Humans of Harker: Calendars for a cause

Nicole Chen comes up with a plan


Kathy Fang

“I’m the person that always has a plan for everything. And then I have backups for the plan, and I have backups for the backups,” Nicole Chen (’19) said.

Her calendar is filled with color coded events and reminders. On the far left desktop screen on her laptop, an array of multicolored sticky notes organizes different categories of to-dos and assignments. As she sits down for any meeting, she flips through list after list, keeping track of all of the things she has left to do.

“What’s the plan?” she says, usually already with an answer in mind.

Nicole Chen (‘19) always has a plan. From journalism to Japanese National Honor Society, she brings her organization and leadership skills to whatever project she’s working on, taking on task after task with her trademark methodical, practical mindset.

“I’m the person that always has a plan for everything. And then I have backups for the plan, and I have backups for the backups,” Nicole said.

Nicole’s practicality extends into the type of work that she does as well. Beyond making plans with her friends and family, Nicole’s multicolored calendars and stacks of to-do lists have enabled her to successfully manage a busy high school life, filled with a variety of extracurriculars.

“She has a Google calendar for every minute of her day, literally, and I think’s that kind of how she’s able to balance all aspects of her really busy life and give each one the respect and the time it deserves. Even for us, when we make plans, it’s exactly at a time, it’s exactly at a place, it’s exactly at a date days in advance,” Nicole’s friend since kindergarten Aneesha Kumar (‘19) said. “She knows exactly what’s happening, and I think it’s really helpful for her exactly organized and that’s how she’s able to do so well and succeed so well—it’s because she has this extremely detailed calendar and she’s able to manage different aspects of her life that way.”

For instance, as the editor-in-chief of Harker Aquila, Nicole has had to lead multiple staff-wide projects that required clear vision and effective leadership, both of which are qualities that Nicole brings to the table.

In fact, journalism has played an integral role in shaping Nicole’s skills as a leader in her community, even if Nicole does not plan on majoring or working in the field professionally. Previously, she served as the online features editor, and as a student journalist and editor, she found a variety of opportunities to give back to her community and truly make an impact, such as covering the March for Our Lives rally in San Francisco in March 2018.

“I don’t think i do journalism because I want to be a journalist,” Nicole said. “I think I do journalism because it helps be better at a lot of the life skills I’ll need in the future.”

As a matter of fact, although Nicole first entered journalism prompted her college counselor’s suggestion, she has since grown to appreciate the value and the role of student journalism both on campus and in today’s society at large.

“A lot of what I do is very centered on volunteer stuff. Especially with journalism, it’s like what we do—we serve our community,” she said. “It gives me a purpose on campus. I feel like I’m doing something for the bigger cause.”

Nicole’s efforts to serve her community have extended beyond the limits of campus-centric work as well: Outside of school, she has been working a tutor to less privileged students since her freshman year. For instance, for the past few years, Nicole has been working with a student who was the same age as Nicole but needed help on math principles like addition. In working with someone who led a life so different from her own, Nicole had to overcome a series of language and cultural boundaries in order to help her student achieve her goals, and along the way, Nicole learned the value of giving back to not just her school community, but the larger community around her.

“The hardest part of it all was just getting her exciting about her education,” Nicole said. “It just gave me a greater sense [of our differences] to help with that.”

Whether it be tutoring or journalism, Nicole is always ready to lend a hand in whatever way possible, working endlessly towards the benefit of her community.

“Whenever she discovers something helpful or useful, she’s always willing to share it,” Aneesha said. “That openness and willingness to share and willingness to help everybody around her is something that has really inspired me. No matter what it is—whether it’s academic or outside—she’s always willing to help you succeed, like it’s not just about her.”

Beyond community service, Nicole also harbors a devotion to understanding and analyzing relevant issues of the modern world, which extends to her work in economics, her planned area of study to major in. Raised by parents who were “always big on investment and finance,” Nicole discovered an interest in economics as early as fifth grade, when her parents sent her to a business camp over the summer.

“It’s just a different way to understand the world and how we see things,” she said. “My father—all he does is look at numbers in the stock market, and I think that’s had a very big influence on me, and that’s kind of how I analyze stuff now, too.”

For instance, in her senior year, Nicole took a game theory class, in which she learned to apply economic theories and methods to everyday decision-making.

“Econ is pretty much how we think. It’s just measuring how we analyze situations and what we see as our best options,” she said.

Nicole also values the potential of economics to bring progress to society as a whole. As an intern at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, over the course of two summers, Nicole conducted a research study on Obamacare and another on differences in mortality rates and causes between DC and West Virginia.

“I got to see a diff side of how econ can be used,” she said. “Even before I interned there, I thought of econ—and business as a field in general—as very capitalistic, as very money making, everyone is all about the money. But it’s just nice to see that you can use the same thing to help other people, and it can be a foundation for better things to be built upon.”

Nicole’s mission to help a bigger cause also manifests in her participation in TEDx, in which she served as co-curator this year. After months of planning and preparation, Nicole’s work culminated in this year’s TEDxHarker event, which saw the theme “Dare to Differentiate” unite a variety of speakers and exhibits to enhance students’ understandings about the world around them.

“Something about putting on a event and seeing so many people excited about coming to the same thing—it was a very exciting idea to me,” Nicole said. “Also, because TED is such a big organization, it felt like I was part of something bigger.”

From helping her peers stay informed about the world to sharing small bits of advice with her friends, the underlying goal of all that Nicole does is to benefit her community, and looking forward, she hopes to apply all that she’s learned to further that goal, in whatever way she can.

“I want to work for the good of our community like I have been trying to do at Harker,” she said. “I see myself working at some sort of nonprofit—my parents have done a lot of working helping a lot of underprivileged students to go to college, and I think we can always use more econ and more research to better that system of how scholarships work.”