The staff members overseeing day-to-day operations and supporting the goals of the director and the institution.
Harry Helling is the executive director of Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Since stepping into the role in 2015, he has introduced a new and expansive vision for the future of the aquarium, opened seven major exhibits and embraced a new mission: to connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet.
In the role of Director of Facilities for Birch Aquarium, Wes Bryant provides leadership and support for all day-to-day operations throughout the building, overseeing all aspects of building maintenance operations, safety, security, cleanliness and the aquarium’s life support systems. Prior to working at Birch Aquarium, Wes spent 11 years at American Honda Motor Company managing national advertising logistics in the motorcycle division and 8 years at Sequenom Biosciences San Diego managing facilities maintenance.
Director of Marketing and Communications
Beth Downing Chee has led the aquarium’s Communications Team since 2016. She has more than 20 years of experience representing some of San Diego’s top brands in tourism, arts and higher education including San Diego State University, Legoland California and Sea Life Aquarium Carlsbad. She holds a degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations from Humboldt State University. As a native San Diegan, Beth grew up visiting Birch Aquarium and is thrilled to represent the aquarium during this exciting era of growth and change.
Director of Exhibits
Megan Dickerson is the creative director of Birch Aquarium’s permanent and changing exhibit galleries and non-living collections. Dickerson and her team use human-centered design to continuously iterate and improve the Aquarium’s “human habitats,” pushing the boundaries of existing aquarium/science center paradigms.
Executive Director of Development, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The Executive Director of Development manages the engagement of Marine Sciences’ most capable and generous donors in considering transformational gifts to support Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Vice Chancellor-Marine Sciences’ highest priorities. Leading a team of 12, the EDOD oversees the development and implementation of global, private fundraising efforts in support of annual and capital campaign goals. For more about our current funding priorities and giving opportunities, please see scripps.ucsd.edu/giving.
Chief Operating Officer
Charles Hopper joined Birch Aquarium as the Chief Operating Officer in March 2021, having served in several leadership roles at Seattle Aquarium, most recently as senior manager of business operations, a role developed exclusively for him. As the Chief Operating Officer at Birch Aquarium, Charles is responsible for oversight of organizational strategy, business development and operational execution. Charles is an active leader in the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), currently serving on the Board Of Directors for AZA. He has previously served on the Professional Development Committee and the Business Operations Committee. He also serves as a course instructor for the AZA Effective Leadership Series. Charles and alumni of the prestigious Ted A. Beattie Executive Leadership Development Program. He holds a B.A. in finance and an MBA from Seattle Pacific University and is a proud U.S. Air Force veteran.
Senior Director of Animal Care, Science and Conservation
As the Senior Director of Animal Care, Science, and Conservation, Jenn leads diverse teams in animal care and health, conservation, diving, life support systems operations, and scientific studies. With a strong commitment to animal welfare and ocean conservation, she serves as an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Accreditation Inspector and on the California Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) executive legislative team. Jenn has held significant roles at The Florida Aquarium and the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a Marine Science Concentration.
Cheryl Peach, PhD is the Director of Scripps Educational Alliances, a position focused on supporting the interplay between science and education at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Cheryl’s primary role is to spearhead new initiatives in educational outreach, as well as incorporate aspects of Scripps research activities into high quality educational programs locally, regionally and nationally.
Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships
Facilitates university and community partnerships to engage public audiences with Scripps Oceanography science and to advance Birch Aquarium’s mission. Focused efforts include climate change, environmental justice, integration of western science with Indigenous ecological knowledge, and collaboration on teacher professional development, public programs, and exhibits.
Finance and Human Resource Manager
As the financial manager, is responsible for all accounting operations and administers the annual gift and grant funding programs. As the human resource manager, oversees the human resource function of the department, which includes administration of recruitment, hiring, merit/performance reviews, reclassifications, payroll, terminations, and unit trainings for staff.
Director of Guest Services
Victor Stewart is responsible for curating a best in class guest experience, driving revenue, and inspiring action in support of the mission. Victor regularly partners with key stakeholders across the organization to deliver impact for both short range and longe range goals.
Director of Special Events
Ioana Vladescu is a seasoned event professional with over 25 years of experience recognizing leaders in both the public and private sectors. Ioana has been instrumental in generating millions of dollars in revenue for the aquarium through strategic planning and new business initiatives. Passionate about ocean conservation, Ioana actively promotes equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace, she actively participates in UC San Diego’s Staff Mentorship. Ioana holds an MBA from the UC San Diego Rady School of Management, in addition to a bachelor's degree in Communications with a focus on Media Management from San Diego State University. Ioana has received numerous awards and recognition, including an Emmy and a nomination for an Edward R. Murrow Award. As a native of Romania, Ioana is a passionate ambassador for ocean conservation and takes great pride in representing Birch Aquarium. She also serves on Birch Aquarium Advisory Board: Business Development, San Diego Museum Event Council, and other notable organizations.
Director of Development, Birch Aquarium at Scripps
As Director of Development, Rachel oversees the development and implementation of global, private fundraising efforts in support of annual and capital campaign goals for Birch Aquarium.