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Ballard/Austin Challenge to Support Graduate Fellowship at GSO

Kingston, R.I. (February 3, 2010)--The URI Foundation today announced that a combined gift commitment of $100,000 by Dr. Robert D. Ballard and Dr. James A. Austin, Jr., has been made. Ballard and Austin, long-time friends since their early days as young oceanographers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, make their gift as a challenge to spur other donors to commit an additional $300,000 to support a fellowship endowment attached to the Graduate School of Oceanography’s academic program, the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Campus.

“I am very pleased to assist in the creation of a substantial fellowship endowment to support a graduate student in the Center in the field of geological oceanography,” said Ballard of the challenge that he and Austin have mounted. “My commitment is made in hopes that others will join with Jamie and me in assuring that the Graduate School of Oceanography will continue to remain on the exciting forefront of discovery and knowledge about the oceans that cover 70 percent of our planet.”

James Austin said, “Like Bob, I want to challenge the other friends of GSO to support this fellowship. I hope and expect that this effort will be the first in a succession of initiatives geared to build a sizeable endowment for GSO. I have used GSO’s research vessel for my own research, and have had productive relationships with GSO scientific staff for many years. But the Inner Space Center marks a wonderful enhancement to the excellence that GSO already represents, and this graduate fellowship will help to make the potential of the ISC a reality. I am also pleased that it marks a long-standing friendship that goes back to Bob’s and my days as graduate students.”

Specifically, Ballard/Austin will match every donor contribution to this fund on a 3:1 basis. That is, for every three dollars in new donor gifts, one dollar from Ballard/Austin will be leveraged as a match, increasing the value of the new donor gift by approximately 33%. The challenge is set to expire December 31, 2010.

Glen R. Kerkian, president of the URI Foundation, said, “Fellowships are always at a premium and the work that Bob is conducting in underwater exploration has particular relevance to prospective students. That Bob and Jamie have utilized their own resources to create this challenge is inspiring and a testament to their strong belief in graduate research.”

GSO has targeted enhancing endowment support as a means of funding graduate student fellowships, professorships and general support for the School. Boosting endowment funds for these purposes will insure the long-term base of support that is required if GSO is to sustain and enhance its international reputation in the face of keen competition from other top-flight oceanographic institutions.

GSO Dean David Farmer commented, “Meeting the needs of our graduate students is a high priority for GSO. All of us here recognize the importance of attracting top-flight students into the ranks of the graduate students who will form the next generation of talented scientists. I am especially pleased and grateful that Bob Ballard and Jamie Austin have teamed up to move us toward being able to offer the kind of fellowship support that GSO must provide to ensure the future success of our School.”

Ballard, counted among the most accomplished and recognized deep-sea explorers in the world, is credited with the historic discovery of the sunken R.M.S. Titanic. During his distinguished career spanning four decades, he has conducted more than 120 deep-sea expeditions using the very latest in exploration technology. Ballard created the JASON Project, an educational program reaching nearly two million students in their classrooms each year. The recipient of numerous professional awards and accolades, Ballard received the prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush at the White House in 2003. He serves as a URI professor of oceanography, director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography (formerly the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography), and president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium.

Austin, senior research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, Jackson School of Geosciences, Institute for Geophysics, has, over the course of his career, made use of a variety of leading-edge technologies in the study of geological strata in marine and lake environments, particularly those formed since the end of the last Ice Age beneath the continental shelf off the east coast of the United States. Austin is an active trustee of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and is chair of the American Geophysical Union’s Development Board. The challenge announced today is the third that he has sponsored at organizations devoted to advancing ocean science.

The GSO’s Ocean Science & Exploration Center, a $15 million, 41,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility on URI’s Bay Campus in Narragansett, Rhode Island, houses new laboratory space, administrative offices, the expanded Pell Library, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) personnel offices, the Institute for Exploration and the Ocean Exploration Trust.

The building’s centerpiece, the Inner Space Center, uses a satellite system and Internet2 technology to make it possible for URI scientists and students, as well as collaborators around the country, to participate in ocean-going research expeditions and “step aboard” research vessels without leaving campus. Advanced undersea vehicles, developed by Ballard’s team, which includes URI engineers, and the Office of Naval Research and NOAA, are used by the Center’s researchers to explore uncharted regions of the undersea world.

Bob Ballard, at the building’s opening in June, 2009, said, “This new building is the culmination of a dream I first envisioned 28 years ago to use ‘telepresence’ technology to not only make it possible for scientists all around the world to participate in live undersea exploration, but also to use the excitement of exploration to motivate the next generation of explorers to prepare them for the continuation of this adventure.”

This gift is part of the University’s Making a Difference capital campaign, which seeks to raise $100 million to support the people and programs that distinguish the University of Rhode Island. For more information about this Challenge, contact Dr. Eugene Lyman, Associate Dean for Development at the GSO, at 401.874.6131 or at


For information on this or any news item, contact Tracey Manni in Development Communications, at 401.874.2145 or