Our Staff

Dorrie Hipschman

Executive Director

Dorrie Hipschman is a senior director with 20 years of experience directing non-profit organizations. She believes in creating a strong institution that is an integral part of its community. She has been successful in major gift fund raising, grant writing, and strategic planning as well as leading capital campaigns and museum expansions. Prior to joining The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum she directed the start-up project to build the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention and led for ten years The Building for Kids, a children’s museum in Appleton, WI. She has worked as an executive director and development director for a variety of museums across the United States. She holds a BA in American Studies from Georgetown University and has additional MBA coursework at the University of Hawaii. She has three grown children and lives in Fort Myers with her husband and a small dog and cat.

José H. Leal, Ph.D.

Science Director & Curator

Dr. José H. Leal was Director of the Shell Museum between February 1996 and August 2013, and is now its Science Director and Curator. Dr. Leal received his Ph.D. in Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami. His love for shells and sea life goes back to his childhood years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was an Assistant Editor for Sea Frontiers Magazine (Miami), a Visiting Professor at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (Paris), and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (Washington, DC). Dr. Leal holds honorary faculty positions at the University of Miami and Florida Gulf Coast University (Fort Myers), where he is an affiliate member of the Coastal Watershed Institute. He is also a Past President of the American Malacological Society and of Conchologists of America, a past board member of the Florida Association of Museums, an Accreditation Peer Reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums, and editor of The Nautilus. Under his leadership, in March 2010 the Museum was awarded its first accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.

Melanie Moraga

Assistant Director

Melanie Moraga moved to South Florida from Fairfield County Connecticut in the early 1990s. She began working at the Shell Museum in September 2012 as part-time Admissions Specialist. With a promotion to Executive Assistant, Melanie took on responsibility for the scheduling of all Group Tours, Membership coordination, Volunteer coordination, and now as Assistant Director, she is also involved in Fundraising and Donor Relations. She is becoming well-known as a nature photographer. Her award-winning photograph “Sunset Before the Storm,” taken at Blind Pass Beach on Sanibel, was published in the November/December 2012 issue of Florida Travel + Life magazine. She was also the featured cover artist the past three years running for the Sanibel Shell Festival glossy program guide.

Gretchen Falk

Retail Manager

Gretchen Falk started working as the merchandiser for the Museum Store in June 2013. She was recently promoted to Store Manager. Gretchen is originally from Rhode Island. Upon graduating from Johnson & Wales with degrees in Retail Management and Merchandising she sailed down to Sanibel. After touring around the world aboard the SHADOWFAX, she returned to the islands. “After traveling to over 35 countries it was great to get back to what I consider to be my islands,” said Gretchen. She is a licensed Real Estate Broker and a US Coast Guard Master Captain. Gretchen is also an avid shell collector and loves boating and fishing.

Rebecca Mensch, M.S.

Marine Biologist

Rebecca Mensch, M.S., hails from Chicago and has lived the past few years in Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated at the top of her class at Auckland University of Technology. A Squid expert, a university instructor and also an experienced diver, Rebecca is versed in providing tank care for both salt water and freshwater vertebrates and invertebrates.

Jessica Godwin

Collection Associate

Jessica Godwin graduated from Waldorf College in Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in Biology and moved to Florida soon after. In Iowa, she assisted with collecting and cataloging data on Canada Geese nesting sites. She worked through the struggles of goose nest identification, data collection and cataloging information. This year she started working on her master’s degree at Florida Gulf Coast University. Jessica hopes she can help spread her joy and passion for environmental sciences during her tenure at the Shell Museum.

Leigh Gay

Outreach Coordinator

Leigh Gay graduated from North Carolina State with a bachelor's degree in zoology. She has worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in California and Florida and the National Audubon Society in Pennsylvania as an environmental educator and visitor services associate. She hopes to pursue a career in science education and loves getting students of all ages to experience nature in their own way. Her hobbies include kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, shelling (of course!); and as a self-proclaimed "beach bum," she loves anything to do with the ocean.

France Paulsen

Visitor Services Specialist

France Paulsen joined the museum staff as a visitor services specialist in September, 2016. Originally from Montreal, she moved to Southwest Florida in 1977, and she and her husband fell in love with Sanibel and Captiva Islands. They became owner/operators of a gourmet café in Ft. Myers and raised two children on Sanibel. When she finally retired, France’s love of learning and her volunteer experiences led her to Sanibel -Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Sea Turtle Patrol and the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Her passions became birdwatching, hiking local trails, and photography. She looks forward to expanding her knowledge of mollusks and other sea dwellers at the National Shell Museum as she welcomes visitors to the best of island living.

Austin Salender

Visitor Services Specialist

Austin Salender was born in New Jersey and at a young age moved to Florida, where his love for the marine world blossomed. He loves all aspects of nature, but marine biology is his passion. Before joining the museum staff, he was an intern working to create educational programs for students of all ages. He’s a marine science student at Florida Gulf Coast University and is currently conducting research on the biodiversity of shells in various locations throughout Florida. His lifelong goal is to be a marine biologist and teach others about the wonders of the ocean world through field research.

Richard Yanke

Visitor Services Specialist

Richard Yanke is a former chief information officer at Three Rivers Bancorp and the Seacoast Banking Corporation of Florida;. He also served as director of information security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Sky Financial Group, and Sky Bank. He has a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh, M.PM from Carnegie Mellon University; and P.MP from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Angie Koch

Visitor Services Specialist

Angie Koch moved to SWFL in 2011 from Washington, where she earned a BA in Theatre Arts with a minor in Museum Studies from Central Washington University. While living in Washington, she was the Managing Director of The Ellensburg Children’s Activity Museum. During graduate school, she served as the Programming and Exhibit Manager for the CWU Museum of Culture and Environment. Since she arrived in Florida, Angie has taught visual arts and theatre for several local arts organizations’ summer camps, and has been involved in the local theatre scene as an actor, director, and stage manager. Angie is a lifelong learner, and is thrilled to be a member of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum’s staff.

Bubby Howell

Visitor Services Specialist Florida Master Naturalist

For more than 40 years, Bubby has explored and discovered the area's natural treasures. He loves swimming, shelling, and snorkeling to study South Florida's ecology. Bubby is a trained docent and interpretive guide, studied communication at Kent State, and holds a Florida Master Naturalist degree from the University of Florida. Captain Bubby's IsLAND Tours began in 2014, a business that he uses to educate people about local wildlife, natural habitats, and surrounding aquatic ecosystems.