Garret Westlake, Executive Director


Garret Westlake joined the da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University on July 1, 2016. He is contributing to the transformation of VCU into one of the nation’s leading universities for cross-disciplinary collaboration, innovation and imagination, and the inclusion of innovation and entrepreneurial thinking as requisite skills for success in the 21 st century.

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

Alchemy is the process of transforming something common into something special. Through iterative process, it is the Director of Academic Alchemy’s job to find the best chemistry for the da Vinci Center’s academic programs and industry partnerships. We face this challenge with the understanding that there is always room to build better value between education and industry. 

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 close to fifty 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 holds a MFA in Visual Communication from VCU and BFAs in Graphic Design and Printmaking from Appalachian State University.


Somiah Lattimore, Managing Director, Lighthouse Labs University Initiative

Somiah Lattimore joins Virginia Commonwealth University as Director of VCU Innovate Living Learning Program (Innovate LLP). Before VCU, Somiah served as a creative consultant and student mentor for Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech. Previous professional positions include Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Salisbury University, Director of FourDesign and Assistant Professor of Graphic Design for the School of Visual Arts at Virginia Tech, and Creative Director for Carolina Media Publishing.

Somiah is the Founder and Creative Director for Straight Up Creative, a collaborative design house and Co-Founder for Ignatius All-Natural, a skin care line featured in Whole Foods, as well as consultant for several gaming, academic advising, tourism, and commerce driven start-ups. Lattimore is an award-winning designer and creative director that has worked with clients such as NASCAR, Roush Racing, Commemorative Brands/Balfour, H. M. Terry Co. Inc., and Chatham Vineyards.

She holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Art with an emphasis in Graphic Design from Radford University and an M. A. in Instructional Design and Technology from Virginia Tech.


Blue Crump, Program Director, Lighthouse Labs University Initiative

A headshot of Blue Crump, Program Coordinator for Lighthouse Labs University Initiative

Blue Crump joins the VCU da Vinci Center as the Program Director for Lighthouse U, a university initiative of Lighthouse Labs focused on student founders.  Working in partnership with Go Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University as a Founding Partner for Lighthouse U, Blue scouts for the best and most innovative student startups at colleges and universities across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Blue is a serial entrepreneur, and an educator in entrepreneurship, design thinking and innovation. He has experience in building startups in sectors ranging from renewable energy, fintech, and drones – to mobile on-demand business models.

For Blue, entrepreneurship is about much more than starting and selling businesses – it’s about solving complex problems.  His work in entrepreneurship has been recognized and awarded, including being selected as a Global Startup NEXT Winner by Google for Entrepreneurs, a Finalist for the Virginia Velocity Governor’s Competition, a recipient of the People’s Choice Award by the RVATech Council, a Venture Creation Winner for the da Vinci Center, and as the founder of a startup selected for Lighthouse Labs Acceleration, Batch IV.

Blue has a Bachelors in Industrial Design from Virginia Tech, and is a VCU da Vinci Center alumni with a Masters of Product Innovation. In addition to his work with VCU, he is a volunteer mentor and instructor at Startup Virginia, where he co-authored and teaches their Entrepreneurship Certificate.  Blue is currently an Instructor for VCU as joint faculty between the da Vinci Center for Innovation and the Center for Creative Economy in VCUarts.  Blue teaches new venture creation, creative disruption, prototyping, and COLAB to undergraduate and graduate students.  

Aaron Forrester, Instructor - Design Thinking

Aaron Forrester's Bio Pic

A large variety of inputs produces the possibility of more varied outputs.” This philosophy has guided Aaron’s life pursuits. From the director of photography for an award-winning production firm to facilitating design thinking boot camps and co-founding businesses, Aaron loves being a lifelong learner. Generating ideas and new solutions is one of his favorite things to do. This coupled with passing along his passion for growth and change to students makes his classroom a place of learning as well as doing.

Aaron was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest outside Portland, Oregon. Studying art from a young age he found interest in all types of mediums. Never feeling constrained to any one process in particular he studied sculpture early on in college, then pursued his BS in graphic design and his MFA in drawing and photography. This rooting in different ways of expression, as well as solutions, fit right into his families background in entrepreneurship. Where providing value for customers was always changing

Aaron is an Award Winning Photographer, Entrepreneur, Designer, and Artist. Currently, as a full-time instructor at VCU in the Da Vinci Center for Innovation, He teaches a design thinking curriculum he co-wrote, design principles, as well as creative thinking and drawing to undergraduates and graduate level students.

Mary-Chris Escobar, Assistant Director for Academic & Experiential Programs

A photographic Image of Mary-Chris Escobar, the Assistant Director for Academic and Experiential Programs

Mary-Chris joined the da Vinci Center team in summer 2018, prior to which she worked in University Academic Advising at VCU. During her time in advising she worked with students in both the Discovery and Business Foundation programs and oversaw a team of Business, Arts, and Social Work advisors. She holds a Master of Education in Counselor Education from VCU, and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Longwood University. Prior to her work in higher education she worked in human services in both the non-profit and government sector.

At The da Vinci Center, Mary-Chris provides assistance in the oversight of academic programs (an Assistant Alchemist, per se)-- engaging in activities related to recruiting, advising, and curriculum planning. She is also an instructor for the INNO 200 course.
In addition to her work at VCU, Mary-Chris is an award-winning author and a proud member of James River Writers and Women's Fiction Writer's Association.


Kendra Cabler, Assistant Director of Access, Inclusion & Community 

A photographic Image of Kendra Cabler, the Assistant Director of Access, Inclusion, and Community

Kendra Graduated with her Bachelor's in Sociology and her Master's in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership from the College of William & Mary. After earning her Master's she worked as the Assistant Director of the Center for Student Diversity at the College. She relocated to Richmond to serve as the Vice President of Programs for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, a statewide nonprofit. Upon deciding to pursue her PhD in Adult Learning, Kendra returned to Higher Education and has served VCU in multiple roles. She has worked in University Academic Advising and the L. Douglas Wilder School as a Senior Academic Advisor, taught courses in University College, and served as a Building Inclusive Communities Facilitator with the Division For Inclusive Excellence.

Kelsey Steenburgh, External Affairs Coordinator

Kelsey Steenburgh joined VCU’s da Vinci Center in Spring of 2017 as the Program Assistant for the Experiential Learning and Innovate Living-Learning Programs. Prior to her role with the da Vinci Center, Kelsey worked as the Events and Communications Coordinator for VCU’s School of World Studies. As program assistant, Kelsey supports the Experiential Learning Program/Innovate LLP in recruitment efforts, event coordination, and general administrative support. Kelsey is a native Richmonder and holds a BA in German from VCU.


Amy Shankle, Program Coordinator


Amy Shankle is a Virginia Commonwealth University alumna and has worked in a variety of capacities for the university. Beginning her career, she started out collecting data for the Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory. She then accepted a position with Records and Registration, working to assist students in graduating from the university among other responsibilities within Records. Upon leaving that position, she is now doing various administrative duties for the da Vinci Center to maintain the programs and assist students, staff, and faculty.

In her spare time, Amy enjoys helping others to train their dogs and going on adventures with her own two special pups.



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’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 Vizdos is an entrepreneur and innovator based in Richmond, Virginia (
He has been called an early pioneer of Agile by Ken Schwaber, has worked with over 1000 teams looking to utilize Agile and Scrum; he has been in the industry for over twenty-five years.

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.

He co-authored a book (with Scott Ambler) about the Enterprise Unified Process (2005), which addresses scaling software development teams across an organization (much like the current popular topic of scaling Scrum and other agile techniques within an enterprise).

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).

Additionally, Michael brings Agile and Scrum into the classroom — and administrative teams — at Deep Run High School (Center for Information Technology), Hermitage High School Technical Center, Hope High School, Grandview Prep and as an Advisory Mentor with  You can learn more about his experiences at and join a free international community at

You can connect with him on social media here.