O'Leary's career has been focused on concept development and strategy, with experience in UX, advertising, social media and experiential advertising.
Frequent traveler, Derek O’Leary, has settled roots in the city of Richmond. He originally earned his B.A in advertising at Michigan State University before coming to Richmond to receive his M.S. in art direction from the VCU Brandcenter.
His career has been focused on concept development and strategy, with experience in UX, advertising, social media and experiential advertising.
He has worked in a number of local Richmond agencies such as Yebo (formerly Barber Martin), The Virginia Lottery, Big River, Storywerks and co-founded the design studio O’Fung Studios.
Q&A with Derek O'Leary
Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your educational journey?
I was born in Alaska, but growing up, I lived in a bunch of different states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, California and Texas. For my undergraduate degree, I studied advertising at Michigan State University and graduated in 2008. I received my master’s in 2011 from VCU's Brandcenter with a focus on art direction. I fell in love with the city of Richmond while at the Brandcenter and have been in town ever since.
When did you first fall in love with your field of study? What made you decide to work in academia?
I have always been interested in teaching advertising, especially the creative side of the industry. I was inspired by an advertising professor at Michigan State University, Professor Emeritus Bruce Vanden Bergh, and his “The Creative Process” class. I was impressed how he could encourage his students to problem solve with a fun creative flair that made advertising rewarding and fun. It’s why before I even finished his class I asked if I could become his teaching assistant. I felt that I learned more from helping the students in that class than I did in my other advertising classes. With my experiences and curiosity, I hope to open young minds to advertising as Professor Vanden Bergh did for me.
What attracted you to VCU? What are you most excited about in regards to VCU and Richmond?
I’ve always felt that the work of Robertson School/VCU students was impressive. My hope to is to continue that tradition while educating students on new trends in the industry so they can be leaders as they start their careers.
Can you talk a little about your teaching philosophy? What do you most like about teaching?
I think of my teaching style as a Sherpa. I have my experience in the advertising industry and I would like to guide students to reach new heights. I also believe that I will learn from the students as they explore and that will inform how I guide future students.
Can you tell us either a quirky fact about yourself or some of your hobbies?
In between my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I worked with Oscar Mayer for 14 months driving the world-famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile across the country. I was a brand ambassador for the company visiting 38 states, doing interviews for local and national media, and hosting hundreds of onsite events with the 27-foot-long hot dog on wheels. I was also able to take the Wienermobile on a high-profile tour in Hawaii for the first time in 18 years.
My hobbies include creating illustrated posters, dog agility, home renovations and learning to be a dad with my four-month-old, Miles.