Rear Admiral Robert Girrier visits URI during Navy Week

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – June 19, 2015 – When Rear Admiral Robert Girrier visited the University of Rhode Island for Navy Week on May 27, it wasn’t his typical university visit. He was coming home. Based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet, who earned a master’s degree in marine affairs from URI in 1990, has family in Tiverton and formerly taught at the Navy’s Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport.

Girrier spent the day meeting with faculty to learn about research that may have implications for the Navy. In Kingston he met with Chemistry Professor Jimmie Oxley, director of the URI Center of Excellence for Explosives Detection, Mitigation and Response, and Mechanical Engineering Professor Arun Shukla, whose research examines how underwater implosions affect submarines. He also had a detailed meeting about cybersecurity with Professor Victor Fay-Wolfe, director of the URI Digital Forensics and Cybersecurity Center. Girrier then traveled to the Bay Campus for briefings with Bruce Corliss, dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography, and a group of faculty and staff.

He learned about the sensing systems and seafloor mapping methods being developed by Assistant Professor of Oceanography Chris Roman, discussed underwater acoustics research with Ocean Engineering Professor Jim Miller, heard about GSO outreach initiatives from Inner Space Center Associate Director Gail Scowcroft, and learned about the University’s Blue MBA program from Oceanography Professor Brad Moran.

“The technology of the systems you’re talking about, whether it’s robotics, or whether it’s autonomous underwater vehicles, and the like, those things don’t just happen,” Girrier said. “Clearly, you’re the ones that are developing them, using them, being innovative. The Navy relies on them.”

The admiral also toured the Inner Space Center with Oceanography Professor Robert Ballard and Center Director Dwight Coleman. And he reflected on his time as a graduate student at URI.

“The real relevance of what I learned here is how I apply it in the naval profession,” he said. “Whether it was the law of the sea, the business of shipping, or admiralty law, all of that coursework built the foundation for what I do today. And it has made me a more effective leader.”

Girrier recalled fondly his thesis advisor, the late Marine Affairs Professor Emeritus Lewis Alexander, as well as Professor Dennis Nixon, who now serves as director of Rhode Island Sea Grant.

“I learned a great deal about the law of the sea from Dennis,” Girrier said. “And we shared great camaraderie sailboat racing together on Narragansett Bay.

“The Marine Affairs Program is a great program, and I use what I learned there all the time,” he added.