Alton Dooley was born in Roanoke, Virginia and was raised in nearby Bedford County. After graduating from Staunton River High School and the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, he attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, earning a B.A. in Geology in 1991. He then attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and in 1998 received a Ph.D in Geology.
While an undergraduate and graduate student, he worked as a volunteer, intern, or consultant for a number of museums, including the Science Museum of Western Virginia, Virginia Museum of Natural History, LSU Museum of Natural Science, Bermuda Aquarium, and Smithsonian Institution. In 1999 he returned to Virginia to work at VMNH full-time as the Laboratory Manager, eventually being promoted to Curator of Paleontology.
While attending graduate school in Louisiana, Dr. Dooley was employed as a science teacher and football coach at Jackson High School. During this same period he worked at LSU as an Instructor of Geology. From 2002 to 2012 he taught geology, paleontology, and oceanography courses on an adjunct basis for Radford University, Longwood University, Virginia Tech, Ferrum College, and Virginia Western Community College.
Dr. Dooley’s research interests primarily center around whales and other marine vertebrates from the Miocene Epoch and Pleistocene mastodons, although he has published papers on a variety of fossils from different time periods ranging from Cambrian stromatolites to Pleistocene squirrels. In recent years he has begun collaborating with various schools and museums to develop new interactive exhibits and classroom lessons using casts and digital media.
Dr. Dooley has been the Executive Director of the Western Science Center since 2014.