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Undersea explorer to speak at December graduation

by Richard Veilleux - December 5, 2005

Undersea explorer Robert Ballard, whose team discovered the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985, will receive an honorary degree and deliver the Commencement address on Dec. 18. Nearly 900 studentsare expected to graduate in December.

Ballard, president of the Sea Research Foundation’s Institute for Exploration in Mystic, is also known for his underwater explorations of the Bismarck, the Lusitania, and the Britannic. He has written several books about his voyages, and appeared on dozens of television documentaries and other programs.

The 2 p.m. ceremony will mark UConn’s third mid-year Commencement, thesecond to be held in the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. The number of students graduating during the December event has increased each year, from 642 in 2003 to 716 last year and 899 this year. Officials decided to add the celebration because many mid-year graduates were unable to attend Commencement in May, six months after they left school.

“It seemed logical at the time, and I think the numbers are proving our point,” says Keith Barker, outgoing chair of the Commencement Committee and University Marshall. “We were finding that many of the students who finished classes in December were not returning in May,and we decided that wasn’t fair – they deserve a celebration for their efforts, too.”

Barker, who has chaired or co-chaired the Commencement Committee for more than a decade, last month handed over those duties and the ceremonial positionof University Marshall to Michael Darre,a professor of animal sciences and interim head of department.

Ballard, who will deliver the keynote address, is one of the world’s foremost oceanographers and has for many years used submersibles to explore the hidden features of the deep ocean. His 1997 bestselling book, Lost Liners, told the storyof the great transatlantic liners through memorable wrecks he has visited.

Ballard’s most recent discoveries include the finds of sunken remains of ships along ancient trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea (1997), two ancient Phoenician ships off Israel, the oldest shipwrecks ever found in deep water (1999), and four 1,500-year-old wooden ships – one almost perfectly preserved – in the Black Sea (2000). In 2003, he used satellite and Internet2 technologies to bring thousands of students around the world into directcontact with his expedition team while on location in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea.

Ballard also hosted National Geographic Television’s Explorer program and acted as a special adviser on Stephan Spielberg’s futuristic Sea Quest television show. Each year, he takes thousands of schoolchildren on an interactive expedition throughthe JASON program.

Ballard earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara; served with the U.S. Navy during the 1960s and 1970s; then joined the Woods Hole Oceanographic Research Institution as a research fellow. He earned a doctorate in marine geology and geophysics from the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, where he is now a professor and director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography.

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