Academy announces promotion of Leah Van der Mei to COO.

As the Chief Operating Officer and Head of Government Affairs, Van der Mei is responsible for infrastructure, guest and building operations, and technology for the Academy.


February 9, 2023 (SAN FRANCISCO, CA) — The California Academy of Sciences is pleased to announce the promotion of Leah Van der Mei to Chief Operating Officer and Head of Government Affairs.

Van der Mei, previously the Academy’s Director of Public Operations and Access, succeeds Ike Kwon, who is departing to become Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at the Field Museum in Chicago, his hometown. In her new role, Van der Mei will be responsible for infrastructure, guest and building operations, safety, and technology, and will oversee the institution’s relationships with local government and community organizations.

Van der Mei joined the Operations Division at the Academy in 2008 during its grand reopening in Golden Gate Park. In addition to deftly ensuring smooth operations to welcome more than 1 million guests each year, Van der Mei played a critical role in shaping public safety policies and protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. She founded and secured initial funding for Museums4Inclusion, an inclusive museum career development program and toolkit for individuals with disabilities, and secured initial funding through the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation. Her deep commitment to inclusion has propelled the Academy to become a leading Bay Area employer for individuals with disabilities.

Van der Mei is also a leader beyond the Academy, serving as vice chair of San Francisco Unified School District’s Parcel Tax Committee, board vice chair of The Arc San Francisco, and board member and government affairs committee member of the California Association of Museums.

“Leah is exceptionally well qualified to take the helm as the Academy’s Chief Operating Officer and Head of Government Affairs,” said Executive Director Scott Sampson. “In addition to helping the Academy navigate a wide variety of challenges—from the very successful grand reopening in 2008 to the recent pandemic—she already has had a front row seat working on government affairs, fostering a strong relationship with the city of San Francisco and local leaders. We are deeply grateful to her commitment to inclusion and look forward to having her on our executive team as the Academy continues its efforts to become a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible place to work and visit.”

“Although it is a happy coincidence, the significance of my promotion coming during Black History Month is not lost on me. I’m thrilled to become the Academy’s first Black woman to hold the Chief Operating Officer position," Van der Mei said. "I look forward to continuing my work supporting the Academy’s mission of regenerating the natural world while paving the way for many more Black executives to come after me.”

About the California Academy of Sciences

The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in scientific research and environmental education—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.

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