Dr. Tonya M. Matthews is a thought-leader in institutionalized equity and inclusion frameworks, social entrepreneurship, and the intersectionality of formal and informal education. Her background as both poet and engineer have made her a highly sought-after visioning partner on boards and community building projects, as well as a frequent public speaker and presenter for communities across all ages and venues.
A non-profit executive leadership veteran, Dr. Matthews is currently Chief Executive Officer of the International African American Museum (IAAM) located in Charleston, SC at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf. IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history and thus, one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as America continues the walk toward “a more perfect union.”
Dr. Matthews has storied career in leadership. Most recently, she served as Associate Provost for Inclusive Workforce Development & Director of the STEM Innovation Learning Center for Wayne State University and, prior to that, as the President & CEO of the Michigan Science Center – flexing her science and tech educational equity chops in both roles. Dr. Matthews credits her time at Wayne State University for a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of education, career, community agency, and self-efficacy which she refers to as the “pre-K through Gray” pipeline. While at the Michigan Science Center, she founded The STEMinista Project, a movement to engage girls in their future with STEM careers and tools. She continues this work today through STEMinista Rising, supporting professional women in STEM – and the colleagues who champion them – with an inclusive emphasis on women of color.
Dr. Matthews’ dedication to community and her accomplishments is widely recognized. She was noted as one of the Most Influential Women in Charleston (Charleston Business Magazine, 2021) and honored as Trailblazer by Career Mastered Magazine (2017). She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education and was appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations to the National Assessment Governing Board. Dr. Matthews is a published poet, included in 100 Best African-American Poems (2010) edited by Nikki Giovanni, and has written several articles and book chapters on inclusive governance, non-profit management, and fundraising.
Dr. Matthews received her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her B.S.E. in biomedical and electrical engineering from Duke University, alongside a certificate in African/African-American Studies. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and The Links, Inc. Dr. Matthews a native of Washington, D.C. and, in each community she has settled, is known for planting roots on the side of town best for keeping an eye on progress.
“We are living in a time when the promise, power, and necessity of scientific research is clear – and BrightFocus Foundation’s support of research into Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, and glaucoma is critical and compelling. I am delighted by this opportunity to join in the work of the foundation.”