Malcolm Spaulding, a Titan in Ocean Research, Retires


After 39 years, ocean engineering professor Malcolm Spaulding will bid the University goodbye.

When Malcolm Spaulding moved into his dorm room at the University of Rhode Island in the fall of 1965, his family had modest expectations for the first Spaulding ever to attend college. Spaulding himself assumed he would graduate from URI, find a career in engineering and never turn back. Life didn’t quite work out that way.

Forty-six years after stepping foot on campus for the first time, Spaulding is preparing to leave. In February, the ocean engineering professor will retire.

During his 39-year tenure as a faculty member, the professor has mentored hundreds of students, conducted world-renowned research, and leveraged his innovative work in ocean modeling to start the international engineering firm Applied Science Associates.

“I have never seen anyone work as hard as he has for the University,” says Professor Peter Stepanishen, who joined URI a few months after Spaulding. “Malcolm has been well respected and a very, very much-appreciated colleague.”

Spaulding spent a dozen years at the helm of the ocean engineering department. He built the undergraduate ocean engineering program that today caters to more than 100 students. At the graduate level, he served as a major professor for 23 master’s students and 10 doctoral students. He is credited with hiring or promoting 60 percent of the faculty in the department and offering contemporary research problems to students.

“That mix of teaching and research I’ve liked,” Spaulding says. “I’m not a person who would do well in a highly structured environment.”

In many ways, Spaulding grew up in a fluid environment. As a young boy, he assisted his entrepreneurial grandfather start a host of companies from a cattle farm to a sawmill. At the mill, the young Spaulding devised manufacturing lines and creative ways to keep them humming along. Over the years, his interest in how things work continued to grow, and he entered URI chasing a mechanical engineering degree, which he secured in 1969. After earning a master’s at MIT, he returned to URI to complete a doctoral program.

After a nine-month stint at Old Dominion University, URI hired him to fill in for a professor on sabbatical. The job, he was told, was temporary. Retirement, it seems, may turn out the same way.

Spaulding says he plans to stay involved with the University, whether through research projects or informal consulting. He will also remain an advisor to Applied Science Associates – which he sold to an international engineering company last year – and spend time maintaining his 187-acre forest in Carolina, Rhode Island, and his 50-acre farm in the southwest of France.

“I intend to be completely busy,” Spaulding says.