RUNC: Ava Yurko

Ava Yurko studies capital punishment disparities among states.

Ava Yurkophoto by Megan Mendenhall
December 13th, 2023

Ava Yurko is a senior double-majoring in political science and peace, war, and defense within the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. She studies how broad and subjective laws affect racial disparities in capital punishment.

Q: How did you discover your specific field of study?

A: When I started at Carolina, I wasn’t quite sure what study path to take — but I did know I wanted to minor in social and economic justice. I’ve always been intrigued by law and public policy, particularly policies that disproportionately affect marginalized groups. During my sophomore year, I signed up for a course on capital punishment with Professor Frank Baumgartner and immediately became interested in the topic. I began assisting with his ongoing research and added a bachelor’s in political science to my studies. I love how political science and research hold the potential to drive real change, and I enjoy studying paths toward equity.

Q: Academics are problem-solvers. Describe a research challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it.

A: When I began my initial research proposal, my lack of experience with coding qualitative data was by far my biggest obstacle. I felt like I should have taken an entire course on what I was trying to do. I ended up spending a significant amount of time on YouTube, learning coding 101, and eventually came up with a plan for sorting through a large volume of state law and developing codes. I’ve also had to restructure some aspects based on new factors discovered and the need to eliminate subjectivity.

Q: Describe your research in five words.

A: Capital punishment disparities among states.

Q: Who or what inspires you? Why?

A: Individuals who have been seriously affected by the capital punishment system in the United States. It’s overwhelmingly powerful to bring awareness to injustice through dialogue. Humanizing the issue at hand shifts the focus from statistics to real people, each with their own unique experiences.

The extensive research and work that Professor Baumgartner does inspires me as well.

Q: If you could pursue any other career, what would it be and why?

A: Maybe a ski instructor in Hawaii. Or playing the guitar in a band and traveling for shows. Or teaching high school chemistry. I’m still figuring this whole thing out!

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