Virginia Commonwealth University

Make it real.

Faculty & Staff

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 21st 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. We face this challenge with the understanding that there is always room to build better value for our students.

With a passion for student success and cross-disciplinary education, Allison Schumacher joined Virginia Commonwealth University’s da Vinci Center as Program Director for Product Innovation in April 2015. Ms. Schumacher’s experience with the da Vinci Center began in January 2010 by serving as a faculty mentor for the Center’s Product Innovation culmination course: INNO 460: da Vinci Project. She has since worked with twenty-two cross-disciplinary student teams with various sponsors including, Pfizer, MeadWestvaco, Dominion, the State of Virginia, Science Museum of Virginia and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Before joining the da Vinci Center full time, Allison was an active member of the VCU School of the Arts serving as full time faculty and undergraduate advisor in the Department of Graphic Design. During this time, Ms. Schumacher implemented several new advising methods to show students the paths available beyond their major and in two years the number of students to enroll in minors, certificate programs, study abroad, etc. grew by 327%.

In teaching, she emphasizes the importance of questioning, research, experimentation, systemic thinking, process, and clarity in communication. Her academic research centers on cultural and memory studies with considerations for authenticity in the design. Allison is also an entrepreneur and practicing freelance graphic designer with a client base focused in the Southeast U.S.

Ms. Schumacher holds a MFA in Visual Communication from VCU and BFAs in Graphic Design and Printmaking from Appalachian State University.


Somiah Lattimore, Director of Experiential Education, VCU Innovate

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.


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.  

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.


Allison Stevens, Student Services Coordinator

Allison comes to the da Vinci Center from the Buckeye state.She is an alumna from The Ohio State University, with a BA in Speech and Hearing Pathology. Allison is currently in school full time working on an Associates in Applied Science in ASL-English Interpretation and is hoping to begin a career as an American Sign Language Interpreter. Allison supports both the Director of Product Innovation as well as the Director of Venture Creation in program efforts and is the first line contact for hopeful students seeking to learn more information about the certificate programs.