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.

Stefanie Wolf, M.S.

Marine Biologist

Stefanie Wolf was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and a Master of Science degree in Biology from Western Illinois University. Stefanie’s love of travel led her to spend a semester studying marine biology on the Great Barrier Reef at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. During the summer of 2013 she conducted fieldwork on the home range use patterns and distribution of resident bottlenose dolphins in the Cres-Lošinj Archipelago (Northeastern Adriatic Sea, Croatia). She has taught marine science classes in the Florida Keys and has experience in manatee, bottlenose dolphin, and sea turtle research and conservation. In her spare time she enjoys photography, traveling, shelling, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and wildlife rehabilitation. She joined the staff in February 2014 and is excited to engage others in sharing her passion for mollusks and the marine environment.

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.

Alec Economakis

Visitor Services Specialist

"I never expected to know this much about shells," is the first thing Alec Economakis tells people at his tank talks. Alec hails from Potomac, Maryland, just outside the D.C. area, and most certainly did not foresee that working around mollusks would ever be his job, and his passion. Alec's family visited Florida for nearly a decade before finding a house on Sanibel Island, where they spend vacations. Alec is enrolled at Florida Gulf Coast University and sees the humor in the fact that he’s majoring in economics, not marine biology. Alec is eager, excited, and outgoing when facing challenges and greets everyone who walks through our doors with a genuine, ecstatic smile!

Leigh Gay

Visitor Services Specialist

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.