Dwayne McCay: Focused on Student Success

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by Wes Sumner

Florida Tech’s Chief Academic Officer for 13 years, T. Dwayne McCay assumes the presidency July 1. It will be a new role for the former University of Tennessee administrator and NASA engineer, but one for which he is prepared.

Florida Tech Today sat down with McCay to get a better sense of his perspective regarding the university’s future.

Has serving as a university president always been an aspiration?
Well, I never had a plan for my life. I was always someone who was interested in the next great exciting opportunity. So, if you track my career over the years, I went from one exciting position to another … and, the grass is usually greener on the other side even if you’re moving from Tennessee where it truly is green to the desert of California where there’s no grass at all. But, I was always moving because of some technical problem that was very exciting and enticed me to go.

Florida Tech has a long history of being an attractive educational option for international students, and you’ve worked diligently to strengthen the university’s international reputation in your role as executive vice president. What contributes to Florida Tech’s attractiveness to international students? 
As the executive vice president and provost, I had an ability to interact at a different level in international arenas than our recruiters did because they didn’t often, in those countries, get an opportunity to sit down with either a provost or president there and discuss our various programs. And what you have to learn, and our recruiters are good at advising me, is every country is a little different. So much of it is culture-based. In the places that have heard of us and knew quite a bit about us, it was much easier to recruit, but the driving aspect of the culture was so important. In some countries it’s the respect for their fundamental religion. In China, for example, the number one concern that Chinese parents have for their children is safety. In others it’s your international reputation and ranking. It’s the fact that we’re a safe, small, personal university of very high quality that appeals to families all over the world.

You’ve said before that if you could build a university like Florida Tech anywhere in the world, you’d probably build it here. Why is that?
If you drive in any direction, you’ll run into dozens of some of the leading aerospace and technology companies in the world, whether it is Lockheed or Northrop Grumman or Harris or Rockwell Collins or Boeing, they’re all here. So, since one of my primary goals is to develop student graduates who have great careers, what’s easier than doing it in a place where they can make their entire career if desired. I can’t believe how fortunate it is for everyone here that Dr. Keuper decided to open this university at this location.

You’ve gotten to meet many Florida Tech alumni over the years. What has been your overall impression of them?
Well, I don’t like these kinds of expressions, but you can’t help but be blown away. If you look at the fact that there are over 500 Florida Tech graduates at Harris, one of the leading communications companies in the world, there are over 500 at Northrop Grumman, over 500 work out at Kennedy which has been the focal point for our space program now for an extended period of time. Even in the new companies—some of the lead engineers for SpaceX are not only Florida Tech graduates, they’re young Florida Tech graduates. If it doesn’t blow you away for a school that’s as small as we are, that has only been around for 50 some odd years and has produced 40,000–50,000 graduates, unbelievable. Incredibly impressive.

What are some ways you’d like to see the alumni support their alma mater in the future? 
People always immediately think that means money and in reality there’s a lot more to it than money. To me it’s more about participation. While I would like every alum to give us a few dollars so that we can show how much appreciated we are to the various rating agencies, it’s more about participation, about sending their information to the magazine … I mean, we have so many wonderful graduates that have been incredibly successful but it’s hard to run all that down without their help so, participation more than anything.

How do you describe your vision for Florida Tech’s future?
I think we are one of the better private engineering colleges in the country and in terms of the quality of our graduates, I truly believe we are as good as anybody. I want people to understand that we are one of the best 100 engineering colleges in the United States. I always go back to the three-part mantra that I’ve used for a long period of time: our number one goal is the success of our students—careers for a lifetime of joy and happiness. I want them to really love their career. Second, all research universities produce a variety of results, and I want those results to manifest themselves in ways that make life better for everybody. It would be great if we were riding along in an automated car where on the dashboard it says powered by Florida Tech engineering. Third is that everyone who walks out of these gates is a global citizen. They understand the cultures, they understand the attitudes, they understand and appreciate the diversity that makes up this planet and have a respect for the planet such that we all pull together to make our world a safer, healthier place to live.

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