KINGSTON — A NASA scientist will be the next dean of the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, the school announced this week.
Paula S. Bontempi joins URI from the Earth Science Division, Science Mission Directorate of NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she serves as acting deputy director.
Bontempi is an alumna of the GSO and has been a biological oceanographer for more than 25 years.
She begins her new role at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus late this summer. Bontempi will replace Dean Bruce H. Corliss, also a URI alumnus, who has served since 2012. Corliss announced his retirement last spring.
“Dr. Bontempi’s vision and dedication to furthering ocean science and ecology, together with her research, public policy experience and her passion for mentoring the next generation of scientists will serve to enrich the experience of all faculty, staff and students at GSO,” URI’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald DeHayes said. “We are thrilled to welcome another alum back to URI to serve as dean of this extraordinary institution.”
As part of NASA’s Earth Science Division, Bontempi heads the agency’s entire Earth science portfolio, from technology development, applied science and research to mission implementation and operation. The division includes 75 scientists, engineers and administrative professionals.
Bontempi also develops policies and priorities for numerous programs and works with federal advisory committees and other entities, including the National Academy of Sciences and international partnerships. She has also taught Earth science in NASA’s astronaut training class.
URI has plans to revitalize the Narragansett Bay Campus, adding a 20,000-square-foot Ocean Technology Center, a 12,000-square-foot marine operations facility and a new, larger pier to accommodate the new research vessel Resolution, which is under construction and slated for arrival in 2022.
Last May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chose URI to lead a new $94 million consortium to support ocean exploration, responsible resource management and improved scientific understanding of the deep sea.
As dean, Bontempi will oversee the graduate school and its Narragansett Bay Campus, heading its academic, research and outreach activities. The school currently enrolls approximately 70 graduate students and employs more than 200 faculty and research scientists, professional, technical and research staff.
“I am so incredibly excited to be invited back to GSO by the university,” Bontempi said. “I am eager to apply the skills that I have learned at NASA from so many talented scientists and engineers to GSO’s unique capabilities in ocean science and engineering, applied science, management and policy. It is an absolutely unique place, a second family to me, and I am very much looking forward to working with the staff on a vision for GSO’s continued growth and development.”
Bontempi recently was named an Oceanography Society fellow and in 2019 was a recipient of the Ocean Sciences Award from The American Geophysical Union.
Before her appointment as acting deputy director, Bontempi spent more than 16 years as the physical scientist and program manager for ocean biology and biogeochemistry at NASA headquarters. She also served as the lead for NASA’s carbon cycle and ecosystems focus area and for the agency’s carbon cycle science research. It included leading research and program collaborations with all U.S. and international partners and serving as NASA program scientist with responsibility for instrument and mission science integrity on satellite missions.
Before joining NASA, she was an assistant professor of oceanography in the University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Marine Sciences. Bontempi received her Master of Science degree in oceanography in 1995 from Texas A&M University and her Ph.D. in 2001 from GSO.