Commencement 2022: Ocean explorer Robert Ballard will deliver University of Rhode Island commencement address, May 22

WaterFire founder, Executive Artistic Director Barnaby Evans to receive honorary degree

KINGSTON, R.I. – 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 1975 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. 

Barnaby M. Evans, founder and executive artistic director of WaterFire Providence will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on May 22 (Image courtesy of Barnaby M. Evans)

Evans created WaterFire in 1994 as part of an effort to rebrand and re-establish Providence as a destination. Using the city and its residents as part of his canvas, Evans designed WaterFire as a city-scale intervention that combines a design approach with aesthetics, land art, installation, site specific work, music, ritual and spectacle. In doing so he brought people together, creating a sense of community and providing a needed boost for the city’s just finished river relocation plan.  

Since it began, WaterFire has been called the “crown jewel of the Providence Renaissance.” It has been a revenue generator and job creator. As a nonprofit arts organization, its mission is to inspire Providence and its visitors by revitalizing the urban experience. The WaterFire Arts Center, established in 2017, helped transform a former brownfields site into a vibrant urban arts center, bringing art into the community and making it accessible to all.

“Barnaby Evans has shown us that art has the power to uplift and inspire. His WaterFire has been a catalyst in transforming our capital city, making it a cultural destination and serving as an economic driver for our state that has helped reinvigorate our communities,” said URI President Marc B. Parlange. “His work through the WaterFire Arts Center provides a showcase for Rhode Island and national artists and exposes local youth and school groups to the arts. His leadership and vision represent the very best of what we aim to instill in our students and it is an honor to welcome him to our campus and to bestow this degree.”

Evans earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science from Brown University in 1975. He has received numerous honorary degrees as well as Providence’s Renaissance Award in 1997 and the 2003 Kevin Lynch Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2011.

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.”