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Sophomore Kejsi Ruka Goes from STAR Scholar to Award Winner

A screenshot of Kejsi Ruka's presentation titled Understanding Labor Union Views on Energy Futures

June 02, 2021

Kejsi Ruka, a Global Studies major, began her hands-on research experience with the Labor and Energy Project, a National Science Foundation funded project led by Diane Sicotte, PhD, associate professor of sociology, and Kelly Joyce, PhD, professor of sociology, as a Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) Scholar in the Pennoni Honors College during the summer of 2020. STAR Scholars work full-time on a research project during the summer after their first year at Drexel and are closely mentored by faculty. After completing the STAR Scholar program, Ruka continued to participate in the project, learning key skills in qualitative social science and networking.

Over two days in early April 2021, Ruka joined 60-70 other students who had gathered to present and discuss their research at the Stanford Student Research Conference. Taking place over Zoom, the conference featured plenaries, breakout sessions, and workshops. Students from different academic backgrounds attended to share their work across the physical, biological and social sciences. Ruka presented her research from her work on the Labor and Energy Project.

Ruka’s research grew out of her qualitative coding of in-depth interviews with labor union members. Her conference poster presented her analysis of what unionized energy workers think about energy transitions and the future of energy in the United States. Her poster used interview quotes to illustrate how union members think about good jobs, climate change and the U.S.’s ability to move to renewable resources.

“The findings revealed that many workers are feeling left out of the conversation when it comes to transitioning away from fossil fuels,” explains Ruka. “It is important that when we talk about renewable energy, we consider the importance of a just transition and listening to those union voices, especially as they are at the heart of the current energy industry.”

During the conference, a panel of judges evaluated her work and awarded her poster the Best Poster in the Qualitative Social Science Research Category. Ruka reported that many of the judges were impressed by how timely and significant her research was to current proposals in the federal government to address energy transitions and climate change.

“I felt very grateful to have the opportunity to share what I had been working on for almost a year through the conference and, ultimately, end up being rewarded for my findings. Overall, the most important part to me was presenting on a topic I feel passionately about and engaging with other student researchers across the country at the same time,” she says.

In addition to the presentation, some of Ruka’s most rewarding experiences occurred in a professional development workshop on applying to graduate school. The panel offered a variety of perspectives from current graduate students at Stanford and was particularly useful to Ruka as she considers different options for her future. She also had several opportunities to meet students from across the country in breakout room sessions and to learn about their interests and research. Ruka honed her presentation skills by participating in the conference, and she also gained new skills about how to navigate professional meetings that she can take into future endeavors.