Garret Westlake, Executive Director
Westlake’s career as an academic and entrepreneur is defined by his imaginative use of technology and weaving of disciplines to solve critical social challenges. A lifelong advocate for individuals with disabilities, his early work involved the examination of connectionist networks to model and intervene in the treatment of dyslexia. He is a national leader in the design and delivery of biofeedback training to support individuals on the autism spectrum, and the author of widely adopted models for college transition, career counseling, and employment.
Through extensive work with Ashoka U, the Clinton Global Initiative University, the European Innovation Academy, and the Global Venture Lab, Westlake has contributed to award winning curriculum and programs for entrepreneurship and innovation education around the world. He has advised and mentored students whose projects have provided entrepreneurship education to South Sudan, brought greater awareness and services to the victims of sex trafficking, and improved the treatment of jaundice through new medical device technology. Westlake has supported and mentored student ventures accepted to Y Combinator, SXSW, and those receiving significant financial investment from the Resolution Project, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and private equity.
Prior to joining VCU, Westlake was the associate dean of student entrepreneurship in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Arizona State University, where he also taught in the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program. He is the former founder and CEO of STEM Force Technology, a social impact technology company that he ran successfully for four years before exiting in 2015. Westlake currently serves on the board of directors for multiple for-profit and not-for-profit organizations such as MindSpark Technologies in Santa Monica, California and as a business mentor and consultant for startups such as the medical device company NeoLight, based in Phoenix, Arizona.
Westlake earned is BA in cognitive science from Carleton College, his MEd from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, and his PhD in curriculum and instruction from Arizona State University. When not engaged with students and entrepreneurs you are most likely to find Westlake enjoying Richmond’s plethora of bike trails, climbing walls, and river sports with his family.
Allison Schumacher, Director of Academic Alchemy
Allison career has been a mix of professional and academic experience. Before joining the da Vinci Center full time, Allison held faculty and administrative positions in the VCU Department of Graphic Design, the #1 public graphic design program in the US. Her passion for student success and cross-disciplinary education is what led her to the da Vinci Center, but will always remain hungry for entrepreneurial adventures that led to previous ventures in the entertainment, design and gourmet food industries.
At the da Vinci Center for Innovation, Allison works to evolve the academic programs and take learning out of the classroom and into the real world by designing cross-disciplinary project-based learning opportunities that partner with industry to build and validate new products. While learning how to fill the gap between the academy and industry is not a new problem, it is one Allison is motivated to solve.
In her time with the da Vinci Center, Allison has worked with more than sixty cross-disciplinary student teams with various sponsors including, Pfizer, Dupont, Carmax, Capital One, Code VA, Science Museum of Virginia and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Allison is a Certified Scrum Master, holds a MFA in Visual Communication from VCU and BFAs in Graphic Design and Printmaking from Appalachian State University.
Vida Williams, Innovator in Residence
After graduating from Duke University with degrees in History and English with certificates in Womens’ Studies and African American Studies, Vida Williams entered the workforce as a technical writer and quickly found her calling in technology and data. Her professional background and experience is a heady mix of core IT skills, including data architecture and engineering, software design, programming and implementation, as well as Program Management, and Executive Engagement and Consulting.
Her 20 year career was kicked started with data architecture of the EPA’s mainframe data, the prevailing theme in my career is to map data elements into actionable information for executive decision making. She co-founded a small social enterprise consulting firm, Axis Partners, Inc. where they serve mission-driven organizations in the areas of data architecture, process engineering and data sciences. She is deeply passionate with working in the start up and innovation arena, serving as Richmond.com’s CTO in the late ninties, helping to design and launch NPRs open source catalog in the early 2000s, expanding an international corporate start up executive team in the mid to late 2000s, and supporting the IT enterprise construction of HDL in 2011. She is deeply committed to the impact of inclusive points of view in innovation and the impact on social justice, speaking broadly at conferences such as OSCON and the White House. Finally, to engage in the Richmond local community, she sit on several boards, including Podium and CodeVA. Additionally, she founded Hacktastic and the Innovation Education Project in 2014 with a view on providing access to the world of entrepreneurial innovation for urban youth.
Michael Vizdos, Scrum Master in Residence
Michael travels internationally as a consultant, mentor and trainer who enjoys working with teams to help them Focus and #deliver. Michael also speaks regularly at local user groups and delivers workshops (and keynotes) at industry conferences internationally.
For many years, Michael has volunteered at Gangplank (a non-profit originating in Chandler, Arizona). In 2012, he co-founded GangplankRVA in Richmond, Virginia. He has also been as a mentor for an entrepreneurship class at VCU, VSU and is an Advisory Board member for RVAWorks (a local non-profit focused on building businesses and creating jobs).
You can connect with him on social media here.
William Benton, Scholar in Residence