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Westbrook Classroom finds new home inside Learning Commons

Published: February 20, 2024 by Dylan Allen

Library & Learning Commons Director Janet Fenske (left) and Dean John A. Valenza, DDS, next to a commemorative certificate that honors B.J. Westbrook, DDS.
Library & Learning Commons Director Janet Fenske (left) and Dean John A. Valenza, DDS, next to a commemorative certificate that honors B.J. Westbrook, DDS. Photos by Dwight Andrews.

A recent renovation on the UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry’s fourth floor saw the relocation of the Westbrook Classroom into the Library & Learning Commons. Individuals gathered to celebrate the relocation of the Westbrook Classroom on Feb. 9.

Named after B.J. Westbrook, DDS ’54, the donor of the largest gift total from an alumnus and the first gift given to the Dean’s Excellence Fund, the new classroom is nestled near the library’s entrance for ultimate access and availability for students to use. The original Westbrook Classroom location — now occupied by the new Student Center — led administration to utilize the flexible design of the library to keep the Westbrook namesake alive and revamped inside the place where intense studies are already taking place.  

“When planning the new space, we had 10 years of watching how the students collaborated, how they worked, and how their needs changed over the years,” said Janet Fenske, director of the Library & Learning Commons. “We wanted to make a space where students could collaborate. We wanted to provide another meeting space in this building when a classroom is just too big and a conference room is just too small.”

Beginning in May 2023, construction of the Westbrook Classroom repurposed an estimated 1,500 square feet of space to fit a 40-person capacity inside the multi-faceted group study and meeting area. Installations include a new ceiling to upgrade light fixtures to LED displays, glass walls layered with dry-erase film to allow natural light inside and a dry-erase partition to allow the room to be split in half. The room is equipped with brand-new tables, chairs and an audio/visual system for the comfort and engagement of all who choose to spend their time inside the classroom. With such novelty that went into the construction of the space, it was imperative that it also bore the name of one of the School of Dentistry’s most notable alumni.

From growing up during the Great Depression to working while in dental school to make ends meet, Westbrook knew firsthand the impact that gift-giving has on individuals and the field at large. In 2008, he made a $1 million gift to the School of Dentistry’s building fund and asked that the lobby be named after former Dean Frederick C. Elliott, DDS, whose bust can be seen in the lobby when walking through the front doors.

Westbrook’s impact on the school has been truly remarkable. His generosity extended beyond financial contributions, as he also played a key role in shaping the school’s culture. The school recognized his contributions by naming a classroom in his honor following his $100,000 donation to the School of Dentistry’s Impact Fund. Through his philanthropy he has helped to promote excellence in education — from dentistry and beyond — while also inspiring others to embrace values such as respect, integrity, and generosity.

“This is not the first time the Westbrook name has been associated with library advancements. He was also instrumental in creating the North Channel Regional Library,” said Janet Fenske. “Having the Westbrook Classroom in the library is like a bow on the gift that was his life to us.”

To reserve the Westbrook Classroom for one-time or recurring classes and meetings, reach out to Janet Fenske inside the Library & Learning Commons or by email at [email protected].

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