Building RIT’s brand in San Francisco Bay

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Maria Falaschi ’03, ’06 returned home to California after graduating from RIT. She owns a digital marketing firm.

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to more than 8 million people and the world’s leading innovation and technology companies including Google, Facebook, Cisco and Hewlett-Packard. Dozens of colleges and universities, most notably Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, reside in the region.

So how does RIT get noticed among these brand giants and enhance its presence in the Bay Area? Nearly two dozen alumni, comprised of accomplished leaders and entrepreneurs who live in the region, gathered this fall to discuss branding opportunities for the university. RIT Trustee Richard Sands, chairman of Constellation Brands, hosted the event at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley and gave the keynote address on branding.

“RIT has a big opportunity for branding itself,” said Sands. “Outside of Silicon Valley, Rochester is one of the strongest centers of technical and intellectual properties, innovation and investments. And this is in large part due to RIT. But people don’t know this.”

Nearly 2,000 RIT alumni live in the Bay Area, and current students gain valuable work experience at firms large and small through the cooperative education program. Yet alumni at the session believe there are more opportunities to expose the entrepreneurial region to RIT.

Sands learned about the power of branding at an early age. His father, Marvin, started a wine company in 1945, which eventually evolved into Canandaigua Wine Co., firmly rooted in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Today, with $6 billion in sales and 6,000 employees worldwide, Constellation is the world leader in premium wine, the No. 1 multi-category beverage alcohol company in the U.S., the No. 1 beer importer and the No. 3 beer company in the U.S.

RIT’s assets

When Maria Falaschi, a native of the Bay Area, was researching where to go to college, RIT was not on her radar.

“Being a Californian, Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University) was the clear and only choice—or so I thought,” she said. “I eventually found out that RIT was the top college in my area of study.”

Falaschi ’03, ’06 (graphic communications, MBA), who returned home after graduation and today owns a digital marketing firm, reconnected with marketing professor Neil Hair at the alumni event.

Hair gave the group a presentation on RIT’s new Innovative Learning Institute, an umbrella organization that integrates the work of three units—RIT Online, the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies and Teaching & Learning Studio—to bring the latest practices to learning online and in the classroom. The Bay Area alumni were asked to give feedback about the Innovative Learning Institute.

“I think there is great value in providing an affordable education that delivers skills that can be put to use immediately on the job,” said Ed Wolf ’09 (computer engineering), who is a technology partner at Facebook. “The convenience of online learning plus the academic reputation of RIT will help anyone attain their career goals.”

On RIT’s opportunity to grow its reputation in the Bay Area, Wolf added: “Many companies recruit from the same core group of universities when competing for top talent. By building a presence in the region, RIT can build awareness of its academic programs and build stronger relationships with the companies looking for talent within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.”

RIT’s assets will attract the intellectually curious of the region, many alumni concluded. “RIT is one of the most authentic schools out there for design, engineering, business,” said Chris Zacharias ’04 (information technology, new media), CEO of, a San Francisco-based startup Web service that instantly re-sizes, re-crops and re-formats images.

“Everyone out here craves authenticity, legacy and craftsmanship. RIT has that in spades. If you can effectively communicate that RIT is a modern institution, and yet also communicate that you actually have a history, I think that will resonate.”

Sands noted that RIT’s brand must connect with diverse audiences varying from alumni to corporate partners. Connecting with the diverse customers across the globe has been a hallmark for Constellation and its vast portfolio of wines, spirits and beer.

“As an entrepreneur and agent of change, my path has crossed RIT’s many times leaving me with great stories of how RIT, through collaboration and innovation, has changed or may change the world,” Sands said. “These are the stories that if properly told, each to the select audience, will make that difference in the minds of people outside the inner circle that may lead them to engage with RIT— this is the power of branding.”

Bay alumni: Get involved

In the Fall edition of The University Magazine, we will be taking a deeper look at RIT alumni who live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’d like to hear your stories. Email us at