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By VCU News staff

hen Virginia Commonwealth University’s Brandcenter awarded degrees to its Class of 2023 this month, some graduates were completing a journey that took an unexpected and unnerving turn.

In April 2022, amid challenges of the pandemic, Atlanta’s renowned The Creative Circus advertising portfolio school announced that it would soon close. So the Brandcenter stepped up to offer Creative Circus students the chance to transfer and complete their education at VCU. Interested students applied and were integrated into the existing second-year cohort in the fall 2022 semester, joining the art direction and copywriting concentrations.

“I am simultaneously humbled and proud to have played a part in these students’ educational journeys,” said Vann Graves, Ed.D., executive director of the Brandcenter. “We are steadfast in our commitment to helping Brandcenter students learn, grow and thrive in our program and beyond it. For the students who joined us from The Creative Circus, that meant integrating them into every facet of the Brandcenter program and experience, providing them with ample support and opportunities to help launch their careers.”

At the May 12 graduation ceremony, the transfer students were awarded a Brandcenter certificate, encapsulating their time at both institutions. Students who completed the two-year program earn a Master of Science in Business with a concentration in branding and their chosen field of study — art direction, copywriting, strategy, experience design or brand management.

Although the transfer students received different credentials at graduation, “they will be celebrated and considered alumni of the Brandcenter Class of 2023,” Graves said.

Students from The Creative Circus embraced their experience.

“I’m so grateful I even got that one year at The Creative Circus because its quirky energy mixed with VCU Brandcenter’s business school rigor and turned me into a clown who can strategically tackle a creative brief. And that’s exactly what I hoped to get out of my ad school journey,” said Lucie Desvallées, who concentrated in copywriting.

“Brandcenter has challenged me in the best ways and pushed me toward making incredible work with incredible people,” added transfer classmate Eleni Alafoginis, who studied art direction. “The best part was meeting some of the most talented and kind people who I feel so grateful to call friends.”

For the transfers and their two-year VCU colleagues, the Brandcenter’s recent annual Recruiter Session marked the debut of the graduating class and officially kicked off the job placement process. The two-day event invited industry professionals to participate in the reverse career fair, and the inclusion of The Creative Circus students was noted.

“Recruiter Session is always the highlight of my year, as getting to watch the next generation of creative minds emerge into our industry is invigorating and inspiring,” said David Perez, founder of The Perezidency, a New York-based talent consultancy. “Brandcenter infused some much-needed generosity and goodness into this post-pandemic world by welcoming The Circus students into the Brandcenter family. … In a time where the pandemic took so much from the students, Brandcenter gave back.”

Justin Bajan has links to both programs: He is a Creative Circus alum and co-founder of Familiar Creatives, a Richmond agency he established with Brandcenter alum Dustin Artz. Participating in this year’s Recruiter Session, “I especially enjoyed talking with some of The Creative Circus students that Brandcenter graciously allowed to transfer,” Bajan said.

Melissa Shaheen is a recruiter at McKinney, which was a sponsor of the Recruiter Session. “We brought two alumni and three recruiters and met almost 100 of the best and brightest future advertising professionals,” she said. “We spent some time with The Creative Circus transfers, and they all expressed that their transition to VCU was an excellent one – they were welcomed and assimilated quickly, and they are excited about their futures.”

To view portfolios of all 2023 Brandcenter graduates, visit

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