The 2023 AAAS General Election will open on February 20, 2023. Head here for more information about the general election slate and how to vote. Learn about President-elect candidate Willie E. May below.
Willie E. May, Ph.D., currently serves as Vice President for Research & Economic Development at Morgan State University. Previously, he served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Ahead of the 2023 AAAS General Election, our Executive Office caught up with May to find out more about what he has planned if he were elected to lead AAAS as its President.
How have past leadership experiences prepared you to assume a leadership role within AAAS?
Over the course of the past 50+ years of my professional career, I have had the great fortune of being given many challenging opportunities. The organization that has had the greatest role in shaping my orientation toward science and leadership was the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where I spent over 45 years working at every research and leadership level in the organization. As a leader at NIST, I learned that everyone has the potential to make worthwhile contributions if they are made to feel supported, valued and heard, and they are held accountable for the outcomes they produce. I learned that one must lead by example through hard work and commitment to both fairness and what is best for the organization and its mission. I believe in getting to know your team, listening to them, and helping them identify how they can each make their own unique contributions.
My commitment to promoting diversity in the sciences and bringing resources to underserved populations has brought me to Morgan State University. As Morgan’s Vice President for Research and Economic Development, I have strived to recruit and empower high quality staff and administrators who are committed to paving the way for Morgan’s faculty to engage in outstanding research, while “meeting students where they are and taking them to where they need to be” to support U.S. competitiveness and provide generational wealth for themselves and their families.
I am excited by the prospect of us working together in AAAS to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all.” To maintain U.S. global competitiveness, it is in our national best interest to make better use of our nation’s diversity in providing U.S. STEM workforce of the future.
What unique role(s) can/should AAAS play in the scientific enterprise?
As the world’s largest general scientific organization, AAAS is uniquely positioned to make transformational impacts on scientific disciplines and the role of science in society at large. As an advocate for scientists, AAAS can both recognize and promote outstanding scientific achievements and serve as a resource by making scientific results more accessible and connecting researchers across disciplines. The complex problems faced by our nation and the world require us to step outside our sometimes insular academic silos and work across disciplines to create innovative solutions.
These same challenges compel us to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the scientific enterprise—not simply because doing so is fair or right, but because we cannot succeed without leveraging the bright minds and talent we have been leaving behind. As international scientists educated in the United States increasingly return to their countries of origin, the U.S. cannot maintain its global competitiveness without training and nurturing scientists who already call this country their home. AAAS has the stature and resources to support in-depth studies of the causes of and solutions to the underrepresentation of minority groups in STEM and to foster an environment in which researchers of all backgrounds feel welcome and supported.
What are the most important items for which AAAS can advocate?
We find ourselves at an inflection point wherein public trust in the sciences is critical for our public health, the environment, and future prosperity. AAAS is in a position to support the science of effective communication and responding to misinformation, provide resources and training to prepare and encourage scientists to engage in meaningful public discourse, support platforms that offer productive and responsible scientific communication, and connect with thought leaders to communicate scientific findings in accessible and accurate ways. An equally important but even more challenging task is working to ensure that government policy is adequately informed by and responsive to well-established scientific findings and technological expertise. On both fronts, AAAS has the opportunity to be a force for good through organizing and mobilizing scientists and communicators to take on these daunting tasks.
What excites or inspires you the most about the future of the scientific enterprise, and, more specifically, AAAS's role in that future?
What excites me the most about the future of science and AAAS’ role in it is not just the solutions it can provide, but the opportunity to be a part of something so much greater than oneself. I wake up each morning eager to help others, and especially young people, be a small part of humanity’s striving to understand nature and create a better world. I believe that AAAS has an important role to play in making that opportunity available to more and more people.