SAC Alumna Creates Animated Series to Help Visual Learners Study Chemistry
Santa Ana College (SAC) Alumna Béa Tomaselli Tiritilli remembers studying for chemistry exams by drawing and visualizing atoms and molecules. “I was seeing electrons orbiting the nucleus in my mind, and atoms coming together to form molecules," Tiritilli said.
Today, Tiritilli is a high school science teacher for California Virtual Academy (CAVA), where she uses the funny animated short films she writes and produces with friends to help teach chemistry and science concepts. One episode of her “Xenon And Friends" series, entitled “What the Heck are Solutions and Solubility?," was recently selected for the Orange County Film Fiesta, held in October 2023. The episode was also selected in January 2024 as a semi-finalist for the Rome International Short Festival.
Tiritilli first attended SAC in the 1980s before transferring to Humboldt State University, where she double majored in English and Journalism, graduating in 1993. She later taught English and related subjects, but her lifelong passion for science led her back to SAC to earn an associate of arts (AA) in biology.
“When I was taking level 3 of chemistry at SAC in 2013, I had to get at least a B on the final to get a C in the class and earn my AA degree," Tiritilli said. “I had to go over my notes and draw pictures and see it in my mind to do that. But once I could really see it in my mind, I was ready to take the final and I passed the class and got my degree." Tiritilli also passed teaching-credential exams for biology and chemistry.
Now as a science teacher for CAVA, Tiritilli said she looks for ways to help her students learn important concepts.
“I was always trying to find ways to help other visual learners like me, especially my students learning from home or online in places like the library," Tiritilli said. “I have students who are homeless. They can't do experiments. It is hard to do experiments when you are living in your car."
Tiritilli realized short, colorful, funny videos about science were the key to keeping her virtual students engaged and learning about chemistry. She found many helpful resources online, but when certain concepts were not available, or videos were “too long or too boring," she said she was inspired to produce her own content.
Working with friends – including Marcia Fenno Bustos who teaches classes for SAC Community Education – Tiritilli assembled an industrious group of local animators, voice actors and musicians to bring her ideas to life. “I'm self-taught," she said. “I create the rough draft myself, sketch the story boards myself, and they bring it all to life."
Today, “Xenon And Friends" has eight episodes on YouTube, including a musical romantic comedy about chemical reactions, and more in production. Tiritilli and her team also launched the Xenon And Friends STEAM Project in 2023 with the goal of partnering with other organizations to share free STEAM-education resources.
A lifelong resident of the city of Santa Ana, Tiritilli and her siblings all attended SAC. “SAC was a big part of our lives," she said. “My dad immigrated to this country as a young adult with only an eighth-grade education. He earned his high school diploma via an adult-ed program, and he never attended college until he retired, and then he went to SAC. For immigrant families like my own, we don't tend to be rich, but it is wonderful that in our society we have opportunities for people who are low income to get a college education that is affordable."
“I love community college," she continued. “I tell my students who are thinking of college to go to community college because the teachers really like to teach, not just do research."
While Tiritilli teaches for CAVA, she and her team continue to produce “Xenon and Friends." She said the team's next goal is working with a marketer to increase subscribers on YouTube in order to monetize their channel and offset their production costs.
View “Xenon And Friends" on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/@xenonandfriends
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