Izzy Ellis ’24 Wants to Help Cure Cancer and Hutchison is Getting Her Started

A discovery in one science class led Izzy Ellis ’24 to delve deeper into her interest in biology and map out a path for college and beyond. Along the way, she nurtured other interests, from athletics to civics. An aspiring oncologist, her dream is to find a new, innovative treatment that could help save lives.
A lesson in AP Biology was the spark for Izzy’s interest in cancer research. She cites the day she learned about p53, which is sometimes called the “guardian angel gene," as the catalyst of her career goals. “I vividly remember turning to my friend in shock as my teacher explained how these genes can detect and terminate uncontrolled cell division,” she recalled.

Izzy has always been interested in science, and she embraced her curiosity at Hutchison. She even doubled up on science classes during her sophomore year of high school, being the only tenth grader in her AP Environmental Science class. “It’s been helpful knowing that I’m constantly supported through all the different academic opportunities around me,” she said.

She broadened her knowledge as a member of the STEM cohort of the Institute for Responsible Citizenship’s myExperience program. For her capstone project, she conducted research on the quality of the Memphis aquifer, the city's primary water supply, collecting sediment samples from the Wolf River and the Nonconnah Creek to see if certain microbes were present. 

“I wanted to do something that had a connection to Memphis,” Izzy said. “Recently there has been news about the aquifer degrading in quality and that puts many citizens at risk.”

Izzy created a website explaining the aquifer’s issues and her research. She specifically took samples from areas near suspected breach sites where parts of the aquifer’s upper protective clay layer are either missing or thinning. Izzy worked with a postdoctoral fellow at The University of Memphis to extract DNA and perform PCR tests in her search for two specific microbes. The presence of those microbes would have provided insight into the soil and water quality of sources that feed into the aquifer. She was not able to detect them in the lab, but she still gained valuable experience through her project. 

I got to do something I never expected to do during high school,” Izzy said. “It took a lot of perseverance, but without this, I never would have solidified my interest in participating in research in college. I got a glimpse of the planning process, the roadblocks that come up, and the mental and physical challenges.

Izzy started attending Hutchison in fourth grade. An AP Scholar with Distinction honoree, she said her teachers have strengthened her love of learning and helped motivate her to succeed in the classroom. “Every single time I see my teachers, I know they’re passionate about what they’re teaching me,” she said. “Feeding off that energy makes me more interested, knowing that I can put my time and effort into a subject and they’ll continue to encourage me to do so as well.” Izzy recently received the Sara & Leonard Frey Award, given to a student committed to the life of the mind and to the active pursuit of knowledge and understanding. She is also grateful for the opportunities Hutchison has provided that allowed her to discover her interests and find herself.

“It’s important to learn and find that interest in learning but also to explore beyond the classroom,” she said. “I believe in the idea of doing activities solely because you’re interested in them, and I think it’s important to get involved.” 

During her senior year, Izzy served as a co-president of Spanish Club and a co-president of the Model UN and Youth in Government Club, and she is a member of the Wilson Society, Peer Council, and three sports teams. One of the most meaningful experiences for her has been participating in Model United Nations and Youth in Government. She said her experience taught her confidence, public speaking skills, and the importance of trial and error. She also learned how to have healthy conversations even if there is disagreement.

“You may think you have a great idea about a bill for Youth in Government or a resolution for Model UN. You can prepare all you want and try to come up with the answers to all the cons people may have. People are going to have different perspectives though, and that is ok. It’s taught me not to take it personally,” Izzy said.

Izzy, along with teammates Caroline Kim ’24, and Sakshi Singh ’24, received an Outstanding Bill award at the Youth in Government conference in 2023 for the group’s bill mandating Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation in Tennessee zoos.

A member of the varsity soccer, track, and cross country teams, she received the Nancy Edwards Scholar-Athlete Award all four years of high school and the Anne Rooks Hampton Tri-Athlete Award her senior year. Through Hutchison athletics, Izzy learned the power of persevering through uncomfortable situations.

“When I’m on the soccer field, continuing to run even though I’m so out of breath and want to take a break… or for track, I might be signed up for an event that I’m not looking forward to, but I know doing that hard thing is going to be important for me to grow,” she said.

She also explored her scientific interests outside the classroom. She attended the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Integration of Biological and Statistical Sciences and participated in the Georgetown Medical Research Pre-College Online Program. “At Governor’s School, I was able to participate in more labs regarding topics discussed in AP Biology, and it was exciting that I got to see real-life examples of what I learned in the classroom,” she said.

Izzy will attend the University of Georgia in the fall, where she plans to double major in microbiology and cellular biology on the pre-med track and minor in Spanish. An aspiring oncologist, she said she is most excited to participate in undergraduate research and continue researching in her future career.

“I want to try to come up with a groundbreaking discovery or publish a research article about what I’ve done… I hope to maybe even discover a new, innovative treatment where I could improve the lives of others, working toward the cure for cancer,” she said.

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