Alumni profile: Award-winning Olexa develops diverse skill set at RIT

Jun 09, 2017

Thumbnail for Alumni profile: Award-winning Olexa develops diverse skill set at RIT
Thumbnail for Alumni profile: Award-winning Olexa develops diverse skill set at RIT

By Aaron Garland

Photo of and courtesy of Meghan Olexa

Meghan Olexa made sure she molded herself into a well-rounded professional during her time at RIT.  

After graduating last month with a BFA degree in graphic design and double minor in web design and development and advertising and public relations, it’s safe to say Olexa capitalized on every opportunity she had to make that happen.

She even started her own freelance design, web and marketing strategy business close to three years ago. That venture has enabled her to utilize her versatile, dynamic skill set to assist clients.

The Concord, Ohio, native’s assiduousness was rewarded in May, just prior to graduation, when she was named the 2017 recipient of the Hans Barschel Award, given to RIT graphic design seniors “in recognition of academic achievement and creative excellence."

Olexa, a dean’s list mainstay, with her making it every semester, also was an RIT Outstanding Undergraduate Scholar and graduated summa cum laude for finishing her college career with a cumulative GPA over 3.80.

Find out more about Olexa’s experience at RIT and in the graphic design program, how she’s put her wide-ranging abilities to work, and what’s in store for her in the below question-and-answer.

Question: What was your reaction when you found out you were named the 2017 Hans Barschel Award recipient, and what does it mean to have been given that honor?

Meghan Olexa: I was incredibly surprised when my name was called. I know I am a strong academic student and a hard worker, but I never thought of myself as a particularly strong design student. It helped validate some of my insecurities about not being creative enough and assures me that I have chosen the right career path.

Question: To receive such an award you obviously had to work tirelessly in and out of the classroom. In respect to that, what internships have you completed, and/or field-related jobs have you held?

Answer: I completed one graphic design internship at Company 119, a digital marketing agency in Chardon, Ohio, during summer 2016. This internship turned into a part-time position when I came back to Rochester for classes, working remotely as a graphic designer, content writer and all-around digital marketing guru.

For the past two (almost three!) years, I have also run my own freelance design, web and marketing strategy business, working with small businesses and nonprofit clients. Additional information about my business can be found at www.meghanolexa.com.

Question: What initially got you into graphic design?

Answer: I was mostly a fine art student in high school and originally wanted to go to college for painting. However, after doing a little bit more research, I settled on either the illustration or graphic design programs in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at RIT. I declared graphic design within my first two weeks at RIT, and the rest is history.

In retrospect, my semi-accidental falling into graphic design makes a lot of sense; I spent a lot of my childhood “designing” storybooks, Christmas presents and school projects in Microsoft Word, making greeting cards and obsessing over typeface choices. I just didn’t have a word for what I loved to do until I got to college!

Question: How important was it to you to double minor in areas that seem like they perfectly complement graphic design?

Answer: As I was taking my minor classes, I noticed how much overlap there was in advertising, web and design. I realized the only way I can fully understand graphic design in today’s world was to also see it from the perspectives of these other disciplines and by incorporating skills like writing or coding. It also helps keep strategy as the main motivation for design and considering things like client goals, target audience and user experience when taking on projects.

Question: How did you decide on your minors, and how has your knowledge in web design and development and advertising and public relations helped with your business?

Answer: Advertising and public relations was a little bit of a “gimme” since it was my immersion that, for two more classes, I turned into a minor — a pretty common practice for students in the graphic design program.

Web design and development took a bit more research. I knew I wanted to expand a bit further away from the graphic design program to extend my skill set, but I didn’t realize until I began classes how well they complemented it.

I’m 99.99 percent positive my business would have never started without my exposure to those areas. I call it a “freelance design business” to others, but it’s much more of an overall visual marketing strategy firm. Every client I’ve encountered has such different marketing needs that I’m not sure I’d be able to help most of them if I was a strictly graphic design business. Plus, it keeps every project fresh and exciting because I know I’ll be working on something different each time!

Question: With graduation still fresh, having taken place less than a month ago, what’s next for you?

Answer: Right now, I’m mostly trying to decompress after four years of college. I recently spent 10 days on a big family vacation, which was a ton of fun. I’m casually job-hunting — I’ve had a few opportunities that just didn’t seem right. So I really want to look for something I feel confident about, rather than just taking any offer.

In the meantime, I’m throwing myself headfirst into my business. I have several big freelance projects set up for the summer, so I’m excited about those!

Question: How well do you feel RIT has prepared you for post-college, professional life?

Answer: RIT, and especially the graphic design program, gave me a lot of exposure to a variety of different disciplines within the field, which I’m finding to be incredibly helpful. To have multiple perspectives on design, whether it’s as print, digital, web, business, marketing, etc., helps me remain balanced in thinking of design as both a strategy and an art.

RIT also did an excellent job of preparing me for the world of networking, finding and working with clients and making connections — skills I value just as much as my traditional design education.