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Student Spotlight: Ella Duus

Written by Caroline Reed 11/2/21

How many 16-year-old students can say they’ve been featured by Good Morning America? What about being recognized and supported by former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt?

Cue Ella Duus, the junior at New Century in the Computer Science strand, who impresses everyone who crosses her path. Most recently, Ella was chosen as 1 of 100 teens across the globe to receive the RISE scholarship. Her project uses machine learning to process through the natural language in a Twitter account’s tweets and find that account’s similarity to six political factions. It also returns a topic analysis word cloud. 

Although her RISE project is what sparked the spotlight, Ella has so much more to share. She’s received Girl Scout honors, national Debate Team recognition, NASA Space Apps hackathon awards, and is a Duke Tip Grand Scholar. How else is this New Century junior is changing the world? Keep reading!

Why did you focus on these topics (politics + coding)?

Recently, I’ve been researching how social media worsens the political divide by polarizing people to extreme ideologies. Social media algorithms are designed to show a user more of the content they like, ultimately leaving them in feedback loops and echo chambers. Young people are especially vulnerable to these effects, but it’s dangerous all around: a University of Maryland study found social media played a role in the radicalization processes of nearly 90% of identified extremists in the US. As social media is a digital medium, we need digital applications and strategies to mitigate the effects of radicalization- my project is just one small part of reckoning with this larger and more pervasive threat to democracy.

What New Century classes/other life experiences prepared you for the project?

I also work at a local startup as a data science researcher and member, so my work there helped with the machine learning aspect of the project. The political aspect came to me while I worked as editor-in-chief of the Purple America Initiative, a student-led nonprofit that aims to decrease political polarization amongst Gen Z. I was writing an article on how polarization has escalated along new vectors in recent years, with these changes inextricably linked to social media.

What other extracurricular activities do you participate in?

At New Century, I do Model United Nations, Speech & Debate, SGA, and academic team. I work at JUV Consulting (marketing) and a local machine learning and analytics startup. I founded a national political organization and have spoken at related events in Columbus, Washington DC, and soon Los Angeles. I am also editor-in-chief of a political publication. I’m a blue belt in taekwondo and a volunteer at my church. Go to my website elladuus.com for some more info.

Do you have any special plans for your future?

I don’t have anything specific in mind for next year, but I would like to attend college and then work in foreign policy or counterterrorism.

Who has inspired you?

My computer science teacher Ms. Morton, history teacher Mr. Mercieca, and former debate coach and teacher Stephanie Hyatt have been hugely supportive. Their advice, encouragement, and respective passion for their subject areas have been a huge help and motivator. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Ambassadors to the UN Nikki Haley and Samantha Power have all inspired me with their dedication to public service and creating a freer world. And Elle Woods from Legally Blonde of course.

Describe your involvement with Model UN.

In my freshman year, I founded Model UN and led our delegation at the University of Alabama Model UN conference. I specifically think Model UN is a fantastic opportunity for all students because it requires you to think outside of the box and collaborate with diverse perspectives (specifically 195 countries). It deals with issues in all fields under the sun (including engineering, computer science, and biomedical!). Although we took a break last year during COVID, we’re excited to attend the University of Alabama conference this year.

If you had to learn an additional language, what would you choose?

I’m currently learning Spanish, but I’d also like to start Mandarin. If I do work in foreign policy, I would love to work on US-China-Taiwan relations. Knowing the language would definitely help this process.

 

Ella is an amazingly ambitious young lady who inspires her peers and teachers. Striving for excellence is a trend at New Century, and she just raised the bar. Browse her personal website to learn more about Ms. Duus.