Dwayne McCay uses past experiences to transition into presidential role

Published: Aug 6, 2015 1:00:00 PM
Media Contact: Megan Burmester, mburmester@auburn.edu, 334.844.2220

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Dwayne McCay steps into his president-elect role at the Florida Institute of Technology.

Dwayne McCay is one of the few three-time graduates of Auburn University. In 1968, he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics, in 1969 he graduated with his master’s degree in aerospace engineering; and in 1974 he was the first doctoral graduate from aerospace engineering at Auburn.  Those degrees set him up to live a full professional life, from studying rocket propulsion in California to moving into his newest role as president-elect of the Florida Institute of Technology. McCay has proven he has the knowledge and experience to be a leader from coast to coast. He and his wife, Mary Helen, a research scientist and former intercollegiate tennis player at Florida State University, have two children and four granddaughters; two of which are identical twins. Read below to learn more about how McCay’s childhood love led to a decorated and well-respected career.

 1.  Tell us about your newest role as president-elect of Florida Institute of Technology. What are your goals and what do you hope to help the school achieve while you are president?
I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to transition into the president-elect role by working with our current president of FIT, Anthony Catanese. The transition began the end of June and will be completed by next June, which is nice for me since I’m able to work alongside our president and understand what he does.

As for my goals, under our current leadership, we have really built our university to another level, just in the physical sense already. For the next five or six years, I want to focus on the academic and research aspects that we provide our students and faculty. We have a lot of new programs under consideration, including a joint program with the University of Florida for a master’s degree in law. FIT would provide the technological knowledge, while Florida would contribute their patent law expertise. We also want to continue raising the profile of our university by spotlighting our already well-established and reputable biomedical engineering and pre-medical programs.

 2.  What made you interested in the field of engineering?
I always loved airplanes. I grew up in the bean fields of Arkansas where crop dusting was very prevalent, and I just always wanted to ride in the cropduster as a kid. That interest led me into the field of aerodynamics. I was curious about how and why anything flew.

 3.  Why did you decide to attend Auburn and why did you select your specific department of study?
I earned a Navy ROTC scholarship when I graduated high school and there were only 50 schools I could choose to attend based on that scholarship. Auburn was part of the handful of schools I picked to tour. My parents, brother, sister and I visited Auburn and right away people treated you like you were part of their family. It didn’t hurt that the distance between my hometown in Arkansas and Auburn was 560 miles, which according to my mother was “not close, but close enough.”

While attending Auburn, I earned my bachelor’s degree in physics, master’s degree in aerospace engineering and my doctorate in aerospace engineering and mathematics. I’m proud to say that I was the first person at Auburn to earn a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering. I honestly love all things associated with aerospace, and while I was in school, was able to work in the aerospace department and grow that love.

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Dwayne McCay

 4.How has Auburn Engineering helped you in your career, especially in your upcoming president-elect role?
When I graduated with my technical degrees, I never had a solid plan for my life or my career, so in a sense I didn’t have anything holding me back. I embraced all opportunities that came my way, which has led to a fulfilling and successful career. I’ve worked at some of the greatest test centers on earth for NASA and the Air Force. Additionally, I was the chief of propulsion for NASA in Huntsville, and developed rocket propulsion systems in California. Earning my Auburn Engineering degrees allowed me to travel from coast to coast and interact with some of the best scientists and engineers in the United States. 

After gaining so much experience and knowledge working in the private sector, I decided the best option for me and my family would be to move into the public environment, where I became intrigued with the academic setting. I accepted a position as the vice president for research and information technology and was the chief research information officer at the University of Tennessee. I did not seek a management position, and I joke that they had to drag me into it kicking and screaming. But I was able to work side-by-side with other academic units, which ultimately prepared me when I arrived at FIT as the executive vice president and chief operating officer. Again, working side by side with administrators, faculty and students and learning the college culture helped me decide I wanted to be the college’s next president.  

5.  Describe your favorite Auburn memory while you were a student.
I lived in one of the Magnolia dorms along with five good friends and we grew up and made it through school together. We each had different majors, but we were a core group and supported one another all the way through school. We shared Auburn football, went to movies together in the union building, and tutored each other when needed. Frankly, I’d call us a band of brothers. When I think of Auburn, I think of those wonderful people.

 6.  Do you see any similarities between the Florida Institute of Technology and Auburn?
Auburn is a little bit like FIT. Of course it’s a broader school, but still has a technical focus. Both schools are outstanding, and are so much better than they get credit for. It’s interesting over the years as you grow in your career, and work with various people from different schools, I never found I was lacking in terms of my education. The same can be said of our FIT graduates. They are some of the highest paid engineers in the nation. I see that parallel of the education they receive at FIT and the education I received at Auburn matching up with anybody across the United States.