In the 46 years since University of Rhode Island ocean-engineering professor Malcolm Spaulding first set foot on campus as an undergraduate, he’s spun what was supposed to be a stepping stone to an engineering career into a near lifetime of academic achievements, including building the university’s undergraduate ocean-engineering program.
Set to retire in June after 39 years as a faculty member, Spaulding first developed a love for engineering helping with his grandfather’s eclectic business interests, then earned three degrees in seven years.
He put himself through college as a member of the ROTC and was discharged as a captain after serving as an officer with the Army Corps of Engineers.
He began his teaching career at URI filling in during a professor’s leave. Since then, he’s served as a mentor to countless students.
He’s focused research efforts on oil spills and offshore, renewable energy development, lending his skills to the Department of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
PBN: You’ve said you never saw yourself in academia. What steered you there?
Spaulding: There was encouragement in education. As an undergraduate, MIT faculty members suggested I spend time in graduate school. [There] the focus was on getting the degree and anything that interfered was a noninterest. I ended up working as a student in a group on a problem of combustion from aircraft engines and a major professor [needed help with] an experiment. I [helped], got it all done - and I had an accident.
I vowed there and then I was going to get out of this laboratory, experimental world and so I then was encouraged to apply back at URI for a Ph.D. program. I was fortunate enough to get a fellowship for two years, so that’s what I did.
PBN: Looking back, could you have had a different career?