Meet the team
Executive Director: Rachel Hopkins
Through strategic thinking, effective fundraising and a vibrant approach, Rachel is dedicated to not only serving the needs of the Science Museum but impacting the local economy through creative place-making.
She previously served as the Vice President of Development for Center in the Square and led the development of the popular Roanoke Pinball Museum.
Before relocating to Roanoke in 2012, Rachel lived abroad for 10 years, both in Leipzig, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands.
“Many people have asked why Roanoke? It was love at first sight! I am captivated by Roanoke’s pristine and nostalgic beauty, not to mention the limitless potential.”
Director of Operations: Christy Brooks
Christy Brooks grew up in Gate City, Virginia in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. She has always been in love with nature, and received an Associate in Forest Science from Mountain Empire Community College. She moved to Roanoke in 1999, and began working at the museum in 2000 as a Visitor Services Manager. She eventually became the Scheduling Coordinator, and in September 2017 became the new Director of Operations at the Science Museum of Western Virginia. Christy is passionate about instilling a love and understanding of science in today’s youth, and works directly with schools and groups to make sure they are provided the best educational (and fun!) experiences we have to offer. She has two sons, one of which is active in his high school S.T.E.M. program.
“I’ve always loved Science because I’ve always wanted to know the answers to “why?” Understanding how the things in our world work and how they affect the things around them is amazing, and very important.”
Visitor Services Associate: Ayla Coleman
Ayla Coleman was born and raised in Bluefield, West Virginia before moving to Vinton in elementary school. She graduated from William Byrd High School and is currently attending Virginia Western Community College to obtain her Associates in Human Services. Her plans are to eventually gain a Master’s in Social Services and give back to the community. Ayla joined the staff here in the early summer of 2017 as a Visitor Services Associate.
“Science is one of the most amazing aspects of the universe to me because they’re one in the same. Everything we have and everything we are is owed to science. It lets us discover the questions we never knew to ask and to question the answers of everything we’ve known.”
Visitor Services Associate: Rebecca Dudley
Growing up around the Roanoke area, Rebecca has always been curious about the world and interested in science. She joined the Science Museum of Western Virginia as a volunteer in 2018, and joined the staff as a Visitor's Services Associate not long after. Rebecca is currently a student, and strives to make a positive difference in her community and on the environment.
"In a world of so much possibility, science provides us with a way to reach past previously seen boundaries and make astounding new discoveries. Science is the foundation of our world as we know it, and the future we have yet to see."
Visitor Services Associate/Weekend Manager: Caitlyn Landreneau
Director of Philanthropy: Mary Roberts Baako
Mary Roberts Baako is the Director of Philanthropy at the Science Museum of Western Virginia. Prior to her position with the museum, Mary dedicated her career to education initiatives both domestically and abroad. Her previous experience includes: Director of Global Education Programs at the United Nations Association in Washington, D.C.; Education Specialist at the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHARJ) in Accra, Ghana; and Program Associate on a National Latino Student Success Initiative at MDC in Durham, North Carolina.
Mary also owns two businesses in Ghana with her husband, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Girl Scouts of the Virginia Skyline. She is originally from the Roanoke Valley and moved back in 2015 with her husband Shawn and daughter, Paige. She holds a Master of International Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from Creighton University and has lived and worked in India, Egypt, Ghana, and South Korea. In her free time, you can find Mary working in her garden or planning her next exotic adventure abroad.
Marketing Director: Koren Smith
Koren moved to Roanoke from the UK in January 2018 and started volunteering at the museum. It didn’t take long from her to fall in love with the ideologies and the vision of the museum and so came on as the Marketing Director to help realize the museum’s full potential.
Prior to moving, Koren completed a MS in Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee and a BS in Human Biology at Loughborough University.
“I initially enjoyed learning science in school because there always seemed to be an answer to the question being asked, but as I grew and learnt these subjects in more detail, I realized that I am even more fascinated in science because of all of the unanswered questions that are just waiting to be discovered!”
Director of Education: Hannah Weiss
Hannah Weiss was born and raised in the New York City area. During college, she moved across the state to attend the University of Rochester, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in mathematics. Throughout college she also gained a lot of experience working in science labs and in education with different summer camps. After her undergraduate degree, she worked in a variety of museums, nature centers, laboratories and public aquariums before enrolling in a Masters program at Radford University. There, she earned a Master of Science in Curriculum and Development. She is also licensed to teach biology and life science in Virginia.
“Science is magic. In what other field can you spend your days learning about things both too tiny to see and too vast to comprehend while still maintaining your sanity? Well, most of it anyway…”
Lead Educator: Jordan Thayer
Jordan grew up in Roanoke before attending the University of Virginia. After a brief stint as a pre-med, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Following graduation she returned to Roanoke and worked with the museum’s summer camps and exhibits before becoming an educator.
“Science is the best way we have to understand the world around us, and it’s also the best rabbit hole to fall down. Every “why?” and “how?” leads to a great new path to explore.”
Educator: Ashley Sloan
Ashley’s love of science began with her first introduction to “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and never stopped growing. She was raised in the Rocky Mount/Roanoke area and graduated from Franklin County High School and she is currently working towards an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from Virginia Western Community College with plans for a Bachelors Degree after that. Ashley joined the museum staff in August 2017 as a Visitor Services Associate and made the transition to the Education department in March 2018.
“Science inspired me as a child: how things work- energy transference, ecosystems, matter- all of it was fascinating. I hope to pass that inspiration on to the next generation.”
Educator: Leilani Dade
Leilani grew up in the Roanoke area. She attended Hollins University where she received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and French with a specialization in classical guitar and a certificate in Arts Management. After graduation, she relocated to Southern California to pursue a master’s and PhD in Musicology at the University of California Riverside. Although her background is in the arts, Leilani has a deep appreciation for science and engineering. Her academic interests blend the boundaries between STEM and the arts through multimedia presentations, puppetry, live storytelling and stop-motion animation.
As a graduate student, Leilani developed two artist-in-residency programs for the GLUCK Fellowship of the Arts: Cadence and Bolero: A Musical Journey through Space, and Drama and Drums: A Five Week Music Program in Opera and Folklore, programs which explored the connections between music, culture, space travel, and the physics of sound. These programs helped jump-start her passion for interdisciplinary programming and educational outreach.
“I used to think that people were either artists or engineers. Fortunately, our lived realities are much more complex than that. I’m grateful to work in a space that encourages creativity, collaboration, and making connections across disciplines and with the world outside the classroom.”
Animal Care Specialist: Guy Byrd
Growing up in Roanoke, Guy graduated from Patrick Henry High School and attended Ferrum College, where he gained experience working with children as a camp counselor.
After graduating from Ferrum with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Environmental Science, Guy left the area and moved to Seattle. There he gained valuable experience working with developmentally challenged children as a teacher’s assistant, as well as pursuing his lifelong hobby of caring for exotic pets and taking a professional position as a Senior Aquarium Technician, where he maintained custom made commercial saltwater and freshwater aquaria.
“My lifelong interest in caring for exotic animals really got its launch here at the Science Museum! I volunteered here at the Science Museum, working in Animal Care, as a student in middle school when Center in the Square first opened. Pretty awesome how things come full circle!”
Exhibit Technician: Mark Hodges
Born and raised in Roanoke, Mark Hodges started with the Science Museum in the late 1980s as a part time employee at the front desk, then in the planetarium and as the exhibits technician.
Mark’s training and education is in auto service, electronics and medical equipment service technician.
“I’m psyched by science because I’ve always been curious and I like science.”
Exhibit Attendant: Alif Hill
Alif was born and raised in the Roanoke area before attending Virginia Western Community College to study Mechatronics.
Alif's deep passion got robots and 3D Printing lead him to the field of engineering where he competed in robot competitions and learned to 3D model. Now Alif works on a number of projects hoping to bring science and innovation to the Roanoke area!
"Science is the foundation that our universe was built upon, being able to explore science means being able to explore the universe and all that comes with it!"