UC president announces choice for UC Davis chancellor

University of California President Janet Napolitano announced today (Feb. 21) that she has selected Gary May, dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, as her choice to become the seventh chancellor of UC Davis.

Gary May
Credit: Courtesy of Georgia Tech

“Gary May is a dynamic leader and an accomplished scholar and engineer with a passion for helping others succeed,” Napolitano said. “He was chosen from an extraordinarily talented pool of candidates because I believe he’s the right person to guide UC Davis to even greater heights, advancing academic and research initiatives, building a stronger community with students, faculty, and staff, and furthering relations with the larger Davis and Sacramento areas.”

The UC Board of Regents will vote on the terms of the proposed appointment during a special meeting at UCLA on Feb. 23. If the board approves the appointment, May will assume the chancellorship on August 1. Ralph Hexter will continue to serve as interim UC Davis chancellor until May arrives.

“I could not be more pleased, nor more excited, to serve as the next chancellor of the University of California at Davis,” May said. “UC Davis is renowned for its excellent education and research, for providing its diverse student body with exceptional pathways for upward mobility and leadership, for giving its faculty opportunities for impactful discovery, and for serving the state and nation in areas of critical need. These values speak to my spirit, and I cannot wait to join the campus community."

May, 52, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, has been at Georgia Tech for nearly three decades, most recently as dean of the College of Engineering. As dean, he serves as the college’s chief academic officer, leading more than 400 faculty members and more than 13,000 students. Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering graduates more engineers than any other college in the United States.

May has held the Southern Company Chair at the college since 2015 and also maintains an academic appointment as professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“What I and others recognized in Gary May was his ability to connect with students, staff, faculty and alumni,” said Ari Kelman, Chancellor’s Leadership Professor of History at UC Davis and chair of the search committee’s faculty subcommittee. “He has an extraordinary mind and genuine commitment to the University of California’s public mission. We were especially impressed with his vision for the future of UC Davis. He is the right person to build on the university’s strengths, to deepen its relationship with Sacramento and the surrounding region, and to lead the institution to even greater accomplishments in service of the people of California.”

May received his B.S. in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in 1985 and his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley in 1988 and 1991, respectively. In 2010, he was named Outstanding Electrical Engineering Alumnus of the University of California, Berkeley.

May said it was Star Trek, Lego and Erector sets, comic books and science fiction that sparked his early interest in the STEM fields, one that, combined with his own drive, led him to mentors and role models who were crucial to his success.

“In my classes and early in my career, it always concerned me how few people like me there were,” May said. “By that I don’t mean smart or determined or curious people. I mean African Americans, and people of color in general, and also women. That’s when I became interested in finding ways to ensure equal access to education and opportunity. We need to nurture talent, for the good of the individual and for the benefit of us all.”

Said Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson, “For the past five years, Dean May has led the nation’s largest and most diverse college of engineering. His commitment to mentoring students and developing programs to attract and retain female and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields has benefited students not only here at Georgia Tech, but throughout the nation. His efforts to increase interdisciplinary collaboration and help graduates gain entrepreneurial confidence have had wide-ranging impact. We are grateful for his vision, energy and thought leadership while here at Georgia Tech.”

Prior to his current appointment as dean, May was the Steve W. Chaddick Chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; his field of research is computer-aided manufacturing of integrated circuits. He has authored more than 200 technical publications, contributed to 15 books, and holds a patent in this topic.

May has also helped acquire more than $49 million in research funding, and he has graduated 20 Ph.D. students. In 1993, he was named Georgia Tech’s Outstanding Young Alumnus, and in 1999, he received Georgia Tech’s Outstanding Service Award. In 2004, he was honored with Georgia Tech’s Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, as well as the Outstanding Minority Engineer Award from the American Society of Engineering Education. In 2006, he received the Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. May is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

May created the Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering/Science (SURE) program, for which he was granted $3 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF). SURE hosts minority students to perform research at Georgia Tech in the hope they will pursue a graduate degree; over 73 percent of SURE participants enroll in graduate school. May was also co-creator and co-director of the Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science (FACES) and University Center of Exemplary Mentoring programs, for which he was granted over $17 million from the NSF and the Sloan Foundation to increase the number of underrepresented Ph.D. recipients from Georgia Tech.

Over the duration of FACES, 433 minority students have received Ph.D. degrees in science or engineering at Georgia Tech — the most in such fields in the nation. As a result of these efforts, in 2015 President Barack Obama awarded May the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

May is married to LeShelle R. May, and they have two daughters, Simone and Jordan.