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The Druken Sisters: A Matter of URI Degrees

Kelsey Druken, one of five daughters of Patrick and Valerie Druken of Newport, R.I., received a doctorate in geological oceanography from the Graduate School of Oceanography in May.

“URI has been such a wonderful school for my sisters and me,” says Kelsey, who earned a bachelor’s degree from URI in physics and physical oceanography in 2006.

Kelsey studies geophysical fluid dynamics specializing in fluid motion within the Earth’s mantle. Her dissertation focused on subduction zones, places where cold, dense, tectonic plates have collided, forcing one plate under the other and mantle plumes, which rise from nearly 3,000 kilometers below the seafloor. She created a model of the interaction between subducting plates and plumes.

The Druken sisters (from left) Kelsey, Catherine, Abbey, Glenna, and Bridget.

“Other scientists have suggested what they believe happens between these two mantle convection features, but my work has been the first modeling work to physically test it,” says Kelsey, who completed her dissertation this winter and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C.

“We found the strong flow created by subduction zones weakens nearby rising plumes, so much so that they are sometimes stopped before even reaching the surface, where they would have made volcanoes. So in a way, plates may protect us from massive volcanism in these tectonic locations. Perhaps it’s one of Earth’s natural ways to keep the system in balance.”

While her work doesn’t directly predict earthquakes and volcanoes, she works with a community of scientists who do.

Kelsey’s academic accomplishment is just one branch of the sisterly family tree at URI. Here are the others:

Glenna, the youngest, is pursuing a nursing degree and is just finishing her freshman year. “Our mother is a nurse, and she finally got one of us to go into the field,” says Kelsey.

Catherine just completed her junior year in landscape architecture and will intern at the Smithsonian this summer.

Abbey earned her bachelor’s degree in business in 2010 and her M.B.A. in 2011. She works in Middletown, R.I., for a government contractor called Network and Simulation Technologies Inc.

Bridget earned a bachelor’s degree in math in 2008 from URI and a master’s degree in math from San Diego State University where she began working on her Ph.D. in math education in 2010. Her research focuses on how children think about and learn math in school and how teachers teach math.

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