Photo: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego

Margaret Leinen to Step Down as Vice Chancellor and Scripps Director in 2025

Leinen was appointed as the first female director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2013

Following more than a decade of service to UC San Diego, Margaret Leinen will step down from her role as Vice Chancellor for Marine Sciences, Dean of the School of Marine Sciences and Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, effective June 30, 2025.

“Margaret Leinen's leadership has transformed Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the School of Marine Sciences, elevating UC San Diego's reputation as a global leader in research and education,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “In particular, her unwavering commitment to understanding and addressing the climate crisis through interdisciplinary research has empowered a new generation of climate leaders who will carry the torch forward. She will be deeply missed, but her legacy will have a lasting impact on our university and the world at large.”

San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer presents Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen with a proclamation during the commissioning festivities for Research Vessel Sally Ride in November 2016.

Leinen was appointed as vice chancellor and dean, and the eleventh director of Scripps Oceanography on October 1, 2013. She became Scripps’ first female director since the institution’s founding in 1903. Her appointment followed a one-year term during which Scripps professor of geophysics Cathy Constable served as interim director. Under Leinen's leadership, Scripps Oceanography drove immense growth in degree programs and student enrollment, doubled sponsored research and philanthropic funding and elevated UC San Diego research on the global stage, influencing environmental and climate policy and protection at the local, national and international level.

As director, Leinen championed initiatives to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at Scripps and in geosciences, including hiring the department’s first director of diversity initiatives in 2017, and elevating the position of faculty equity advisor to associate dean for faculty equity and inclusion. She aided in securing funding to build and expand programs with the goal of advancing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students. Scripps Oceanography has been in the top four undergraduate departments at UC San Diego for underrepresented minority first-year and transfer admits since 2018, and recent doctoral and master’s cohorts have increased from an average of 13% underrepresented minority students to an average of 22% underrepresented minority students over the last four years.

Leinen also shepherded the growth of the Scripps Oceanography faculty, which increased 33% during her tenure, and saw more diversification. Fifty percent of more than 50 of the faculty hired since she became vice chancellor were women, and nearly 20 percent identified as underrepresented minorities.

She also worked closely with Chancellor Khosla and Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth Simmons to form a working group to assess gender disparities in research space allocation at Scripps and led a change management committee to implement the recommendations of the working group to build lasting equity in space allocation at Scripps.  

"Margaret Leinen's leadership and transformation of Scripps have been nothing short of remarkable, and will go down in history as one of the most consequential for the institution, if not for all of ocean science,” said oceanographer Dawn Wright, chief scientist of Esri and a member of the Scripps Director’s Council. “Her tenure could not have come at a more important time, especially in helping Scripps to turn a corner where women and people of diverse cultures and backgrounds are concerned. She has been an inspiration and role model to many of us in ocean science."

Margaret Leinen speaking at a ribbon cutting event
Margaret Leinen speaks at the opening for the Scripps Ocean Atmosphere Research Simulator, which opened in the Hydraulics Laboratory at Scripps in November 2021. 

Degree programs and student enrollment at Scripps flourished during Leinen’s tenure, going from two Scripps undergraduate majors to three majors, the Environmental Systems program, and Climate Change Studies minor. Broad undergraduate education in Scripps-led courses for non-majors at UC San Diego also expanded significantly, more than doubling the number of undergraduate students enrolled in Scripps courses. Undergraduate student participation in seagoing class cruises and independent research also tripled during her tenure.

Philanthropic giving more than doubled, reaching more than $30 million for the first time in the institution’s history in the latest fiscal year. This includes funding for key research endeavors such as the formation of the Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, major gifts for capital improvements to science facilities and to Birch Aquarium, programs to increase diversity in geosciences and scientific diving and increases in student fellowship support.

Leinen with Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama meets Scripps professor Ram Ramanathan, Margaret Leinen and Chancellor Khosla during his June 2017 visit to UC San Diego.

Along with philanthropic growth, Leinen oversaw the doubling of sponsored research funding, reaching $307 million in in the most recent fiscal year – and its diversification to include increases in state funding and private non-profit funding. This included sustained, increased and new state and federal funding for critical ocean, atmosphere and earth observing programs managed by Scripps.

"Following years of exceptional leadership at the University of Rhode Island, the National Science Foundation, and most recently Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Margaret Leinen has shaped ocean research globally, guided investment decisions in the ocean technologies, and mentored countless young researchers," said Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences and alumna of Scripps Oceanography. "She leaves a legacy that places her among the most prominent oceanographers of modern times.”

Leinen also advanced the international reputation of UC San Diego. From 2016 to 2018, she served as a science envoy for the U.S. State Department focusing on ocean science in Latin America, East Asia and the Pacific. She led the University of California delegation to the United Nations climate change conferences known as COPs. She championed student participation and, with other ocean science leaders, successfully fought for inclusion of ocean issues in climate negotiation texts. With Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she launched the Ocean Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, and COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates that served as a center for ocean-related science and policy discussions at the COPs.


Margaret Leinen speaking at the UN
Students at Ocean Pavilion
Left: Margaret Leinen speaks at the United Nations Ocean Conference at U.N. headquarters in June 2017. Right: Margaret Leinen (center) with the UC San Diego delegation at the inaugural Ocean Pavilion COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

For the research fleet at Scripps Oceanography, Leinen oversaw the commissioning of Research Vessel (R/V) Sally Ride, the midlife refit of R/V Roger Revelle, and the fundraising and acquisition of R/V Bob and Betty Beyster. She fostered the development of a new hydrogen-hybrid California Coastal Research Vessel, a first-of-its-kind vessel with a hydrogen-hybrid propulsion system capable of zero-emissions operations, leading the way on maritime decarbonization and which will be essential to California’s climate adaptation goals. 

The transformation of the Scripps portion of the UC San Diego campus under Leinen’s leadership included the complete reconstruction of the Charles and Beano Scripps Coastal Services Center and Ted and Jean Scripps Marine Conservation and Technology Facility. It also included the re-purposing of the Hydraulics Laboratory to provide a home for the Scripps Ocean Atmosphere Research Simulator (SOARS) and Scripps Sandbox Makerspace classroom and laboratory. The renovation of the Eckart Building provided new facilities for the growing student population, including new classrooms and new student study areas.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir and Margaret Leinen
NASA Astronaut and Scripps alumna Jessica Meir meets with Margaret Leinen at Scripps Oceanography prior to Meir serving as the UC San Diego commencement keynote speaker in 2022. 

An advocate for the ocean-powered Blue Economy, Leinen fostered a new industry engagement and entrepreneurship program with revenue from corporate affiliates programs, grants and gifts. The startBlue ocean accelerator program, initiated in 2021 and managed by Scripps and the Rady School of Management, has supported 22 ocean-focused startups, 50% of which are female-founded, that have collectively raised $10.1 million.

Prior to joining UC San Diego, Leinen served for seven years at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as assistant director for Geosciences and Coordinator of Environmental Research and Education across the Foundation. She has also served as vice provost for Marine and Environmental Initiatives and Executive Director of Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, a unit of Florida Atlantic University. At the University of Rhode Island, she was vice provost for Marine and Environmental Programs and dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography.

Leinen has been honored as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Union and The Oceanography Society and as an Honorary Member of the American Meteorological Society in 2022. In 2020, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

UC San Diego will conduct a national search will commence shortly for the next vice chancellor and dean for the School of Marine Sciences and director of Scripps Oceanography.


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