Research Experience Leads to Future in Foreign Service: Luna Ruiz, '20

May 5, 2020

By participating in multiple research project, Luna Ruiz, who is the recipient of the SBS Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award, discovered her passion for understanding global conflict and earned a prestigious fellowship in international affairs.

Luna Ruiz

Luna Ruiz


During her time at the University of Arizona, Luna Ruiz has conducted research with four professors in the School of Government and Public Policy, co-wrote a paper published in a leading peer-reviewed journal, and given presentations at conferences.

As a result of her impressive resume, Luna received a highly competitive Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, which will provide funds for her to attend graduate school. The program, which includes internships, mentoring, and professional development, will prepare Luna for a career in the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State, where she can help formulate, represent and implement U.S. foreign policy. She will be attending Columbia University in the fall.

Ruiz is graduating summa cum laude this spring, with bachelor degrees in political science and psychology and minors in economics, Chinese and Spanish. An Honors student, Luna is receiving the Outstanding Senior Award for Political Science. Luna is also receiving the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award, which recognizes a graduating senior who has demonstrated academic achievement, originality, and creativity in an independent, undergraduate research project.

“Having worked with a number of outstanding students who have gone on to top-drawer graduate and professional programs, I view Luna as one of the two or three best students I have encountered in my nearly 13 years here at the University of Arizona,” said Faten Ghosn, associate professor in the School of Government and Public Policy, or SGPP.

“Luna is an intelligent, gifted, and highly accomplished individual who has routinely excelled when it comes to research and academic engagement throughout her four years on campus,” added Jessica Maves Braithwaite, assistant professor in SGPP.

Discovering her Major

When Luna arrived at the university, she was pre-med, which felt like the logical, straightforward path.

“I think as an 18-year-old, you just try to find the most linear thing, especially when you're entering college and there's so many opportunities available to you.”

However, when Luna learned that her first-year Honors project – worth one unit – didn’t have to be related to her major, she thought she’d have fun with it. She’d just finished the book “I am Malala,” by Malala Yousafzai and was inspired by her story. She approached Alex Braithwaite, a professor in SGPP, and asked to do an independent study to explore the role played by women in helping end wars. Ruiz earned second place in the Honors College’s end-of-year research showcase.

The experience also changed her undergraduate and career trajectory.

“Alex didn't make research intimidating,” Luna said. “He made it very hands on, and I felt like he treated me more like a colleague rather than a student.”

Luna found the work fascinating. “There is something really compelling about how we are able to tie narratives of people to data,” Luna said. “I felt like for the first time I was being challenged and where I couldn't answer the question on the spot. Soon after that I switched my major, because I was like, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Luna and Braithwaite turned Luna’s research into an article published in the political science journal Research & Politics. Their article is one of the first pieces to systematically assess across conflicts how the participation of women rebels impacts civil war outcomes. Although it was only published in 2018, their article has been cited several times by scholars in the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.

Diving Deep into Research

With her appetite for research whetted, Luna pursued more opportunities to dive into the research experience.

For the past three years she has been a member of Jessica Maves Braithwaite’s research team, helping with two data collection projects related to organizations engaging in violent and nonviolent resistance around the world.

Ruiz has also worked as a research assistant for SGPP Assistant Professor Javier Osorio on his project designing natural language processing of text-based news stories on organized crime activities in Latin America.

For her Honor’s thesis, Luiz studied “war babies,” an area where little research has been done. Advised by Ghosn, Luna examined children born as offspring to rebel soldiers or as a result of gender-based violence – and their impact on the stability of a country post-conflict. Luna developed a typology of situations where war babies are likely to emerge. She then explored a range of cases to uncover how governments and the international community responded.

Luna’s research experiences at UArizona led to additional prestigious opportunities. In 2018, Luna was selected as one of 10 students across the country to participate in a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, or REU. Last summer, Luna was chosen as one of 25 students to participate in an intensive summer program at Princeton University emphasizing the application of advanced economic and statistical analysis to the study of foreign policy.

This spring, Luna was a conflict analyst intern with the U.S. Department of State. Housed in Washington, D.C., she collaborated with data scientists and regional experts to create statistical models that anticipate, monitor, and prevent global atrocities.

During the summer program at Princeton University, James Gadsen, former U.S. Ambassador to Iceland, told Luna about Rangel fellowship. The timing was excellent, as Luna said she had been feeling “in limbo,” unsure of what she wanted to do after graduation.  

The fellowship requires a minimum of five years of service abroad as a Foreign Service officer with the State Department. The prospect appealed to Luna, who was looking for an avenue to bridge her interest in research with real world policy.

“I think this really is the best of both worlds, because I want to help people and learn from their lived experiences,” Luna said. “And so having this opportunity to go abroad and interact with local leaders and learn from different cultures is really remarkable.”

Giving Research a Try

Even amid her research commitments, Luna has carved out time to engage in other activities on campus and in the community. She is a member of Arizona Model United Nations; volunteers at Ronald McDonald Chef for a Day; and has helped with the refugee and asylum-seekers program at Casa Alitas. She studied abroad in East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.

Luna is also an Arizona Ambassador, and when she gives campus tours to incoming student, she recommends that they give research a try.

“I joke that through research I'm able to travel, because during my three years now working on these projects, I've covered countries in Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeastern Asia, and the Middle East,” Luna said.

“And I always tell incoming students that research doesn't have to be your end game,” Luna said. “But you should want to be a lifelong student and a productive consumer of knowledge so that you can do what you want in your life. And research is a really great opportunity to learn more.”