May, currently dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech, will be the seventh UC Davis chancellor and the school’s first African American leader. He will start Aug. 1.
He said after the unanimous UC regent vote at UCLA that he wants to increase the number of minority students graduating in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math. He also wants to create “business incubators” in Sacramento while improving administrative communication with UC Davis faculty and students.
“Davis is a place with many, many good pieces, an excellent veterinary medical school, excellent medical school, ag school, law school, engineering,” he said. “I’d like to knit those together into a constellation and knit those together into a strategic plan and take Davis to the point that it is one of the few universities that is mentioned as a household name.”
May will receive an annual salary of $495,000, which includes $75,000 in faculty chairman funds from a private endowment. His combined salary will be almost 17 percent higher than former Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi’s $424,360. But UC made a point of saying in a statement that his base salary of $420,000 is less than Katehi’s base was.
The St. Louis native has spent nearly 30 years at Georgia Tech, receiving his undergraduate degree at the university and later working his way up to become engineering dean. He has written more than 200 technical publications and contributed to 15 books on computer-aided manufacturing of integrated circuits, on which he also holds a patent, according to UC.
May, 52, earned a master’s degree and doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley in 1988 and 1991, respectively.
He said Thursday that his passion for education came from his parents, a postal clerk and teacher who were both the first in their families to graduate from college. His mother was in the class that integrated the University of Missouri.
“My dad used to give me a dollar for every ‘A,’ ” he said.
May’s love of engineering grew from hours of playing with Legos and Erector sets as a child. He said he would dump multiple puzzles into a pile and do several at a time.
He said his experience as a black man in academia has driven him to help others to succeed.
“When I got to college, it was kind of stark because there would be an auditorium of 200 students and a handful of African American students, so it was very jarring to me,” May said. “I started to wonder why that was true and, as time went on, I became interested in what I could do to make a difference and increase the number. I tried everything to look at ways to address filling the gap.”
He said he accomplished this at Georgia Tech, which graduates the most engineering students in the nation.
“Instead of weeding students out, we created a culture where we are trying to ensure the success of our students. We think the students’ ultimate success reflects back on us and I think I will have that same philosophy at Davis.”
UC President Janet Napolitano said last month she was seeking a chancellor interested in expanding UC Davis further into Sacramento. May said Thursday he’d like to replicate the Technology Square program that Georgia Tech has with Atlanta, in which the university partners with businesses that want to draw on research and academic talent.
“We were impressed with what he had accomplished at Georgia Tech and we thought he had the energy and the vision to take Davis from where it is to the next level,” Napolitano said.
May said he will talk to Sacramento and UC Davis leaders about the possibility of continuing efforts to build a food center and public policy center in the capital city.
“Having a strong connection to Sacramento is going to be important,” he said.
May will be a permanent replacement for Katehi, who resigned in August under a cloud of controversy. An investigation found she violated multiple university policies but cleared her of the most serious allegations related to nepotism and misuse of student funds. The inquiry found that Katehi had repeatedly sought ways to enhance her online reputation by hiring outside consultants.
Katehi, like May, was a champion of STEM fields and increasing the number of women and underrepresented minorities who pursued those studies. She was also considered a prodigious fundraiser for the university.
She drew criticism a year ago after The Sacramento Bee reported that she accepted a lucrative position on the board of DeVry Education Group as it faced federal scrutiny for allegedly misleading students, and she had previously served on the board of a textbook publisher.
May didn’t discuss his predecessor. But he told reporters he sits on two paid boards – one a corporate board and one a nonprofit, neither of which he named. He said he will remain on those boards but won’t accept any additional paid positions.
Since 2015, May has sat on the board of Leidos, a Virginia-based defense company. For the 11-month period ending Jan. 1, 2016, May received $288,280 in cash and stock options, according to a Leidos SEC filing.
May’s Georgia Tech bio also says he serves as executive vice president of the National GEM Consortium, which helps underrepresented minorities pursue graduate studies in STEM fields, and as a member of the national advisory board of the National Society of Black Engineers.
Interim Chancellor Ralph Hexter will continue to serve as university leader until May arrives.