For as long as he can remember, Noah Mathai wanted to become a doctor. He knew that, somehow, a career in science and medicine had to be in his future.

He began competing in science fairs as early as elementary school and continued throughout high school, conducting award-winning experiments focused on innovations in biotechnology and soil science.

Noah’s parents, Libby and Thomas Mathai, have always been proud of their son’s affinity for science. As his research projects became more advanced, signs of his latest experiments could be found throughout the Mathai home: low-hazard bacteria being cultured in their garage, test tubes arranged on countertops, agar plates stashed away in various nooks and crannies.

“There were times when he spent sleepless nights, and I’d see him in the morning in the kitchen saying, ‘Mom, I’m hitting brick walls left and right. I don’t have the equipment. I don’t have the results.’ Sometimes that kind of discouragement can cause young kids to give up on their dreams,” explained Mrs. Mathai.

 

Noah Mathai working as an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the School of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin.

A lack of resources in the medical scientific field is not a unique problem. The need to empower the next generation of physicians and researchers by connecting them to mentorship is well understood by other families in the North Texas community, including the Priddy family.

This is why the Kathryn and Ashley H. Priddy Fund was established at Southwestern Medical Foundation in 1992. The Fund was made by gifts from Amanda Amsler, Kathryn Priddy’s mother, and an endowment honoring Ashley Horne Priddy.

The Kathryn and Ashley H. Priddy Fund provides for student scholarships at UT Southwestern Medical School. It is also used to inspire budding scientists through the Priddy Award. The Award funds a summer research fellowship for an outstanding high school student like Noah, who participates in the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair. This fellowship is part of the STARS (Science Teacher Access to Resources at Southwestern) Program, which serves more than 20,000 teachers and 50,000 students in Texas.

The opportunities made possible by the Priddy Award have helped many up-and-coming innovators like Noah to continue pursuing their passion with a reinvigorated sense of hope and motivation.

Paying it forward

In 2019, Noah was attending the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair as a biochemistry contestant when Dr. Joel Goodman, the director of the STARS Program at UT Southwestern, approached him and showed interest in his project. Dr. Goodman was impressed by Noah’s novel research and construction of a cost-friendly soil-gas apparatus. Noah was soon chosen to receive the Priddy Award, which not only allowed him to advance to the international fair, but also to participate in UT Southwestern’s prized STARS Program.

“As Director of STARS, I feel very honored to give students opportunities to explore careers in biomedicine, and often further their long-held dreams as caregivers and scientific explorers,” said Dr. Goodman. “I was delighted to identify Noah as a gifted and motivated nascent scientist at the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and STARS enjoyed having him very much in our Summer Research Program and learning about his successful project. The STARS staff and I are thrilled that Noah’s parents, Tom and Libby Mathai, will now enable other young people to pursue their dreams through their collaboration with the Southwestern Medical Foundation to establish their endowment. Women are certainly underrepresented in most STEM fields, and I look forward to working with the Mathais and the Foundation through the Scholarship Fund to do our share to correct this deficiency.”

Because of the Priddy family’s generosity, Libby and Thomas Mathai witnessed a revival of inspiration not only in their son but within themselves. 

“This problem that we always faced over lack of resources for young scientists, coupled with the inspiration we got from the Priddy family, is what made us think about starting our own scholarship fund,” said Mrs. Mathai. “Noah receiving the award gave us renewed inspiration to give back, and that’s the trigger we needed to contact Southwestern Medical Foundation to get the ball rolling.”

Seeing the impact that the Priddy Award had on their son signified a turning point for Mr. and Mrs. Mathai. They knew they wanted to pay it forward by doing the same thing for other aspiring scientists and were intrigued by the establishment of the Priddy Fund.  The couple saw in themselves the same strong desire to give back that inspired creation of the Kathryn and Ashley H. Priddy Fund almost 30 years ago. 

After getting in touch with Southwestern Medical Foundation to brainstorm a few options and ideas for creating their own impact, they decided to establish the Thomas and Libby Mathai Scholarship for Women in STEM Fund. The two reached out to Kathleen Gibson and the Southwestern Medical Foundation team, who listened to gauge their interests and developed a Fund purpose which would benefit students in a meaningful way.

We hope to meet some of the recipients over time and see the academic and personal positive outcomes from the Fund.

Thomas Mathai

For the Mathais, creating the Fund was a wise investment to fill gaps and meet needs in our community. Just as they hoped to solve the problem of a lack of resources for students, they also hoped to address another area where they see opportunities for improvement: connecting young women to opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). This resulted in their decision to designate their scholarship fund for the benefit of female students pursuing STEM careers. 

“Tom, Libby, and Noah Mathai are remarkable and strategic thinkers. They can envision needs to fill gaps through additional investment – and their investments come in various forms to encourage children and young adults to dream and to strive,” said Kathleen M. Gibson, President & CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “It has been such a pleasure and inspiration for me to see the impact that families can make in encouraging students through scholarship support. It is equally heartening to see the Priddy family legacy continuing to inspire new families today. We are all deeply touched by this incredible story.”      

Women in STEM

Moving progress forward

Progress is being made every day to uplift girls and women in STEM. Lyda Hill and Nicole Small are expertly spearheading the efforts of IF/THEN, an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. IF/THEN’s mission is to further advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers. Read More

According to the United States Census Bureau, even though women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, only 27% are employed in STEM fields. As a woman with two STEM-related master’s degrees and a career in health insurance, Mrs. Mathai deeply values efforts to support and encourage young girls to pave a path in this fulfilling field. 

For our family, the scholarship is a way of giving back to the systems and the people that were fundamental in my journey to the sciences.

Noah Mathai

“Women are definitely underrepresented in STEM,” Noah said. Being able to see women younger than me go through the same process of receiving a scholarship—just like I did with the Priddy Award—to see their enthusiasm, to see them light up when their hard work is rewarded with a financial scholarship, means I get to live vicariously through those students and witness the same joy I felt. We are bettering STEM for women in the process. And that’s a great feeling.”

A family tradition of philanthropy

The Mathai family has always viewed giving back as a natural part of their lives. They have donated to various organizations over the years, such as Feed My Starving Children, and have given their time by volunteering at their church. Most recently, the family became involved with Compassion International, an organization connecting donors to children overseas, providing them with meals, education, and other necessities. 

“For us, we’ve always believed it’s important to use your time, talent, and treasure,” said Mr. Mathai. Mrs. Mathai agrees. “It’s better to give than to receive—we always follow that as our guiding principle. We feel prompted to help others; to be compassionate,” she said. 

The notion of giving back has also been instilled in their children. 

“Philanthropy is a tangible way to say ‘I care,’” Noah said. “It’s one thing to express simple consideration, but giving back a physical gift, appreciative of the individuals and groups who helped guide you to your current position, or equipping peers to help others and repeat the process in a chain reaction-like fashion– that’s what philanthropy is all about.”

Putting down roots

Mr. Mathai grew up in a small town just south of Chicago, called Bourbonnais, Illinois. Mrs. Mathai grew up in India and came to the United States in the early 1990s to complete her graduate studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. After getting married, the couple moved to Illinois. When they were presented with the opportunity to relocate to Dallas through Mr. Mathai’s job in 2005, they jumped at the chance to be closer to family in the area and escape the colder weather. The Mathais now reside in Plano, Texas, with their children, Noah and Micah. Noah is currently a freshman at The University of Texas at Austin, and Micah is a freshman at Plano ISD. Mrs. Mathai works as a Data Analytics Consultant for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mr. Mathai serves as Director of Operational Excellence for Leonardo DRS.

“While we love Illinois, when we think of home, Dallas is home. We have immersed ourselves in North Texas. This is where our kids grew up, this is where they have their roots. Both Libby and I have established our careers here, so we really feel that this is our final destination,” said Mr. Mathai.

The Mathai Family: (left to right) Micah, Libby, Thomas, and Noah

Though the Mathais have a long history of giving back, their recently established scholarship fund represents a new chapter in their philanthropic journey. 

Their hope for the Fund is that it will empower bright young women scientists in our region today who are eager to tackle complex problems in science but require access to the right resources to reach their full potential. Ultimately, the family’s wish is that this type of support continues to drive Dallas to the forefront of future medical breakthroughs. 

We liked the idea of a scholarship fund because if we want to give a gift that keeps giving, this is something that will continue to propagate. We hope it will create awareness. Just like the Priddy family impacted us, maybe it will create a ripple effect on someone else.

Libby Mathai

The Priddy family is grateful to the Mathai family for carrying on the spirit of supporting education and investing in medical progress. “Our parents, Kathryn and Ashley Priddy, along with our grandmother, Amanda Amsler, are honored and grateful for the kind sentiments from Libby and Thomas Mathai, as well as Noah,” said Hervey Priddy.  “Learning of the impact that the Priddy Fund has had on Noah’s life and of the generosity of Libby and Thomas of ‘paying it forward’ has made us very happy.” Hervey’s sister, Ann Priddy Bentley, echoes Hervey’s gratitude. “The idea behind the fund worked,” she said. “Our parents stressed education and had a passion for science and medicine, both of which they passed on to us.  The students that are assisted each year are the best of the best.  With people like Noah, our Nation has a great future. We wish Noah and his parents the very best!”

The Mathais look forward to partnering with the Foundation and hope to grow their endowment over time to benefit students and move innovation forward for generations to come.