Tonya M. Matthews, Ph.D.

Board Member

Tonya M. Matthews, Ph.D. is founder of The STEMinista Project, a ground-breaking initiative that inspires middle schools girls to consider tools and careers in STEM. The initiative uses collective impact program design, engages a global role model database, and works with community partners to open access to 1000+ hours of STEM experiences for participants every year. Currently, she is Associate Provost of Inclusive Workforce Development and Director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center at Wayne State University.

Matthews is an experienced executive, thought leader, and educator with proven track records in organizational leadership, strategic planning, diversity and inclusion, program development and project management, curriculum design, and bold visioning of community programming and engagement. She has a passion for communication that cultivates inspiration and a commitment to impact that motivates results.

Matthews is a practiced community builder and seasoned fundraiser. She has cultivated support across sectors, from individuals to corporations to government and public sector entities. Additionally, she is a recognized business leader, actively engaged in community development and engagement.

  • In 2016, she was named one of the 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan and previously was honored as a Career Woman of Achievement by the Greater Cincinnati YWCA (2010).
  • She currently serves on the boards of First Independence Bank, Detroit Public Television, and TechTown. Matthews is also an advisor to the Detroit Design Core.
  • She consults with committed organizations to create sustainable diversification, equity and inclusion strategies in corporate and non-profit sectors.

Matthews is a thoughtful and visionary voice in public policy and ambitious conversation in education, with particular emphasis and insight into equitable supports and outcomes.

  • In 2018, she was reappointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education to the National Assessment Governing Board – guiding the development and execution of the Nation’s Report Cards in math, reading, science, and civics – and currently serves as spokesperson and Vice Chair.
  • Matthews also serves as board member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education and is a gubernatorial appointee to the Michigan STEM Advisory Council.
  • Prior to her role at Wayne State University, Matthews served as acting Director of Inclusion for the American Alliance of Museums, directing the launch of Facing Change, a national initiative to diversify museum boards across the country with founding support from the Walton, Mellon, and Ford Foundations.

Matthews began her career in community-engaged education as project director for the Maryland Science Center and biomedical engineer reviewer for the FDA. This work led to Matthews’ appointment as Vice President of Museums for Cincinnati Museum Center. In this role, she was the senior executive charged with guiding the education, research, and community engagement footprint and impact vision for a multi-museum, multi-research center complex. Her work in Cincinnati included creation of the ECSITE professional development program for pre-K and kindergarten teachers, as well as the GIRLS Program, a program designed to engage and empower girls in their educational pathways.

In 2013, Matthews moved to Detroit to serve as inaugural President and CEO of the Michigan Science Center, rebuilding the 80,000 sq. ft. facility into an active hands-on learning center in downtown Detroit from the legacy of the Detroit Science Center. During her tenure:

  • The center expanded from a 6-county regional impact to 52-county statewide footprint, created a sustainable virtual and long-distance learning programming, and hosted and built new innovative, hands-on exhibitions and programs annually.
  • Matthews’ inclusive and engaging approach transformed the center into an active, engaged community partner, working with multiple organizations to create broader, more meaningful impact for children and families in greater Detroit and across Michigan.

Through her leadership of the center, Matthews helped reposition Detroit as a hub of STEM education garnering recognition by hosting critical convenings such as the release of Nation’s Report Card on Technology and Engineering Literacy, the roll out of the Michigan Governor’s Marshall Plan for Talent, and the kick-off for Kresge-Kellogg Foundation early childhood initiative.

Known for her ability to engage broad audiences, Matthews has been noted for her skill in bringing diverse voices into common conversation. Her work and contributions include a notable body of work in public speaking, the arts, mentoring, and consulting. She is the author of 3 poetry collections and was recently commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for Symphony in D –her voice narrates the companion Emmy Award-winning documentary. She is a frequent keynote speaker and has presented on the TedX stage.

Her writing and consulting has provided insight into workforce equity and culture for Fortune 500 companies and she is a contributor and expert for news and editorial content on education, workforce development, and diversity and inclusion.

Matthews received her undergraduate degree from Duke University in biomedical and electrical engineering and her doctoral degree from Johns Hopkins University in biomedical engineering. Additionally, she holds an honorary doctorate from Central Michigan University. Matthews remains an active mentor and community volunteer. She refers to herself as “Detroit on Purpose” and currently lives on the lower east side where she can keep an eye on progress.

We must diversify to innovate at this level. We have solved all the easy problems. The challenges facing us now are some of the most complicated issues humankind has ever faced. Now is the time to cultivate the genius of every child and every community.


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