More than 300 attend URI’s first Sea Services Symposium

Students meet with military, University, business and non-profit representatives about maritime careers and educational opportunities

KINGSTON, R.I. – Oct. 1, 2023 – A high school student interning with University of Rhode Island shark researcher Brad Wetherbee, South Kingstown High School students testing their skills in a Marine Corps flight simulator and laser shooting range, and dozens of URI students checking out coastal, ocean and military careers were among the 300 participants during the University’s first Sea Services Symposium.

A TOOTHY ECONOUNTER: Joseph Barney, a Met High School junior, at left, is an intern for shark expert Brad Wetherbee, assistant professor in the College of the Environment and Life Sciences.

Held Friday on the Kingston Campus Quadrangle and in Edwards Hall, the program brought together the Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps, and NOAA; the University’s ocean and maritime programs from the College of the Environment and Life Sciences and Graduate School of Oceanography; non-profit agencies and businesses with maritime missions for the benefit of URI, Community College of Rhode Island and high school students.

In addition to 40 information booths on the Quad, which included robust participation by URI’s marine and ocean programs, attendees had a chance to take in the Coast Guard Band’s renditions of military service songs, visit with representatives of  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Commissioned Officer Corps and hear the URI Sea Shanty Club perform, as it was led by Dave Hill, an adjunct faculty member in the Marine Affairs program and retired Coast Guard captain.

A GREAT PRIZE: Nick Haase, general manager of Warm Winds surf shop in Narragansett, carries the surfboard the shop donated to the event for a drawing.

The event was the brainchild of Hill, the Department of Marine Affairs, and Bob Flynn, director of the Center for Military and Veteran Education at URI. It gave participants the opportunity to see the links between the Coast Guard, Navy, Marine Corps and NOAA, and URI as a maritime center of excellence and education.

“It’s hugely important for everyone here,” said Joseph Barney, a junior at the Met High School, who was staffing a table with Wetherbee, assistant professor and director of URI’s Shark Camp program, through which the two met. “You can meet a lot of people here who can help you along with your educational and career goals.”

A HELPFUL CHAT: Catie Alves, the South County coastkeeper for Save the Bay, left, chats with Iris Freifeld, a first-year student with a double major in environmental science and management and marine biology.

Barney is not only doing research with Wetherbee, he will be a camp counselor for Shark Camp next summer. He said he is definitely going to apply to URI.

Catie Alves, the South County coastkeeper for Save the Bay, chatted with students about opportunities with her organization and others.

“This is a terrific program because students have a great opportunity to explore a variety of careers,” Alves said. “It’s important that the next generation gets involved in protecting our oceans for the benefit of people and the oceans themselves. And you don’t have to be a scientist to do this work.”

Nick Haase, general manager of Warm Winds surf shop in Narragansett and 2013 URI graduate in geology and geological ocean engineering, oversaw the drawing for the shop’s donated $950 handmade surfboard.

A MODEST START TO A GREAT CAREER: Vincent Patton talks to the audience about coming from modest beginnings in Detroit to his rise to master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard. Now retired, he held the top enlisted position in the Coast Guard.

“The symposium is giving a lot of people the opportunity to see what’s available,” Haase said. “Even though it’s raining, people are coming together. I would tell students to follow their passions. I did and I am making good money doing it. We also count on URI Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design students to help us design our own clothing.”

Grace Omer of Dallas, Texas, and Jena Panas of Long Island, both graduate students in marine affairs, chatted with Holley Buresh and Jonathan Kabak of the Oliver Hazard Perry, Rhode Island’s official tall ship.

“I came to URI specifically for the master’s degree in marine affairs,” said Omer, who is completing her thesis on climate adaptive fisheries. “I came to URI because it has the oldest and best program.”

Panas, who is focusing on oyster aquaculture, said there are so many career opportunities in the marine field. “To have an event like this to show the wide variety of options is wonderful,” she said.

Mary Landry, retired rear admiral of the Coast Guard, first director of incident management preparedness at Coast Guard headquarters, a 1995 graduate of the master’s degree program in marine affairs, and recipient of URI’s Distinguished Achievement Award, was one of the keynote speakers during the formal program in Edwards Hall.

She talked about the impact of Marine Affairs Professor Emeritus Larry Juda.

“He was teaching international ocean law and international ocean policy, and he said you will have this journey of slow, methodical work,” Landry said.

“Then you will have something called focusing events. That’s when everyone pays attention. I never forgot that concept of a focusing event, and I quoted Larry Juda so many times. He should get credit for that,” added Landry, the Coast Guard’s district commander during the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which involved 48,000 people as part of a multibillion-dollar response.

A former special assistant to the president and White House senior director for resilience policy, and former executive officer of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Boston, Landry worked with fellow Coast Guard veteran Abby Benson when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington occurred. Benson is now URI’s interim vice president for administration and finance. Landry said Benson, who could have risen to the rank of admiral if she had remained in the Coast Guard, was one of her battle buddies. 

“I wish she had stayed in the Coast Guard, but she has had a fabulous career and she is going to do great things for URI. I always relied on my battle buddies (during crises), some of whom were classmates of mine at URI,” Landry said. “When you are in the trenches like that, it’s wonderful to turn and look at someone from your past and know that you can trust them and they trust you because you worked together.”