Discovery Center Staff


Staff at the Discovery Center work very hard to provide educational, scientific exhibits and programming for the local community.

Please contact us if you have any questions, concerns, or inquiries.


Cultural Arts & Sciences Division Head - Laura Walker
Discovery Center Manager - Kate Messenger

Originally from Cincinnati Ohio, Kate moved to Ocala with her family in 1996. Since then she has been enjoying all that her big beautiful backyard has to offer. By thirteen, Kate became one of the youngest certified SCUBA divers in our area, and even did a brief stint as an underwater model. Growing up in an active outdoorsy family instilled a life-long love of nature and conservation, which led to studies in ecology and marine biology.  As a teen, Kate volunteered as a manatee caretaker and scuba diver at Homosassa Springs State Park.  Science and the arts are her two biggest passions. Kate is a 2001 Forest High School Alumni and holds a bachelor’s degree from Flagler College.  A self-ascribed “Jill of all Trades” she has worked as an actress, tour guide, children’s theatre instructor and historic reenactor.  Kate is married to her high school sweet-heart and together they have two daughters who are their world.  In her spare time, you can find this busy mom playing at the beach, hiking, surfing, exploring the springs, and making art with her family.

Discovery Center Exhibit Coordinator - Curtis Hinnrichs

Curtis has a life long passion for animals and learning, sparked from his families many visits to The Bronx Zoo during his childhood.  Two of his favorite words are why and how, which has led him down an interesting path.  Moving from Greenville, New York to Ocala in 2008, Curtis earned his first degree from The College of Central Florida in Early Childhood Education.  His next adventure came when he decided to delve into his childhood dream, going to the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, earning a degree in Zoo Animal Technology.  Curtis brings a mix of experiences with him to the museum that he can’t wait to share with out guests, be it building new and fascinating exhibits to interact with or sharing our animal friends with visitors.  He gets to go home to his own miniature zoo everyday since he and his wife have multiple cats, dogs, fish, lizards, and one very special tortoise.

Discovery Center Program Coordinator - Casey Bonnett

Casey joined the Discovery Center team in June of 2020 after being a high school science teacher for 4 years. She received her Bachelor of Science in Botany from the University of Maine in 2016 and her Master of Science in Environmental Education from Florida Institute of Technology in 2018. Casey is passionate about creating educational experiences that introduce and explore science in new and creative ways. Her favorite thing about Discovery Center is being able to work with people of all ages to help spark their curiosity of exploration and discovery!

Discovery Center Program Leader - Cara Johnson

Cara burst on the scene of Discovery Center full of excitement and ready to teach kids to love learning. She is passionate about sparking creativity and giving each student an opportunity to shine. By utilizing different styles of learning in the lessons she creates she show all kids, regardless of age or ability, that there is a place for them in the wonderful world of STEAM.

Cara began her lifetime career of working with children at 14 when she gave her first piano lesson. Over the years, she worked in children’s education in numerous settings – non-profits, the public-school system as well as many years earning her stripes as a veteran homeschool mom of four. During this time, she also operated her own business teaching voice and piano and worked as a professional musician. Because of her extensive education and experience in music and seeing firsthand how the arts in education can enable learning in a unique way, she is a firm believer in the value of the A in STEAM. She incorporates the arts into scientific learning every chance she gets – and the results have been fantastic. Kids who might shy away from traditional science teaching styles often respond wonderfully to her unique approach.

Cara is a favorite around Discovery center for another reason too…she loves to GET MESSY! She often tells parents her classes are the place kids can do all the messy science experiments they don’t want them to do at home. Whether examining the properties of slime or making moon craters in shaving cream – she is happiest when up to her elbows in activities with her students.

Cara’s approach to teaching, learning and life in general can be summed up in a quote from her idol, the eternally exuberant Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus Children’s book series, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

Discovery Center Customer Service Attendant - Sydney Vernon
Sydney is a mother of two wonderful boys, aged 13 and 7. One fun fact about Sydney is that like her boys, she was raised in the beautiful city of Ocala! Before working at the Discovery Center, Sydney was a manager for six years at a locally owned McDonald’s.
Apart from being the coolest mom to the toughest boys, Sydney also likes listening to music and making candy cakes! She has a passion for childhood development, with her future goal being to go back to school to become a teacher and a mentor.

Discovery Center Board Members


The Discovery Center Foundation board members aide in the success of the Discovery Center. Board members attend quarterly meetings and raise funds through the annual Cattle Drive and Cowboy Roundup event.

If you are interested in becoming a board member, please contact us.

Board President – Tim Dean

Board Treasurer – Dirk Leeward

Board Secretary – Sarah Damien

Board Member – Joe Critchley

Board Member – Kim Dinkins

Board Member – Nicole Shepard

Board Member – Rick Bourne

Board Member – Stephanie Hill Palmer

Board Member – Alvaro Saldrriaga