Indiana State University Newsroom

Tectonic shift: Class changes life for alumnus

September 25, 2013

One class can change a life.

With a semester left to complete his information technology degree at Indiana State University, Jared Kluesner looked around for a general education course and enrolled in an introduction to geology class taught by Tony Rathburn.

"That was it," Kluesner said.

The Linton native switched his major to geology and shortly after began working in Rathburn's oceanographic lab.

"Then I had to convince my parents it was a good decision," Kluesner said with a laugh before adding that his parents' supported him switching majors.

It turns out that it was.

After graduating from Indiana State in 2006 - one year after he planned - with his bachelor's degree in geology, Kluesner enrolled at Scripps Institution of Oceanography as a doctoral student. He completed his doctorate in 2011 and now works as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California- Santa Cruz. He returned to Indiana State in September to speak to current students about 3D seismic imaging of the ocean floor off of Costa Rica.

"Even at this early stage in his career, Jared is becoming one of the experts in the field of 3D imaging of seafloor dynamics, and his work is on the cutting edge," Rathburn said. Kluesner has made technical innovations in the field and is part of a relatively small group who can examine the zones where one tectonic plate slides under another. "His work will likely change the way geologists think about the structure of geologically active margins, such as the ones off Japan, Chile and Costa Rica, which are known to produce large earthquakes."

Off of Costa Rica, the oceanic plate slides under that Central American nation, triggering earthquakes along this plate boundary. Through sonar and deep imaging with sound waves of high and low frequencies, Kluesner is attempting to unravel the processes that occur at this margin. As the oceanic plate gets pushed below, the upper plate compresses the lower, heating it and releasing trapped fluids, which eventually travel up to the seafloor, generating seeps. Such seeps offshore Costa Rica and elsewhere are currently being studied by Rathburn's lab.

"What I'm doing is trying to understand the plumbing system," Kluesner said of the Costa Rica research.

For his doctoral research he studied the opposite issue of plates pushing apart in the Gulf of California, located between mainland Mexico and Baja California. Kluesner studied how fluids were being hydrothermally driven and circulated below the seafloor in the gulf as the plates spread.

"The research that Jared conducted as an undergraduate, looking at the ecology of seafloor organisms, is very different from the research that he has conducted after graduating from ISU, examining the consequences of seafloor geology dynamics and fluid flow," Rathburn said. "However, it is the quality of the work that he did here at ISU, and the opportunities that came to him as a consequence, that enabled him to pursue his career path. It is very clear that he loves what he does."

While working in Rathburn's lab studying microorganisms called foraminifera, Kluesner participated in research trips to Venice, Italy and San Diego. As part of that work, Kluesner had invitations to present at conferences and to participate on other researchers' expeditions.

At his first talk during a national conference as an undergraduate at ISU, Kluesner recalled being nervous standing at the podium with note cards carefully prepared with information for each slide. He spoke in a rushing torrent, finishing in far less than his allotted time. Hands went up in the air to ask questions of the nervous student.

"Sometimes you need to make leaps into what makes you uncomfortable; you grow from it," he said after laughing about that memory.

On one of the expeditions, Kluesner met the professor who would become his doctoral advisor at Scripps.

"Many students don't realize how important it is to get experiential learning in their field," Rathburn said. "Jared is a prime example of what can happen when you find a topic you are really interested in, and how dedication and experiential learning can open doors."

Kluesner has walked through those doors to unexpected places, included ones that have brought him home to share his research and his journey with current Indiana State students.

"It makes me think of when I was a student," Kluesner said of his return to Indiana State's campus. "I don't think they know how many opportunities are available."

"First generation students from small schools and rural areas often lack confidence in what they can achieve," Rathburn said. "Jared's success serves as a shining example of what can be achieved with a strong work ethic and passion for your major or career."

In addition to speaking to students, Kluesner has mentored students on research cruises and even made space on one of his research cruises for an Indiana State graduate student. It's his way to pay it back for the doors opened to him.

"If I hadn't taken that one class, I would have of completed my degree in computer science," he said. "It was one of those pivotal moments."

Photos: Kluesner conducting research aboard R/V Marcus G. Langseth. Courtesy photo Rathburn introduces Jared Kluesner to students attending the lecture. ISU Photo R/V Marcus G. Langseth Courtesy photo alumnus Jared Kluesner speaks to students at the university. ISU Photo

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, associate director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or