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2024 Plenary Session

Image of a silhouette of a head outlined with rainbow bubbles with text that says "DEGS 2024 - Cultivating Creativity to Foster Innovation. April 24 and 25, 2024."

Thursday, April 25, 10 to 11:30 a.m. EDT
Mitchell Auditorium

Watch the Recording [YouTube]

Ready. Set. Fail: Unleash the Innovator Within

Creating and innovating define the human spirit. This discussion focuses on how the innovator's journey that we all experience is integrated into our personal and professional lives and how failure is an integral part of that journey.

Keynote Speaker & Facilitator

Donna M. De Carolis, PhD

Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship
The Silverman Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership
Drexel University

Donna Marie De Carolis, Ph.D., is the founding Dean of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship and the Silverman Family Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her career itself is entrepreneurial – one of reinvention from high school teacher to consultant to professor and university dean. She characterizes her strong motivation in both her personal and professional life as “small acts of entrepreneurship “– those decisions that require a leap of faith onto a new path.

As founding Dean of the Close School, the nation’s first dedicated school of entrepreneurship at a university, De Carolis initiated a pioneering approach to entrepreneurship education. Her vision is to empower all university students with the mindset that they can be entrepreneurs – by broadly defining entrepreneurship as an attitude that incorporates innovative thinking and doing in all facets of life, career and profession.

De Carolis has been a champion of entrepreneurship education in her various roles as Associate Dean and Management Department head at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, and as Associate Vice-Provost for Entrepreneurship Education at Drexel University.

She was the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Iris Newman Award from the Alliance for Women Entrepreneurs, given each year to a woman business leader who has demonstrated a strong commitment to helping advance women entrepreneurs. She is the recipient of the prestigious Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching and the Distinguished Teaching Excellence Award from Executive MBAs. She frequently speaks to companies about leadership and innovation.


Jim Bean Headshot

James T. Bean

BS, LeBow College of Business, 1991

Mr. Bean is an entrepreneur, advisor, and investor, managing a family run portfolio of early-stage technology and healthcare companies. He and his wife, Christine, also own and operate Brand Napa Valley, a luxury winery and vineyards on Pritchard Hill in Napa, CA.

Mr. Bean spent 20 years at Apple Inc. in Cupertino, CA (1998-2017); his last five years as Vice President of Retail, where he led a large global team of more than 500 employees and oversaw the operations of 486 stores in 19 countries. Previously, he served in several senior roles including Vice President of World-Wide Sales Finance and Vice President of Corporate Financial Planning & Analysis. He has served on many internal committees, dealing with strategic matters involving Apple's executive team, Board of Directors, and Wall Street analysts. Prior to Apple, Mr. Bean had an extensive finance career with various large technology companies. He began his career at KPMG Consulting after three co-ops at Drexel.

Val Gay Headshot

Valerie V. Gay, CFP

Valerie V. Gay (Val Gay®) is a Creative, Certified Financial Planner, non-profit administrator, recording and performing artist and thought leader.

Val was appointed by the Mayor of Philadelphia as executive director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE), the first executive director of OACCE to serve in the Mayor’s Cabinet in Philadelphia. For 20 years Val has held leadership positions across several sectors, including deputy director and chief experience officer for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, where she oversaw public programming, community engagement and family programming and the combined front line and security team, executive director of Art Sanctuary in Philadelphia, assistant dean for Institutional Advancement for the College of Education at Temple University and vice president and portfolio manager with PNC Advisors where she managed investment portfolios of high-net-worth individuals and family trusts.

A serial entrepreneur since 2006, the companies and organizations Val leads have at their core improving the lives of others, and includes an arts nonprofit, business consulting and a lifestyle apparel brand. Val is also an active civic leader, serving on the board of directors for several Philadelphia and New York-based nonprofit organizations. In 2019, Val received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from St. Joseph’s University and has earned a Professional Studies Certificate and a Master of Music in Vocal Performance at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance from the University of the Arts and completed degree course work at Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University.

Dee Nicholas Headshot


Associate Professor Drexel University, Westphal College; she/they
Director MS Design Research, MsDes

D.S. Nicholas (Dee) established the Drexel Design Research for Health (DRDR4Health) lab, an Umbrella Lab that houses interdisciplinary research and scholarship, in 2013. She is a tenured Associate Professor and the Founding Director of the MS Design Research Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Dee holds a BARCH from Carnegie Mellon, an MFA from The University of the Arts, and is currently working towards her Social Science Ph.D. Her work as a researcher, teacher, and colleague is primarily concerned with the health-supportive possibilities within our environments through evidence-based design, creative co-design, and community engaged practice. Current work focuses on aging in place including an evidence based measure, The Mantua Creative Standard for Aging in Place (MCSAP), to retrofit spaces to support aging-in-place.

Her work springs from her formative experiences as a first gen. "third culture kid" and MENA woman. She has developed a process entitled "Insightful Design Thinking" (Nicholas, 2023) built through 20+ years of community social impact work. Her lab takes a culture of care centered socially responsive approach to the research they undertake, and recently she exhibited and presented research works in Switzerland, Australia, Europe, the Midwest, and the East Coast. Dee’s work is presented in National, and International, Journals including The Design Journal, Enquiry: The ARCC Journal for Architectural Research, IJDL, The Plan Journal, and ii Journal: international journal of interior architecture + spatial design. With 26 years of practice and Higher Ed. experience, including as a small business owner, Dee also co-holds two patents and collaborates with researchers from Biology, Public Health, Epidemiology, Education, Chemistry, Computing, and Psychology on her work which also draws students from across the university and at all levels. Dee specializes in design thinking and design-led strategies in her projects which include work with Penn Medicine, The Autism Institute, The Writers Room, Domestic Violence Centers of Chester County, The Alliance of Non-Profit Care Providers, Fabric Health, IMPACT Services, FAIMER, Penn Medicine, St Christophers, Second Story Collective, RHD, Agewell Collaboratory, and People’s Emergency Center.

Based on over 20 years of scholarship, service, and research, Dee believes there are three aspects to the Future of Design:

  1. Research, and evidence, as the basis for many design decisions.
  2. Equity, access, and climate as interconnected complex problems that are primary aspects of every design situation.
  3. All designers must operate as servant leaders within their communities of work.