Undergraduate Community Organizer, Author Bridges STEM Education Between California and the Philippines

Erin Joy Araneta, an author and nonprofit founder shares her passion for increasing intersectional environmentalism and diversity in chemistry.

By Erin Joy Araneta, Industry Matters Newsletter

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 the University of California, 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 Orange County American Chemical Society local 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 (Orange County). 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...

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