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Meet the author that bridges chemistry from Lake Ester to the Philippines

Erin Joy Araneta, an author, nonprofit founder, and undergraduate researcher, shares her passion about increasingintersectional environmentalism, diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect in chemistry

By: Erin Joy Araneta

Erin Joy Araneta, Undergraduate Student Researcher, UC Irvine
Erin Joy Araneta, Undergraduate Student Researcher, UC Irvine

I am Erin Joy E. Araneta and I am an undergraduate student researcher working on organometallic chemistry research at Dr. Jenny Yang’s lab at UC Irvine. I am very passionate about my research where I work with my mentor, Alissa Matus, who aims to find better ways to capture carbon dioxide and recycle it to turn it into fuel, gasoline, or energy. I think it is very exciting to try to find ways to promote sustainability in a cost-effective and inclusive way. 

How did you get interested in chemistry?

I got interested in chemistry because of my middle school chemistry coaches, Gino Robledo and Ana Hirang. They were such wonderful people and such awesome beams of light. They loved chemistry so much and their passion was infectious. They trained me for hours after school for science competitions and told me I was going to shake the world someday. I really believed that, and they just gave me so much confidence to pursue my dreams. I was inspired to become a chemistry professor by my innovative professors, Matthew Shimazu and Dr. Renee Link. I loved the creativity that goes into teaching chemistry and the ability to turn something very complex into something that is understandable.

Tell us about your work for the ACS Orange Country Younger Chemist Committee.

In my effort to spread chemistry to the world, I have been organizing several science-related outreach opportunities. I am grateful to have a large platform as the current Younger Chemist Chair for the OC American Chemical Society section. Through self-taught planning and experimentation, I turned my ideas into outreach events where a diverse group of volunteers and attendees can learn. These events have resonated globally with thousands of people. I organize events in disadvantaged communities in Orange County, and around the world.

One event was the STEM Family night where I applied for a grant to distribute STEM toys to children who are less likely to have toys due to cost barriers. This event allowed children to think like a scientist in a fun way and develop self-confidence in their ability to participate in STEM.

I also feel honored to have been awarded by the national American Chemical Society a ChemLuminary award for Global Engagement for my project in the Philippines. I gave a talk about different STEM careers, lectured about chemistry, and performed experiments at an all-girls school and orphanage. When quarantine started, we got a little bit more creative and offered Zoom family nights with the children of the community and KidsWorks, a nonprofit that aims to help at-risk neighborhoods through education and leadership development. This event was attended by over 60 families and I received feedback that this sparked some interest in science for the kids.

What does your nonprofit Theory of Joy do?

I founded and direct a nonprofit, Theory of Joy, where I work with a team of awesome people who help me create a culturally responsive STEM education and find ways to keep children healthy and in school. I turned twenty in September 2020 and I had a small dream to feed 20 families for a week and provide school materials. I made a website, sold earrings, and asked for donations to give the children the opportunity to stay in school. My mentor got so excited and shared my nonprofit with her network before I did. That same day, I reached my goal.

I figured I had to do something bigger and decided to build a study center since at that time classes were held at a makeshift classroom made of bamboo walls and banana leaves for roofing. When I shared my nonprofit online, I was amazed by the number of people who believed in me and shared the same passion of empowering people through education. In less than a year, we have provided 32,000 meals, a study center, and a sustainable water well! Through the work we have done, we have increased enrollment by 33% which has been very exciting!

What inspired you to write the Adventures of Chemist Clara book?

What inspired me to write Adventures of Chemist Clara are young girls who are in the minority like me. As a child, it is very hard to get exposure in STEM if everything presented to me in the aisles are pink dolls and kitchen toys. To be honest, I loved these toys too, but it is very important to show girls that they can do science too. Clara is a young, independent problem solver and I am excited that I get to show young children what it means to be a scientist through simple words and captivating illustrations.

Giving the children the opportunity to see themselves in these careers through books will increase diversity in STEM. Through these books, I want to show the world what a person in the STEM field does. These books with a brown female lead and characters of color will be the beginning of their STEM journey especially for disadvantaged communities, where parents do not have the resources to introduce STEM to their children. These books will be available in English and Spanish to make it more accessible in large groups. I have one book out now, available on Amazon, and another two coming out this December! UC Irvine recently awarded me as an undergraduate innovation fellow that will provide me with funds to write more books.

Lastly, I was inspired to write the book by my mentor, Dr. Kay Dutz, she was my first chemistry professor and made me believe that I was going to be a big deal someday. She is my Ruth who handed the flowers to continue the painting of my life.

What do you aspire to be in the future?

My life goal is to convert all these quirky ideas into experiences from which others can learn, live better lives, and gain understanding of STEM. Chemistry is the avenue through which I want to achieve this goal. Experimentation in chemistry has become a strong force in my life that I am using to cultivate a collaborative community environment. I hope to continue extending my outreach efforts globally. I want to continue learning and use my eagerness for knowledge, curiosity, and creativity to enrich the lives of others.

In the future, I aspire to be a professor and mentor. I have been very interested in chemistry education, inorganic, and organometallic chemistry. I hope to find discoveries that can improve intersectional environmentalism and inclusion. I dream of writing a chemistry textbook and have a chemistry show where I get to do fun and entertaining experiments!

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

Copyright 2021 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)

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