Plenary Speaker: Dr. Tonya Matthews

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Tonya M. Matthews, Ph.D.
CEO and President, Michigan Science Center

A thought-leader in museum engagement and open-classroom, hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, Dr. Tonya M. Matthews serves as the Michigan Science Center’s chief executive officer and president. Her diverse background includes academic and professional work as a Ph.D. scientist, educator, community volunteer and award winning writer/poet.

Dr. Matthews is the Michigan Science Center’s first permanent chief executive and has led its climb to becoming the STEM Hub for greater Detroit and the state of Michigan. During her tenure, MiSci has become a central part of the critical work in science education and STEM career preparations. Previously, Dr. Matthews served as the vice president of museums for Cincinnati Museum Center, directing the education, research and community engagement footprints of a multi-site museum and research institution. During her time in Cincinnati, she was instrumental in positioning the museum as a thought leader in STEM education and engagement. She created the Museum Center’s signature program in early childhood educator training in science that annually trains more than 150 teachers throughout the region with measurable classroom impact. Prior to that role, Dr. Matthews worked with the Maryland Science Center as manager of BodyLink, an innovative, multimedia education center focused on biotechnology. While at the Maryland Science Center, she created an outreach lab program for city high school students through formation of an institutional partnership between the science center, the National Institutes of Health, the University of Maryland and the Baltimore City Health Department. These early experiences helped shaped Dr. Matthews’ strategic philosophy that program and institutional sustainability is best supported through strong, meaningful private-public-corporate partnerships and by positioning museums as collaborative community education partners.

Dr. Matthews is also a published, performing poet. As a writer, she is noted for her insightful social commentary and poetry-based community engagement. She has published four poetry collections, including “Still Swinging” (Three Sisters Press) now in its second edition, and produced the critically-acclaimed debut CD “The Legend of AFRODITE.” Dr. Matthews is a Library of Congress Center for the Book honoree, as well as an alumna of the Hurston-Wright Writing Fellows, where she studied with renowned poet Sonia Sanchez. Her grassroots poetry commentary and contributions to new American poetry are commemorated with a permanent exhibit in the Reginald F. Lewis Maryland Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Dr. Matthews has also served as adjunct and visiting faculty at several colleges including, Stevenson College in Maryland and George Washington University in Washington, DC. Additionally, she spent an early part of her career at the Food and Drug Administration in the division of restorative and neurological devices.

After completing her baccalaureate studies at Duke University in biomedical and electrical engineering, Dr. Matthews received her doctorate in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her undergraduate degree includes a certificate in African and African-American Studies. She is the recipient of a Whitaker Foundation Award for Engineering Excellence and an alumni member of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society for Women Engineers.

Always actively engaged in the work of building community, Dr. Matthews currently serves as a board member for Detroit Cristo Rey High School, Midtown Detroit, Culture Source, and Detroit Public Television. Additionally, Dr. Matthews sits on the board for the American Alliance of Museums and Chatfield College. In 2015 was appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board by the Secretary of Education. She is a Greater Cincinnati YWCA Career Woman of Achievement and was recently recognized by WIN as a Most Influential African American Woman in Detroit Honoree. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and The Links, Incorporated. Dr. Matthews has participated with and supported mentoring programs for more than a decade. Throughout her studies and varied work, Matthews continues to teach, learn and engage – finding the perfect home with museums, a field that thrives on community partnerships and a commitment to all children and every lifelong learner. 


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