The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Humans of Harker: Inventive impact

Ella Lan strives to improve her reality
Katerina Matta
“Research has given me, at least temporarily and hopefully permanently, a life purpose, which sounds really big. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something which is beyond myself. That really resonates with me. Being able to create a solution which potentially could be applied in the real world is really fascinating,” Ella Lan (12) said.

It’s the first day of the Research Science Institute (RSI), a highly prestigious research camp for high schoolers around the world. Ella Lan (12) fought to secure her spot, and she now stands ready to immerse herself in this new community. Despite the daunting field, Ella pushes down her nerves, and, armed with her camera, she flits around, introducing herself to other participants and asking them to wave at her new “vlog.” 

“Even recording all of the experience allowed us to connect a bit more,” Ella said. “When people saw the camera they would wave at it, and even after filming, I’d be able to start a conversation with somebody whom I normally would not have started a conversation with.” 

Ella’s confidence proved a driving factor in one of her most prominent pursuits: her research. With an interest in bioinformatics, Ella aims to apply AI to healthcare in order to combat barriers facing those around the world in pursuit of treatment. Her persistent drive to connect with others manifests itself in her greater goal to improve the world around her through her work. 

“Research has given me, at least temporarily and hopefully permanently, a life purpose, which sounds really big,” Ella said. “It makes me feel as if I’m doing something which is beyond myself. That really resonates with me. Being able to create a solution which potentially could be applied in the real world is really fascinating.” 

Ella’s research journey, from taking online courses to spending days at a time working away at one step of a machine learning model, has been anything but easy. Various ethical ramifications around the often complex and controversial use of AI sometimes complicate the research process. These obstacles only clarified to Ella the power of her work in the larger scheme of research. 

Ella’s research mentor Eric Nelson comments on Ella’s approach to setbacks throughout his experiences working with her for nearly four years. By taking everything in stride and reframing difficulties, Ella never fails to overcome her challenges. 

“She looks at everything as a growth opportunity,” Nelson said. “It makes no difference how things pan out. It’s always, ‘You won’t believe what I learned!’ That positive spin on life and perceptions is very rare, and it’s so nice to see it.” 

“There are definitely moments which are very frustrating,” Ella said. “At the same time, once I’m able to actually get it, and then [I’m] talking with experienced professionals in this field who are also passionate about my research, those conversations make it so much more worth it. Research has allowed me to evolve not just as a researcher, but as a person, and to question the entire way that research is being operated and how our current solutions have been created.” 

Ella continued to cultivate her strong sense of self through her experiences in speech and debate, which she first began in sixth grade. Apart from the public speaking skills she gained, she also developed the ability to sift through and analyze perspectives other than her own, a tool that proved vital in various aspects of her life as she strived to connect with others. 

“Speech and debate allowed me to be able to know myself,” Ella said. “A lot of the time you fail to realize the surroundings beyond your direct periphery, so being able to see a lot of bigger world images and utilizing your critical thinking skills in speech and debate allows you to question things and think in a more active way rather than just passively listening.”

Ella shares her talents with Research Club, which she now leads as Co-President, organizing club workshops and panels to facilitate fellow students’ ventures into research. Research Club adviser Chris Spenner reflects on Ella’s contributions to the club environment and her positive interactions with her classmates. 

“Ella just guides people around her,” Spenner said. “She’s pretty calm and willing to let other people play their role before she jumps in and says what she has to say. It’s a very natural mode for her to be in, working with other people. ”

No matter what environment she finds herself in, Ella strives to form personal connections with those around her, whether within Harker or the greater scientific community. She first found this drive to foster connection on the student council at the lower school, where, after switching schools three times before settling in at Harker, she felt obligated to give back to the first community where she truly felt at home and welcomed among the student body. In the eight years since, Ella held office nearly every year, culminating in her current tenure as Associated Student Body (ASB) Vice President. 

“Student council enables [me] to become closer to [my] classmates,” Ella said. “I really wanted to be given a reason to just randomly start a conversation with someone because I did want to know my community more and more. The things we are able to do and the freedom we are given to represent the student body’s voices is very impactful to me.”

Ella’s magnetic personality uplifts those around her, including close friend Julie Shi (12). Through her bubbly energy, Ella improves the lives of those around her, encouraging them to believe in themselves and making her well-suited for leadership. Her initiatives on student council also highlight a devotion to her community, with her contributing to events like Quadchella to showcase students’ talents. 

“Ella has always been a natural leader,” Julie said. “She is very positive and has that energy that draws people towards her. She’s friends with everyone, and it helped me become more confident with myself.” 

Close friend Shayla He (12) also pointed to Ella’s strong relationships with others as a product of her own inner confidence. Throughout her experiences, Ella never loses sight of encouraging those around her to succeed. 

“Ella has the most unwavering confidence in herself, as well as in others,” Shayla said. “It’s not a loud confidence, but when she interacts with you, you’ll have a sense that she is really confident in her ability. She won’t outright say it, but you just feel it, and that’s the same with how she feels about other people. There’s never been a moment when I was with her that I felt like she didn’t believe in me, in what I could do.”

Apart from scholastic activities, Ella’s optimism extends to her deep connection with dance, which she began at just three-years-old. She credits dance and the dance community for not only fostering a strong work ethic and knack for experimentation in her, but also for providing an emotional outlet throughout her life. 

“Dance taught me a lot of things about hard work and being creative,” Ella said.  “My dance community has been one [in] which I’ve learned to be able to challenge myself with different genres of dancing, to be able to communicate with the audience through different [performances…] The thing that I love about dance is, it’s a way for you to be able to really connect with the music and connect with your own feelings.”

Whether through mentoring her peers in Research Club or designing new applications for the healthcare system at large, Ella’s work resounds beyond herself. She cites her potential to improve the lives of others as a major motivation throughout her life. 

“I’m about being able to contribute to something which I think is impacting more than just myself,” Ella said. “For student council, it’s within my school community. With research, it’s even beyond [that] and potentially impacting communities, especially those which are more under-privileged. I’m much more driven by the impact of something rather than a title or a number, so being able to work in these two areas has definitely been a very great privilege to me, and I’m really excited for the future.”

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About the Contributor
Katerina Matta
Katerina Matta, Co-Sports Editor
Katerina Matta (11) is the co-sports editor for Harker Aquila and the Winged Post, and this is her third year on staff. This year, Katerina aims to expand sports features and diversify game coverage. In her free time, she enjoys playing beach volleyball and reading.

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