by One Show, Cannes, D&AD, Communication Arts, and Effies.
Diana OjibwayDesigner in Residence
Brandcenter Designer in Residence (and self-proclaimed Chauffeur in Residence to her three boys), Diana Ojibway brings all of our creative needs to life. She is crucial to the development and production of SIXTY—the annual Brandcenter publication that features program information and some of the great work our students produce during their 60 weeks with us.
Diana also ensures our brand identity remains consistent across all design work, from stationery to recruitment material, infographics to alumni communications.
As a Brandcenter Art Direction alum (Class of 2002), Diana says the Brandcenter is one big family (including the alumni family), ready to jump in at any moment to help out a fellow Brandcenter student or graduate.
When she’s not working on SIXTY or other Brandcenter projects, Diana spends her time freelancing or sitting in a sports complex cheering on her three boys.
Jeremy ParedesAdjunct Professor, creative brand management
After a flip of the coin in a Brooklyn BBQ joint, Jeremy chose to attend the Brandcenter over going to culinary school. Upon graduating from the Creative Brand Management concentration in 2011, Jeremy spent the next decade building his career in account management leading branding, digital, experiential, and integrated marketing programs for a wide variety of brands. He is currently with Huge Brooklyn while also teaching at the Brandcenter. Notable brands he's worked on include Casper, General Electric, Bacardi, P&G, and the Ad Council.
Jeremy came home to the Brandcenter in 2020—albeit virtually from Brooklyn—to teach brand management. Despite the flip of the coin, Jeremy still worked in a culinary gig: he ran an underground restaurant in Brooklyn called The Brickyard, where he cooked up a monthly menu of 8-12 course meals to 40+ people.
Jonathan PittsIT Support Specialist
IT wizard, automotive enthusiast, YouTube personality, and Henrico County’s first-ever Apple computer user, Jonathan Pitts provides premium IT support to the Brandcenter’s faculty, staff, and students.
He pursued a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Georgia College and State University and has over 25 years of experience in IT. For ten of those years, Jonathan performed IT support specifically for the advertising industry, and he spent 13 years supporting higher education.
Calling Jonathan a Mac OS expert would be the understatement of the century. He has four years of experience as a Mac network admin, and has repaired thousands of Apple computers in the very county in which he first laid his hands on Steve Job’s notable invention. He says that he often reflects on that opportunity and how those experiences changed his life.
When Jonathan isn’t helping provide Brandcenter with the latest technology and software in support of an innovative learning environment, you can catch him on his automotive-focused YouTube channel which boasts over 130,000 followers and 30 million views.
Rick PlautzAdjunct Professor, creative
If you’re looking for the uncontested winner of the superlative, “Most Likely to Use Cinema 4D for No Reason,” look no further.
Rick Plautz has been a professional motion designer and 3D animator for ten years. Since graduating from The Brandcenter in 2014, he’s worked with virtually every Richmond agency including Arts & Letters and The Martin Agency, on countless brands. In addition to teaching at the Brandcenter, Rick also instructs programs for our executive education program, BCX.
Rick says he loves the “unbridled potential and ambition” he sees in students, and is amazed at how students only need a nudge or two here and there to realize their passions and watch them light on fire.
An avid drummer, Rick enjoys endurance challenges and keeping up with the beat.
Christina QuentalInterim Director of Admissions and Recruitment
Christina brings a different side of creativity to the Brandcenter, thanks to her extensive background in music. She completed her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Connecticut before making the jump to a career in higher education. After receiving her Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Christina was able to combine her passion for music with her work in higher education, working as the Director of Admissions at Manhattan School of Music.
Christina’s mix of experiences makes her the perfect Assistant Director of Admissions Operations at the Brandcenter. She oversees the implementation and maintenance of the technology used by applicants and Brandcenter staff, keeping our daily operations and admissions process running smoothly.
Outside of running reports and queries, you’ll find Christina soaking up time at the beach or out on a hike. She loves bringing the outdoors in and has an impressive collection of houseplants she tends to daily, usually accompanied by a strong cup of coffee.
Daniel RiddickAdjunct Professor, creative brand management
Daniel has marketing in his blood. His grandfather founded a typesetting agency (Riddick Advertising Art) in 1968, which evolved into a well-known Richmond advertising agency, purchased by Daniel’s father in 1984. The agency, Riddick Advertising, later closed in 2011.
In undergrad (Virginia Tech, Marketing, 2006) Daniel was certain that creativity needed to be present in whatever career he chose. Mixing in his instinctual sense for diplomacy and problem solving made account management a natural choice.
In 2008, Daniel graduated in the second class of Creative Brand Managers in existence, from the newly named “VCU Brandcenter” and headed straight to New York City.
Daniel has 10+ years of account management experience at great agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi NYC (Pillsbury, Cheerios), Arnold Worldwide NYC (Hershey’s) and in 2015, returned to Richmond as Director of Client Services for Big River.
In 2017, Daniel transitioned to the client side and is currently the Director of Marketing and Communications at Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods.
Amy RobinsonBuilding and Operations Manager
When Amy Robinson isn’t at the Brandcenter, she’s at the beach. But, if she is at the Brandcenter, it’s probably because she ran out of sunscreen.
As the Building and Operations Manager, Amy handles our scheduling, operations, event coordination, and so. Much. More.
The Brandcenter is Amy’s third professional home within the VCU community; when combining it with her time spent in the School of the Arts, the Department of Music, and Undergraduate Admissions, Amy has worked at VCU for twenty years. Before coming to VCU, Amy worked for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in their Outreach Education and Development departments.
Her diligence and dedication has earned her recognition around the community. She was nominated as the 2015 Outstanding Staff Member in the School of Business, and received the Spot Award for Day-to-Day Excellence in April 2011.
Amy believes that the people at the Brandcenter are what make our school a truly wonderful place to work.
Kevin RothermelProfessor, strategy and creative brand management
Kevin is an example of what can happen when someone grows up with a steady diet of music videos, sketch comedy shows, the History Channel, video games, a drum kit, and an unhealthy interest in technology.
After causing his parents endless nights of worry, Kevin found his way to Virginia Tech and eventually the Brandcenter (ST, 2006), which led to a career driving creative strategy and digital thinking for world-renowned brands like Apple, Microsoft, and Cadillac. Kevin has worked at agencies like The Martin Agency, Eleven Inc., Modernista, and McKinney. As a Brandcenter strategy professor, Kevin teaches Strategic Thinking, Cultural Impact, Comms Planning/UX, and Brand Analytics.
Kevin believes in good coffee, hot salsa, and disc golf. He and his wife, also a Brandcenterer, live in Richmond with their two kids and golden doodle.
KT SchaefferProfessor, creative
When she isn’t helping everyone she knows pick the perfect paint color or rearranging furniture for optimal energy flow at a party, you’ll likely find KT doodling up her next big idea in one of the many journals she’s acquired (ok, hoarded) throughout her lifetime.
For 20+ years, KT has been leveraging her design talent (what she refers to as, “Making Magic”) to create unimagined experiences for a global consumer audience. Her work spans the advertising, retail, and entrepreneurial industries, having spent time at The Martin Agency, Anthropologie, NIKE, and Sugar Paper Los Angeles.
As a student at Virginia Commonwealth University (1995) and the Brandcenter (2001), KT polished her skills in graphic design and art direction with a side of copywriting and strategic planning. Her focus is to be a creative problem solver—she takes great joy in teaching Brandcenter students how to get out of their own way to see great design, product development, or an environment from a different perspective. KT also serves as Brandcenter Creative Director, managing the program’s brand consistency and pouring her love of design (and the program!) into our annual SIXTY publication.
Tom ScharpfProfessor, creative
A 1998 graduate of the inaugural class of the Brandcenter, Tom Scharpf is excited to return to VCU after a 21-year career at some of the best creative agencies in the business. Most recently, Tom was Executive Creative Director and Executive Vice President at Leo Burnett, Chicago. While in the Windy City, Tom ran the creative global Samsung mobile business and recently led the charge in winning the Coors Light account.
Prior to Leo Burnett, Scharpf spent 12 years at renowned creative independent Venables Bell & Partners in San Francisco, helping them grow from a small 45-person national shop to a global agency of 200 and picking up a slew of creative awards along the way. While at Venables, Tom ran the Intel, Reebok, Conagra, Adidas Golf, Barclays and Chipotle accounts, while also helping to land new business wins on Audi, SKYY Vodka, and Google Fiber. During his time there, Scharpf picked up 8 Cannes Lions for his work on Intel, Reebok, and Barclays financial and led the charge for a documentary film for Intel that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Prior to VB&P, Tom was a much sought-after freelancer working coast to coast at agencies such as BBH NYC, Chiat/Day, Butler Shine & Stern, Y&R Chicago, DDB/NY, and David & Goliath working on the likes of Johnnie Walker, Adidas, Electronic Arts, Dyson, and Converse. Tom’s first job out of VCU was at Fallon in Minneapolis where he did award-winning work for United Airlines, Holiday Inn Express, Starbucks, Nikon and Miller Lite.
While still a student at the Brandcenter, Tom garnered two Cannes Lions as an intern for his work on Jaguar at Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto, and won the coveted Harry Jacobs Award as top Art Director in his class.
His work has been featured in Communication Arts, The New York Times, Ad Age, Luerzer's Archive, and has been named Adweek's "Ad of the Day" on eight separate occasions. His work has been awarded by D&AD, The Clios, the Addy’s, The Art Director’s Club, The One Show, AICP, The London International Awards, the Effies and the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.
In addition to having a graphic design background, Tom prides himself on being a strong writer and strategic thinker. In his spare time, he attends to his three children, takes photographs of Americana, writes children’s books, and plays no more than five chords on his guitar.
Stacy ThomasAdjunct Professor, creative brand management
Stacy’s superpower, if we have to choose one, is connecting—people, ideas, and dots galore. Stacy is the founder and CEO of Good Run Research and Recreation, facilitating ideation and specializing in create-to-order qualitative and quantitative research solutions. She is a firm believer that when you start with the right ingredients, magic happens with very little work, but very big fun. Her vision for Good Run sprung from that belief, and an overwhelming urge to connect the dots of the research puzzle to build a better model.
Stacy is an expert in youth and women’s research, known for navigating the tricky line between creative and business objectives during communications research, and a bit of a madwoman when it comes to innovation. But what really lights her research fire is a room full of folks (who may or may not know how creative they are), a blank slate, and a challenge.
She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology and Sociology from William & Mary, and a Master’s of Science from the Brandcenter, with a concentration in Strategic Planning.
Shannon WilkeDirector of Operations
Shannon has a knack for details—something we’re more than thankful for, given that Shannon plays a major role in almost every facet of the Brandcenter. She is often the last person to put her hands on a project before it’s complete, ensuring top-notch quality so that our students receive the best possible experience and support. Her work as director of operations heavily supports our students, faculty, and staff—not to mention she keeps our executive director on his A-game.
Prior to coming to the Brandcenter, Shannon spent eight years at two law firms assisting with civil litigation cases. (We like to joke that she’s our in-house legal expert, but most of the time we aren’t actually joking.) She has an AAS in Paralegal Studies and is currently pursuing a degree in Communications Strategy from VCU.
Scott WitthausProfessor, visual storytelling
With 35 years of film and video industry experience, Scott has worked in almost every area of production and post-production, from live television to creative editorial for agency work (not to mention six “lost” years working in radio). After spending years at Henninger Media Services in leadership roles for facilities across the country, Scott returned to Richmond and his creative roots in 2003 to start Greybox LLC, a true creative editorial house located in Shockoe Bottom. In the fall of 2006, he branched out again and created 1708 Inc./Editorial.
Scott has won multiple national awards for his work. In 2011 he was asked to be a judge for the AICP Awards and still judges that competition today.
Scott joined the Brandcenter in 2008, teaching Visual Storytelling and Portfolio Development classes. He continues to edit professionally for agency clients and recently finished a feature-length documentary that is now in international distribution.
In 2016, Scott branched out again and formed Low Country Creative LLC, a partnership that was awarded a U.S. patent for a security product he hopes to bring to the market soon.
Scott graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications, and holds a Master of Arts in education and instructional technology from Virginia Tech. When not working or teaching, Scott can usually be found somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay or tending to his home-grown oysters; he is an oyster gardener with approximately 1,000 oysters floating off his dock.