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Joe May’s family foundation donates $5 million to Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering

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Former legislator Joe T. May and his family are giving Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering $5 million.

The May Family Foundation gift will be used to create a multi-year program that aims to increase the number of first-generation engineering students who enroll and graduate from Virginia Tech.

May, chairman and chief technology officer of Loudoun County-based Electronic Instrumentation and Technology (EIT), earned an electrical engineering degree from the school in 1962. “A couple of people in small ways were very helpful in getting me on track and allowed me to end up getting an engineering degree from Virginia Tech, and frankly ending up with a career that’s been very satisfying to me and I think helpful in general,” May said in a statement.  

That’s one of the reasons May, his wife, Bobby, and two daughters, one of whom is a Virginia Tech alumna, made the gift, which the university announced Tuesday morning during a state of the college speech by Julie M. Ross, Tech’s dean of engineering.

“As we move forward in our collective visioning of the College of Engineering, we know we must continue to make attending Virginia Tech engineering more accessible,” Ross said in a statement. “The May family’s gift will expand our ability to recruit and retain first-generation students to engineering. To address society’s greatest challenges we need to attract the best students from all backgrounds and areas of the commonwealth.”

The May's had previously endowed two electrical engineering scholarships in memory of their son Philip A. May ('89).

The May gift comes at a time when Ross, who began her tenure at Tech last July, has increased the focus on “inclusive excellence” — her term for supporting all students to succeed in meeting the standards of Virginia Tech engineering.

“I think the timing is excellent because Dean Ross comes with a lot of new ideas and a receptive mind, and we’re presenting what we hope and think are some new, good ideas and it appears to have every chance of synergy,” May said. 


Starting this year, the May Family Foundation Pathway for 1st Generation Students will begin its first round of student selections. Virginia Tech will recruit 60 promising first-generation students from Virginia (starting in the ninth grade).  

Once selected, the students will connect with the College of Engineering through four programming sessions. The first session would come after their freshman year of high school, when the students will be invited to spend two weeks on Tech’s campus. They will receive an introduction to engineering disciplines through lab tours and learn about college preparation and planning.

During the second session, the same cohort of students will return to Virginia Tech for a second summer camp the summer before the 11th grade. The focus of this session will include mentoring the rising 10th-grade students and SAT preparation.

For the third session, students will return before their senior year of high school for the program’s final summer camp. This session will include mentoring rising 10th- and 11th-grade students, as well as providing instructions on college applications, scholarships searches, and scholarship applications.

Additionally, this camp would offer a session for parents of first-generation students, which will help prepare them for the college application process.

Students in their senior year of high school would be invited to participate in fall visitation. There, they will have the opportunity to submit their applications and find out their admission status.

For the fourth and final session, matriculating students will participate in a five-week engineering boot camp that reinforces foundational courses, such as chemistry and math. During the academic year, they would live in a dorm that brings together female and male first-year engineering students in a residential environment and provides encouragement and support in their pursuit of engineering careers. According to Tech, the graduation rate for first-generation students who participate in such residential programs is about 85 percent, significantly higher than the 60 percent graduation rate for those who have a traditional dorm experience.

Over the duration of a five-year pilot program, the project is expected to provide 300 students with the gateway to pursue engineering degrees.

May is a former legislator who served in the Virginia House of Delegates as the representative of Clarke and part of Loudoun counties from 1994-2014. Through the years, he has been recognized with many honors including the Lifetime Achievement Award in Industry, the Governor's Legislative Leadership Award in Technology, the Greater Washington Area "Engineer of the Year, and the Virginia Biotechnology Legislator of the Year.



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