Ocean explorer Robert Ballard will deliver URI commencement address

April 20, 2022

World renowned ocean explorer and professor of oceanography Robert Ballard will deliver the keynote address for the University of Rhode Island’s 136th Undergraduate Commencement from aboard his ship, the E/V Nautilus. Best known for his discovery of numerous significant shipwrecks, including the RMS Titanic, the German battleship Bismarck and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, Ballard received his doctorate in marine geology and geophysics from URI in 1974 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 1986.

Ballard will address the class of 2022, their families and friends, at a ceremony that will also honor artist, designer, developer, and thought leader Barnaby M. Evans. Evans, the founder and executive artistic director of WaterFire Providence, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. The ceremony will be held Sunday, May 22, at 12:30 p.m. on the Quadrangle of the Kingston Campus.

Ballard’s keynote comes as the University is undertaking a major effort to revitalize and modernize its Narragansett Bay Campus, home to URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography. Phase one of the master plan for the campus includes a new pier to accommodate the arrival of the new $125 million National Science Foundation Regional Class R/V Narragansett Dawn as well as a new ocean robotics laboratory and marine operations facility.

Ballard returned to URI as a faculty member in 2001 after spending 30 years at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He directs URI’s Center for Ocean Exploration and developed its Inner Space Center, an international hub for ocean science and education that uses cutting-edge technology to facilitate, support, and promote live ocean exploration around the globe. He also founded the not-for-profit Ocean Exploration Trust in 2008. A pioneer in the development of deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicle systems, Ballard has taken part in more than 160 deep-sea expeditions throughout his career.

In 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chose Ballard and the University of Rhode Island to lead its $94 million Ocean Exploration Cooperative Institute to support ocean exploration, responsible resource management, improved scientific understanding of the deep sea and to strengthen the nation’s blue economy. Other cooperative members are the Ocean Exploration Trust, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of New Hampshire and University of Southern Mississippi.

“As our university and our state continue to move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, I can think of no better person to address our students than Dr. Robert Ballard. The changes underway at our Narragansett Bay Campus will enable our university to build on its global reputation for oceanographic research and education and meet the evolving education needs of our students and future workforce, while continuing to support and build Rhode Island’s blue economy,” said Parlange. “Dr. Ballard’s work has captured the imagination of the public and brought attention to all that is left to explore beneath the ocean’s surface, inspiring the next generation of explorers, oceanographers and ocean engineers.”