Sept. 27, 2023
VCU communications professional Gary Garbett is named a Fulbright Specialist
He will bring his creative talents and Technology Services experience to international projects.
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A Richmond native, Gary Garbett grew up in a military family and subsequently lived in various locations. Art has always been the constant for him.
“It’s where I wanted to spend my attention,” he said, adding that when he was 10, he won second place in a Cap’n Crunch cereal drawing contest. His prize, a book on dogs, spurred an interest in dog rescue that continues today.
The prestigious honor, part of the State Department’s larger Fulbright exchange program that includes Fulbright Scholars, connects U.S. academics and professionals with institutions worldwide to share expertise, strengthen relationships, hone skills, gain international experience and learn about other cultures.
“Getting a Fulbright opens up possibilities for me,” Garbett said, noting that he learned about the program from VCU associate professor emeritus Jeff South, a former mentor. “He had been involved with Fulbright for years. He recommended it. After learning more about it, I decided to give it a shot.”
Fulbright Specialists remain on the program roster for three years — in Garbett’s case, through August 2026. During their tenure, they are matched with projects from more than 150 countries, and the projects, designed by host institutions, can last from two to six weeks.
Garbett was elated when he received the news, as were his colleagues.
“The Fulbright program will be a great opportunity for Gary to leverage his many skills with an unfamiliar audience,” said Barry Lanneau Jr., director of Central Services for VCU Technology Services. “I have no doubt that he is up for the challenge, and I think those distant experiences will inspire ideas and sharpen skills that are meaningful in his role at VCU.”
Garbett earned his undergraduate and two master’s degrees from VCU, each with honors. In August, he began a graduate certificate program concentrating on media and leadership from the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
Scott Sherman, associate professor and interim associate director of the Robertson School who has taught and co-taught a class with Garbett, admires him for going back to school after a successful career as a designer and fine artist.
“He’s constantly learning,” Sherman said. “He finds pleasure in the process of his work.”
Garbett began working for VCU shortly after he graduated from the university in 2008. He had previously left VCU in 1983 to pursue a fine arts career that became successful. “I graduated with honors on the 25-year plan,” he joked.
Garbett was hired for his design skills but now oversees the division’s communication design direction, including brand management, photographic services and other duties.
“Gary can do it all and has the portfolio to prove it. Our department has more than 280 employees, and when a project needs a creative touch, Gary always comes to the rescue,” Lanneau said.
Garbett also relishes the chance to be a mentor, an appreciation tied to the mentors he had growing up. He was so moved by the support of his elementary school art teacher, William Fearn, when Garbett was living with his family in Kodiak, Alaska, that he reached out to Fearn more than 20 years later.
“I gave him a phone call. I told him I just wanted to thank him,” Garbett said.
During his time at VCU, Garbett has found joy in encouraging his own students. He recalls one who was having issues with attendance and timelines in a class Garbett co-taught and needed some guidance.
“I made it a point to spend time with him, encourage him, and now he’s in advertising in New York,” Garbett said. “Those type of success stories mean a lot to me.”
Mentoring is “where my heart is. I want to get back to making a difference for individuals and giving them guidance that will help get them to where they want to go,” he said. “That has become significant in my professional journey.”
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