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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Marine explorer Robert Ballard's first class of archaeological oceanography students a dual threat

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

Science, humanities combo makes students and URI program unique

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. -- August 24, 2004 -- Students interested in following the footsteps of marine explorer Robert Ballard can now do so. That's because Ballard, a professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, has created the first graduate degree program in archaeological oceanography to educate students in this emerging and growing discipline.

The first class of students arrives on campus in September.

"This is the only program in the world to merge the disciplines of history, archaeology, oceanography and ocean engineering, so our students have to be a dual threat," Ballard said. "They have to be strong in the sciences and strong in the humanities, which is unusual."

The first five students in the program -- Michael Brennan of Avon, Conn., Alicia Coles of Lincoln, Neb. (pictured in lab at right), Kathryn Croff of Boston, Mass., James Moore of Abingdon, Va., and Michael Sutherland of Moultonboro, N.H. -- have bachelor's and/or master's degrees in geology, anthropology, engineering, marine science, maritime archaeology, oceanography or classics.

"We were looking for cross-over students," Ballard said, "and we found them. No two of them are alike. Just having the five of them in the same room together, they can teach each other."

Croff has already participated in several research expeditions with Ballard, including this year's trip to the Titanic, and Brennan worked with Ballard on a JASON Project expedition to Yellowstone National Park as a high school freshman in 1997.

"I am very excited about this opportunity to work again with Dr. Ballard and his team at URI," said Croff. "The new archaeological oceanography program will serve as an excellent vehicle for me to synthesize my past experience in ocean engineering and maritime archaeology, and I hope that our research will assist archaeologists in shedding light on the secrets of past civilizations."

"I've been interested in Dr. Ballard's work since I was really young," said Brennan. "My JASON Project experience with Bob is partly what triggered my interest in studying geology. I interviewed Bob for high school and college projects, and kept in touch over the years. When he started his program, he asked me to apply."

With Ballard as their thesis advisor, the students will spend considerable time in the classroom and conducting research with the URI professor. "Next year we're going to spend 100 days at sea together, so they'll be seeing a lot of me," he said.

In 2005, Ballard and his students will study hydrothermal vents and deep-sea corals in the North Atlantic, and visit the coasts of Spain and Greece to look for the remains of sunken Phoenician and Minoan ships.

Ballard is writing the first textbook in archaeological oceanography, which he will use to teach a class on the subject during the students' second year. Ballard will also give lectures in other history and oceanography classes during the school year.

Students entering the joint program between URI's History Department and its Graduate School of Oceanography will graduate in five years with a master's degree in history and a doctorate in oceanography.

"Graduates of the program will be able to pursue the usual oceanography fields, but they can also help us build this new field of research in archaeological oceanography," he said. "As the field grows, other universities will need faculty and researchers, so our students will be in big demand and have multiple options. It's such a newly emerging field that our students will be in the right place at the right time for great job opportunities.

"The ocean is the world's largest museum, so these students have a lot of work to do," he added.