The award, established in 1928, honors outstanding Americans who have distinguished themselves through excellence in their profession and who serve as role models and teachers to others.
“I am deeply honored to join the ranks of previous recipients of this award, like Helen Keller, Walter Cronkite, Margaret Mead, and Walt Disney,” said Ballard. “I am very proud of the science that I have done over the years, but I believe my greatest legacy will be the children I have been able to excite and motivate to consider careers in science and technology.”
Public education about his marine explorations is a vital component of all of Ballard’s research expeditions. His Nautilus Live website and theater enable anyone to see and hear in real-time all the details of his expeditions as they happen, and Ballard and his colleagues regularly communicate directly with students, teachers, and numerous other audiences from his research vessel.
“We have no trouble finding kids who want to be news anchors or Whitney Houston,” said Ballard during his keynote presentation at the awards ceremony. “We have stars for everything, but we don’t have star scientists…I want kids to be heroes in their classrooms because they’re studying science.”
Best known for his discovery of the remains of the Titanic, Ballard has also found numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the German battleship Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown, and John F. Kennedy’s boat PT-109. His recent discoveries include the sunken remains of ancient ships along historic trade routes in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Ballard is an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium, and chairman of the JASON Project, an acclaimed experience-based science program that is increasing student achievement and teacher efficacy.
“All kids are born scientists and explorers,” he said. “We just have to find ways to hook them, tap into their innate spirit, and keep them engaged in order to increase their academic proficiency. That’s what the JASON Project is all about.”
The American Association of School Administrators is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and throughout the world. It advocates for the highest quality public education for all students, and develops and supports school system leaders.