By Laura Pizzo
An accomplished scholar and engineer, Chancellor Gary S. May came to UC Davis from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, where he had been for nearly three decades, most recently as dean of the institute’s College of Engineering — the largest and most diverse school of its kind in the nation. Chancellor May’s wife, LeShelle R. May, is a highly accomplished computer engineer, recognized for her leadership and innovation in the development of software applications. She has led a distinguished 21-year career at CNN.
Both of you led very accomplished careers in Atlanta. What inspired you to come to UC Davis?
GM: I had the opportunity to take over leadership at a top public research university. As a UC Berkeley graduate, I also look back very fondly on my own experience in the University of California system. All in all, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, and the timing was perfect because our children are out of high school and in college now.
LM: He of course initiated the move, but I just love it here and am quickly building a community. The first thing I did when we moved here was find a new running group. I also cycle, so the culture here really appeals to me. At the same time, I am continuing my career at CNN, where I have worked for 21 years and recently went from a management position to a senior technical lead.
What are a couple of UC Davis’ most important roles in California, and how will you support them?
GM: The UC system is the crown jewel of public education in the country, and UC Davis has a particular niche in the system because we’re a land grant with the best agricultural college in the country and the No. 1 School of Veterinary Medicine in the world. UC Davis is a focal point for feeding the world, sustainability and climate science, and — as the most comprehensive university in the UC system — we also have excellence in the arts, social sciences and more.
LeShelle and I are both happy to be a part of a place that does such critical work, and we will do our best to take that work to the next level. As an example, I am exploring working with partners to establish a technology-focused development in Sacramento similar to Technology Square, which is a partnership in Atlanta between Georgia Tech, the city and the business community. UC Davis and Sacramento’s business community are ripe for something like that, and having done it once already will make it easier for me to move forward with something similar here.
LM: In addition, the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, the Ann E. Pitzer Center and the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art all bring a lot of culture to the region that otherwise would not be possible. At our fingertips, we get to enjoy arts and music from around the world. We can walk there from our house!
What has stood out to you so far about the UC Davis community?
GM: I have been engaging with alumni as well as parents and friends on my listening tour of several development and alumni association receptions and dinners since I arrived here in August. I noticed right away that everyone is very passionate about the university, and their passion takes different forms. Some are very excited about athletics. Some are very excited about veterinary medicine. The African American community is excited that I’m the first African American chancellor. No matter their passion, one thing is certain: People care.
LM: It’s a close-knit community. We get recognized when we go downtown, which didn’t happen in Atlanta. I love it here. It’s so relaxing. I feel like I’m home.
How does being the parents of college students inform your leadership?
GM: It helps me stay connected to what the younger generation is thinking and feeling. I know a lot of pop culture and slang because my girls are constantly educating me. We are also well aware of tuition costs and are sympathetic to those concerns because we are paying two college tuitions right now. We don’t take tuition and cost increases lightly because we feel those same burdens ourselves.
LM: I understand when students have waves of emotions. Earlier this fall, I dropped both my kids off at school. They had a little bit of sadness, so I can understand students in that regard. They miss their parents and their hometowns. College is an adjustment. And I understand their four-year journeys better because my daughters are in it right now.
What is one thing you hope to accomplish in the next year?
GM: I hope to develop a strategic plan that maps out the next five to 10 years. The first step has been my listening tour. We recently launched a campus- and community-wide process for broad participation in the development of the strategy plan. I expect the final plan will be published sometime in 2018. I hope that over the next year, people will see my leadership style as being visible, approachable and accessible. I think they’ll see that I have the best interests of the university at heart.