New Scripps Institution of Oceanography vice chancellor to help usher in plethora of projects on La Jolla campus


With all the projects coming down the pike at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), the appointment of new assistant vice chancellor of finance and operations Patrick Callaghan could not have come at a better time. He replaces former vice chancellor Steve Gallagher, who stepped down in October 2018 “to help care for two family members with significant medical issues.”

At his new post since July, Callaghan is a CPA by training who has worked in accounting firms focusing on high finance acquisition, mergers, bankruptcies, insolvencies and IPOs. He said he considers accounting to be “the language of business.”

He told La Jolla Light he sees his role at the oceanographic institute as one that supports the research and faculty and “unburdens them” from financial paperwork. Some of the projects currently under construction include a new railing for the Scripps Pier (which is closed to the public); erecting the Coastal Studies building; and creating the new hydraulics lab with a SOARS machine. Several more major projects are on the drawing boards.

Callaghan said: “The scientists are here to focus on research and teaching, and that’s what they excel at. I am here to do accounting, financing and operations, that’s what I’m good at. I want to unburden them so they can spend more time doing what they are passionate about — more time in the lab, on the ocean and with the students. You don’t come to SIO to fill out budget paperwork every month. I want to improve the processes and modernize them.”

In his native London, Ontario, a young Callaghan was more interested in language and history than finance, but with relatives in the field, he said he eventually followed suit: “I’m from a small town, but I’ve worked in big cities across the world through this language of business that the entire world speaks. It’s a very romanticized view, but that’s why I became an accountant.”

And the ocean-view office to which he now reports is far from the norm for a CPA. “The photos from my office were immediately sent home to Canada,” he joked. “People literally build resorts on land with this kind of view. I feel extraordinarily blessed to be here. I’m still in that stage where I get distracted by a pod of dolphins going by when I’m on the phone, and I have to pause what I’m saying.”

The father of three added that his children (8- and 4-year-old sons and a six-week-old daughter) are embracing the California lifestyle. “My wife is helping my sons explore Southern California, but they are keeping their Canadian roots by signing up for hockey,” he said. “They are looking forward to a snow-free winter.”

Communication is key

Eyeing the three projects currently under construction — and the others in the works — Callaghan explained: “My role is to make sure the building plans are done with the end-user in mind. We will have conversations with the researchers, the students and the community to say, ‘this is what we want to do,’ and get their input to make sure the end results fit the original design. I’m detail-oriented and rules-driven, so I will not be building buildings that are unusable to the researchers, that the students don’t like, and the community thinks is an eyesore.”

Purely for aesthetics, the railing along the Scripps Pier is being replaced for the first time since the 1980s. According to SIO, 10 individual family members (as well as multiple family foundations representing nine more family members) collaborated on a $2.6 million charitable gift to support the replacement of the pier railing. All the family members are descendants of Robert Paine Scripps, a son of Edward W. Scripps and a nephew of Ellen Browning Scripps.

Adjacent the pier, the Charles and Beano Scripps Center for Coastal Studies is under construction and set to open in spring 2020. Callaghan said there will be labs in the middle levels and office on the upper levels. Scientists working in the new lab will study physical processes of the ocean that inform society about issues facing the California coast and shoreline — erosion, shoreline pollution transport and sea-level rise.

Across campus, the new hydraulics lab and planned SOARS (Scripps Ocean Atmosphere Research Simulator) machine are under construction to open in 2021.

“The hydraulics lab looks at waves and what gets aerosolized during the white caps in terms of bacteria or viruses,” Callaghan explained. “So in the lab, there will be a wave replicating tank known as SOARS with a series of variables that researchers can control. The lab will be able to replicate winds of 31 miles per hour to replicate different ocean conditions.

“The water is pumped in, so it is actual ocean water being used, and the lab grows algae blooms and measures what gets released.” (Sea spray aerosols and gases emitted from the ocean can change the properties of clouds which changes the temperature of the planet, and aerosol-clouds interactions are considered to be the most difficult variables in climate to understand.)

When it comes to relaying these ideas to the surrounding community, “Communication is going to be everything,” Callaghan said. “As soon as we start doing things and then telling people after-the-fact, that’s a problem.”

Looking ahead

Further down the line, in early 2020, projects such as UC San Diego Marine Conservation Facility will begin construction. The new facility is being constructed in SIO’s former, emptied Southwest Science Fisheries Building, which has been slated for demolition since the 1997-1998 El Nino winter. The facilities include laboratories for Scripps Institution of Oceanography students and a café.

— Callaghan can be reached at