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Garret Westlake, Ph.D.,executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, addressed a diverse audience of more than 60 interprofessional faculty, students and health care practitioners on Feb. 13, 2019 at VCU School of Nursing on the topic, “Cross-disciplinary Collaboration: At the Nexus of Innovation and Innovation Education.” His presentation was sponsored by the Langston Center for Innovation in Quality and Safety through its Bresenoff-Feierstein Innovation Lectureship Series.

Launching his presentation with his own academic journey as a child with dyslexia, Westlake described the painful experience of interacting with teachers who were dismissive in accommodating his learning challenges.  During these early years he realized that learning is not necessarily tied to curriculum and surely, not in staying in from recess to drill down with repeated exercises that were not adapted to his capacity, nor well-understood.  His points were well-taken, as the audience was reminded about making learning an experience worth celebrating and to staying open to the learning capacity that may be hidden through the structures and metrics of academic success.

Through his learning journey from undergraduate tailored learning (where he studied brain science, learning, science, and adaptive capacities dyslexic individuals) to more structured graduate programs, Garett described the importance of curiosity, pushing boundaries, and how he made intentional career choices letting his passion prevail over financial gain.  He continued to work in higher education, leading colleges and universities in the field of disabilities and accommodations.  Eventually this led him to start- companies that hired individuals who excelled in detailed and highly intellectual work in the technology field.  These individuals fell on the autism spectrum, an untapped and highly talented workforce.

Westlake continued to share ideas about innovation and the role and function of the VCU da Vinci Center and how it is an idea incubator for student learning – not necessarily in the traditional “academic credit” realm.  His role at VCU has grown in prominence, as he leads the Health Innovation Consortium, a program highlighted in the State of the University address given by VCU President Michael Rao.  An example of innovation that was linked to quality and safety included an invention that would ensure that spinal anesthesia was administered to patients in a fail proof manner.    Westlake noted that empathy-driven innovations play an important role in future clinical and organizational improvements.

While introducing Westlake,  Michael Bleich, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, director of the Langston Center, described him as a “strategic-thinker who is keenly intelligent, energetic, inspiring” and more.  Westlake did not disappoint.  And while he stated that “school may not be fun . . .” he closed with the statement . . . “learning is.”

The Bresenoff-Feierstein Innovation Lecture was made possible by the Feierstein Leadership and Innovation Fund established by alumna Lisa Feierstein, M.B.A., RN, (B.S.‘78/N), and her husband, Steve. A registered nurse who went on to become a pioneer in her field, Feierstein is president and co-founder, along with her husband, of Active Healthcare, a premier provider of medical equipment located in Raleigh, North Carolina.

man lecturing in classroom

man lecturing

group photo men and women
(l to r) Dr. Jean Giddens, Dr. Garrett Westlake, Lisa Feierstein, Steve Feierstein and Dr. Michael Bleich

audience in lecture

man lecturing in classroom


Categories Langston Center