STEM award recognises Indigenous maths education

Dr Chris Matthews and Dr Kaye Price at the Indigenous STEM Professional Award ceremony.
Dr Chris Matthews and Dr Kaye Price at the Indigenous STEM Professional Award ceremony. Photo: Gary Cranitch, Queensland Museum

Dr Chris Matthews from Griffith’s School of Environment has won the inaugural Indigenous STEM Professional Award presented by CSIRO and BHP Billiton Foundation this week.

The award recognises his work in engaging Indigenous students in science and mathematics. He brings maths to life by creating stories with characters that add, subtract or divide as well as teaching maths through dance and story.

Dr Matthews, a Noonuccal man, completed his PhD in applied mathematics at Griffith University.

Growing up, he says he always knew he had a talent for maths, but hid away from the teachers until high school where he discovered a love of computing.

“I saw the connection between computing and maths and when I did algebra it finally made sense to me,’’ he said.

As Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance and organises camps and conferences designed to promote Indigenous participation in STEM and support mathematics outcomes for Indigenous students.

“Maths offers opportunities in life and it’s important for every student,” he said.

He plans to use his $20,000 prize to organise the first meeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mathematicians with the aim of influencing policy.

“This award is a great opportunity for me to talk to a lot more people about STEM and engaging Indigenous students in mathematics,’’ he said.

“The important thing for me was to be nominated by Aboriginal women who thought I was worthy of the honour.

“Maths has always been a multicultural discipline, so there’s a great opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make their contribution to mathematics.”