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Engineer and University Administrator Gary S. May Receives 2021 AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award

Gary May has founded numerous programs that support underrepresented minority STEM students and mentored more than 100 Ph.D. candidates. | Neil Orman/AAAS

Gary S. May, chancellor of the University of California, Davis, will receive the 2021 Lifetime Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award honors researchers who, for 25 years or more, have positively impacted the atmosphere of a department or institution by mentoring students who are underrepresented in STEM fields, such as women, African American, Native American and Hispanic men, and people with disabilities. Over a three-decade career as a professor of computer engineering and university administrator, May has founded numerous programs that support underrepresented minority STEM students and mentored more than 100 Ph.D. candidates. Many of May’s mentees are now mentors in their own right, with high-ranking positions in academia and industry.

“In every role Chancellor May has played in higher education, he has sought to support the entry and success of students from underrepresented minority populations and first-generation college students,” said Shirley Malcom, director of SEA Change, a AAAS initiative that helps universities build more inclusive campuses. “Leadership matters a lot in diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM, and we are pleased he has been recognized for a lifetime of such leadership.”

Hired by the Georgia Institute of Technology as an assistant professor in 1991, May went on to spend 26 years on the school’s faculty. In 2011, he became dean of Georgia Tech’s college of engineering, a position he held until moving to UC Davis in 2017.


May meets with mentees at the UC Davis Women’s Resources and Research Center. | UC Davis

In 1998, May founded the Facilitating Academic Careers in Engineering and Science (FACES) program to encourage students from underrepresented minorities to pursue careers in academia. Over the duration of the program, more than 430 minority students earned STEM Ph.D.s at Georgia Tech, a number that led the nation.

Samuel Graham arrived at Georgia Tech as a graduate student in 1995. He met May that year and later become one of the first recipients of a FACES grant. Graham is now the first African American chair of Georgia Tech’s school of mechanical engineering.

“Even as he was busy successfully progressing through the ranks of his career, Chancellor May was always accessible to provide guidance,” Graham wrote in a letter recommending May for the AAAS award. “I am a professor and administrator today in large part due to the mentorship that he provided me.”

In 1992, May founded the Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering/Sciences (SURE) program. Of the more than 500 undergraduates who have participated in SURE, 75% have gone on to attend graduate school. In 2013, May helped launch the University Center of Exemplary Mentoring, an initiative that awards stipend support to minority Ph.D. students in the eight schools of Georgia Tech’s college of engineering.


May poses with former SURE student LaVonda Brown, second from left, on her Ph.D. graduation day. | Georgia Tech

In addition to providing direct benefits to students, May’s enthusiasm has inspired other academic leaders to step up their own commitment to mentoring. Kenneth Ball, dean of George Mason University’s school of engineering, met May at a seminar in 2007, and they have kept in touch ever since.

“I have witnessed first-hand the impact that Gary has had on literally hundreds of other deans and senior leaders in engineering education,” Ball wrote in a letter to AAAS. “Indeed, I consider myself to be one of Gary’s many mentees. His example serves as an inspiration to me, and I am a better dean and academic leader because of Gary’s involvement in my life and career.”

May has won several other awards in honor of his mentoring initiatives and research on the manufacturing of integrated circuits, tiny chips that are the foundation of modern electronics. He received the AAAS Mentor Award in 2006 and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Obama in 2015. He was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2018 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020.

The AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award was established in 1991. In considering nominations, the award committee looks at quantitative data and letters of support for evidence of how a researcher’s work resulted in departmental or institutional change with regard to the granting of doctorate degrees to underrepresented students. Such efforts include providing psychological support, helping students to publish their work, and lending career guidance.

May will receive the award in a virtual ceremony on Feb. 10, during the 187th AAAS Annual Meeting. AAAS will begin accepting nominations for the 2022 award on April 15. More information on eligibility requirements can be found here.