When electrical engineering alumnus Joe T. May ’62 was in high school, he says he wasn’t exactly on a successful path.
After a suspension for smoking cigarettes — something that today, May said, “wouldn’t raise an eyebrow,” but did then in the small Mennonite community he lived in — May’s principal allowed him to graduate only if he promised “to do something useful” with his life.
So he joined the Army, where he was exposed to electronics. He got out of the service and enrolled at Virginia Tech to learn more, eventually earning his electrical engineering degree, but not without help along the way.
“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.
It’s one of the reasons May and his family — including his wife, Bobby, and two daughters, Virginia Tech alumna Elaine and University of Virginia alumna Beth — have gifted the College of Engineering $5 million from the May Family Foundation to establish a multiyear program that aims to increase the number of first-generation students who enroll at and graduate from Virginia Tech. The Mays had previously endowed two electrical engineering scholarships in memory of their son Philip A. May ’89.
“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,” said Julia M. Ross, Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering at Virginia Tech. “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. We could not be more thankful and excited about the possibilities that the gift allows the college and our incoming students.”
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 who show exceptional promise and have the ability to succeed.
“I concluded over the years that there are a lot of young people out there who are really, really capable,” May said, “but for whatever reasons they aren’t quite on the right track and that perhaps a modest amount of assistance from us might make a difference in their life — as it made in mine.”