Kierstin Ekstrom ’20 wants to use economic data and analyses to raise awareness about some of the world’s most critical issues.
While economics may be considered a soft science, Kierstin Ekstrom ‘20 is eager to demonstrate its scope and impact. “I want to do monitoring and evaluation to show that poverty reduction programs work,” says Ekstrom, a political science and economics major in the Honors College. Ekstrom has spent the last two summers working with the Global Hunger Index to analyze data on the effect of issues like forced migration and climate change.
Her research interests were sparked by a student project with Seth Gitter, professor in the Department of Economics. Using public access data from the World Bank, Ekstrom reviewed surveys to gauge how migration and other external events, such as natural disasters and fire, affect trust in government in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It seems unquantifiable to measure, but we were trying to determine how much a leader is trusted,” says Ekstrom, who ran a regression analysis of some 1,200 interviews in local communities. “The idea is that a lack of trust in leaders means the ‘state’ itself is not strong.”
Ekstrom plans to publish the research results this fall with Gitter, who has been “an incredibly helpful guiding force. Not many undergraduates get this kind of research experience.” At the 2019 U.S. Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, which attracts undergrads from colleges and universities around the world, Ekstrom presented a paper on tribalism and its effect on democracies. “It was great to discuss the topic with international students,” says Ekstrom. “The conference was a big melting pot of ideas.”
A member of the Undergraduate Research Club and volunteer for TU’s Model United Nations Conference, Ekstrom thinks more students should get involved in undergraduate research. She will be applying to graduate economics programs this fall. “I want to help people understand and conceptualize what numbers tell us about the scope and diversity of a range of issues.”