Newly installed UC Davis chancellor teases 'Aggies Square'

"I don't want UC Davis to be a place that only trains and educates students. I want us to actually empower them...like super heroes to be agents of their own success, their career, and their destiny, and to do some good in the world," said May.

This week marks a new chapter for UC Davis. The university officially swore in a new chancellor on Friday to kick off homecoming weekend.  

UC President Janet Napolitano presided over the ceremony. The academic installation ceremony was part of Homecoming Weekend, including the Investiture and reception, Pajamarino Friday night and football on Saturday.

Former chancellor Linda Katehi resigned last August after an investigation found several instances where she violated university policies. Katehi returned to UC Davis this fall as a full-time faculty member after taking a yearlong paid sabbatical.

Chancellor Gary May and his wife Leshelle May invited ABC10 into their home for a wide-ranging discussion on plans to expand the university's footprint in Sacramento and much more.

"Davis is a wonderful community," said Leshelle May. "We walk to the movies. We walk to dinner. I get my nails done in town. I just love that it is a walking community."

Gary and Leshelle were known as a power couple in Atlanta. He was dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech and his wife was a senior system/software developer at CNN headquarters. They are now making a new start.

"I'm very proud of him, no doubt," said Leshelle May who still has her job with CNN. "I think, given that he went to Berkeley and he understands the whole UC system, this shouldn't be too challenging. I think he can handle it."

They are hoping to build on their personal and professional successes in Atlanta here at UC Davis. The chancellor says one of his major goals is to expand the university's footprint in Sacramento. He is modeling the effort after Technology Square in Atlanta.

"Tech Square truly is the heart of Atlanta's tech scene," proclaims a narrator in a YouTube video posted by the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. "It's where you go to find breakthrough talent, breakthrough ideas and breakthrough companies. It was originally sparked by Georgia Tech and thanks to the private sector, has become the highest density of startups, corporate innovation centers, academic research labs and students."

Chancellor May says he'd like to see a similar development here in Sacramento.

"We had a hotel and a bookstore in the tech square development. We are thinking along similar lines here," said May. "We'd like to increase our engagement in the city of Sacramento. There is a lot of momentum, and I think we are going to be able to make it happen. My experience with Tech Square in Atlanta will make it easy for me to move forward with something similar here. I'm very excited about it. We're calling it Aggies Square. Stay tuned."

When ABC10 arrived, Chancellor May was working with his speech writers on remarks for his official swearing-in ceremony on Friday. Many will be thinking of Michelle Vo who was a Las Vegas shooting victim. This year marked the UC Davis alum's 10-year anniversary.

"I just wanted to express the condolences of the entire UC Davis Community to the family of Michelle Vo who was our alumnae who tragically was shot in Las Vegas. She was class of 2007," said May. "I sent Michelle's family a handwritten sympathy note, and I have to do that sort of thing on occasion when students or alums pass away. It is not the funnest part of the job, but it is something I think is part of the responsibility."

The job entails a great deal of responsibility. May says he and his wife find peace and tranquility on strolls through the courtyard at the residence that is now home to the university's first African American chancellor.

"It makes you proud. I'm happy I'm in that role," said Chancellor May with a smile. "I'm glad I can sort of carry the torch, set an example, be a role model. It's a significant responsibility in that sense because I can't mess up because if I do mess up, maybe I will be the last."

All jokes aside, May hasn't come this far to mess up. He's on a mission.

"I always tell people if you don't live in California, or if you are not in higher education you may not know much about UC Davis," said May. "And that's what I want to change. I want to make UC Davis one of the few universities that is at the tip of your tongue when you think of the very best public research universities in the country, and I think all the necessary components are here so it's not like that's a real heavy lift. It's just going to take knitting those pieces together into a coherent story. I think we'll be able to do that in the near future."

May says he would also like to improve diversity on campus.

"In my prior life, I was partially responsible for making the college of engineering at Georgia Tech the most diverse college of engineering in the country," said May. "My aspiration here at Davis is to make our university the most diverse university in the country if not the world. I think Davis is already significantly diverse. The freshman class this year was the most diverse in the history of the university. We are on the verge of becoming a Hispanic serving institution which means 25 percent of your undergraduate population is Chicano Latino."

Beyond racial diversity, Chancellor May says intellectual diversity is also important. But he has battled headlines over the summer like this one: "UC Davis admits 60 percent of international students, but 36 percent of in-state applicants."

"It's a little bit disturbing because I think sometimes headlines are written to sensationalize," said Chancellor May. "The raw numbers of domestic students far outweigh the number of international students who are admitted. In fact, UC Davis enrolls more California residents than any other UC in the system."

Yes, he may be new, but he is well versed on the university and he's got a pretty good support system, too.

"She has an official title," said Chancellor May about his wife Leshelle, with a smile. "She is the associate of the chancellor. She actually works for me now."  

The family wants to make a few things clear about this position.

"Yes, it is an official title, and it was approved by Janet," said Leshelle May. "It's an unpaid position."

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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