Dr. Gary May has a bold vision that, to many, seems inconceivable, much like the one that John F. Kennedy had 50 years ago. But JFK’s dream of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth before the end of the decade was realized and, to date, astronauts have made six manned moon landings. Likewise, May’s vision, though seemingly a mountainous challenge, also can become a reality.
May, the newly appointed dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, serves as the chief academic officer for the college that includes more than 400 faculty and 12,000 students. His daring vision is “to create an environment where anyone with the aptitude and inclination to study engineering will want to come to Georgia Tech. We will build a community of scholars to address the issues and challenges of the world through technology.” May also intends to increase the numbers of African Americans and other minorities involved in the sciences.
May is the first African American to be named dean of the College of Engineering, and he will assume responsibility for directing the nation’s largest engineering program, one that enrolls nearly 60 percent of Georgia Tech’s student body and is home to about half of its tenured and tenure-track faculty.
The St. Louis, Mo., native earned his bachelors in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech in 1985 before pursuing his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. May, who scored well in mathematics and English on standardized and aptitude tests, was encouraged to consider engineering when he was in high school. “I was recruited into a program that was sponsored by McDonnell-Douglas Corporation. I did the internship for a couple of summers and decided that engineering was the right field for me,” he reflects.
May is a strong believer in the precept “pay it forward.” A champion of diversity, he oversees the FACES (Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science) program, which is sponsored by the Natural Science Foundation. “Our goal is to increase the number of Ph.D. holders in science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] and to get those folks into academic careers. Since 1998, more than 300 minority students have gotten Ph.D.s, and many of them have gone on to become faculty members at universities across the country.”
Georgia Tech ranked no. 1 in the U.S. in 2010 for awarding the most engineering doctoral degrees to African American students and all minority students, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
May is involved in a number of organizations, including the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).
The Georgia Institute of Technology is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the matriculation of African American students into its educational programs.