Senior international naval officers visit Bay Campus to learn more about URI, GSO

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 18, 2019 – The University of Rhode Island had a different type of student studying at the Narragansett Bay Campus on April 5 – 55 select naval officers from around the globe here to learn more about the University and its connections to the sea.

The international students were from the Naval Command College in Newport, part of the Naval War College’s year-long, graduate-level program of national security and strategic studies offered to a select group of officers from 52 countries. The naval officers are hand-picked by their home countries for the program and are expected in the next decade to be leaders in their respective navies. Currently, 39 graduates of the program are heads of navy around the world.

The visit, coordinated by the URI Business Engagement Center, was the Naval Command College’s first tour of URI and the Graduate School of Oceanography in the NCC’s 63 years.

group photo
Students from the Naval War College’s Naval Command College gather with their hosts from the University of Rhode Island for a group photo at the Narragansett Bay Campus. Photo by Michael Salerno

“Our visit to URI was truly one of the highlights of our year,” said Capt. Kevin M. McGowan, director of the command college. “To a man, every one of the 55 international officers from 52 countries, was absolutely delighted by the experience.

“It is my hope that this is the first of many mutual engagements between our two great institutions,” added McGowan. “This was the first time working with URI and I could not be more impressed by everything we saw and everyone that I had the opportunity to meet.”

In a presentation to the international officers, URI President David M. Dooley talked about the creation of the 1862 Morrill Act that formed the land-grant college system; its importance in extending college education to all citizens; and its place as the essence of URI’s mission, which now extends on a global level.

Robert Ballard
: Robert Ballard, URI professor of oceanography and discover or the Titanic, talks about his storied career with international naval officers at the Coastal Institute. Photo by Michael Salerno

“As we look to the future and we hope to grow our international partnerships, I would invite all of you here today to consider the University of Rhode Island,” said Dooley, who in his decade as URI president has overseen the growth of international agreements from 29 to 145 with institutions or governments throughout the world. “We are indeed a globally oriented university. We have multiple capabilities that we would be delighted to share with you and to collaborate with you in a number of different areas. We feel that is part of our mission as an institution of higher education.”

Professor of Oceanography Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic, Bismarck, PT109 and numerous other legendary shipwrecks, talked about his storied career; the importance of undersea exploration; and a shift in exploration that can be witnessed in URI’s Inner Space Center, whose telepresence technology can bring land-based experts instantaneously to the site of a possible discovery in the deep sea – streaming a live feed to the Inner Space Center or to the expert’s laptop.

“You make a discovery,” said Ballard. “It’s Sunday morning at 2 a.m. We’ll have the brightest minds at the spot of the discovery in 20 minutes to tell us whether we should get excited or not.”

GSO Dean Bruce Corliss provided an overview of the GSO and its research, including programs in sea-level rise, hurricane modeling and aquaculture, and David Palazzetti, director of facilities at the Bay Campus, talked about the military history of the campus. The Naval Command College students also took tours of the Inner Space Center and the research vessel Endeavor, which has served the University for more than 40 years and is set to be replaced in 2021 by the recently awarded $125 million, oceanographic research vessel, R/V Resolution.

For a group that has made numerous trips around the U.S., including visits to Boeing, the New York Stock Exchange, U.N., Facebook, Starbucks and the Saltwater-Pima Maricopa Indian Tribe in Arizona, the Bay Campus tour stood out.

“It was an excellent visit, very interesting insights,” said Cmdr. Hans Geissler of Germany. “Originally, we thought it would be strictly scientific in nature, but we’ve heard so much of international cooperation, information sharing, transparency. Of course, as military, we’re always very interested at looking at cooperation, particularly in science. In these modern times, it’s more important to get this cooperation between the military and science.”

“Part of this program is to experience the U.S. culture,” said Cmdr. Emmanual Dary of France. “We’ve seen many different places – New York, Washington, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco – and many different companies. This visit was much more related to work at sea. It was quite interesting to see how little we know about the sea at this stage.”

“As senior naval officers and future heads of navy, our international officers are fellow maritime stakeholders with sizable influence and concern for the world’s oceans,” says Capt. McGowan. “While many of our trips are oriented toward better understanding the United States, this URI visit was important on a truly global scale focusing on the ocean and our naturally shared international and global interests.”