Faculty Spotlight: Captain Donald May

photo of Captain Donald May

  • captain in the United States Navy, where he has over 26 years of experience
  • professor of Naval Science in Miami's Naval ROTC Program
  • deployed with the U.S. Navy
  • teaches a capstone course, Leadership and Ethics (NSC 402)


"God opened the door to the Navy for me at a young age. My father, Glenn May (who is nearly 97 now), enlisted in the Navy with his brother in World War II. They wanted to do their part, and their story has always stuck with me and was my inspiration.

"I did my undergraduate studies at Oregon State University, where I went through the Naval ROTC program. It was back then that I set the goal for myself to come back to be the Commanding Officer of a Naval ROTC unit. After 5 years at Oregon State, I was commissioned. Then, 25 years later, I ended up here at Miami.

"I have logged over 3,000 hours flying the E-2 Hawkeye, a carrier-based aircraft. I was also honored with the General Davis award for being in the top 10% of my class at Auburn University, where I received one of my master's degrees.

"Back in my time going through Naval ROTC, I appreciated that Navy and Marine officers were putting their time and energy to mold and shape me into the man that I would become. As I went through my career, their fingerprints were all over me. This helped to reinforce my goals, and I wanted to make a difference for the next generation as I got to the end of my time in the Navy.

"One of my daughters was the one to bring Miami University to my attention. I did a campus visit with her a few years ago, and we were both impressed. We chose Miami because we were looking for a school that wasn't too large and was devoted to educational excellence. An added bonus for me was that the Naval ROTC unit here had the same sense and feel of what I had gone through during my undergraduate days. Miami was it!"


"The main course that I teach is a capstone called Leadership and Ethics (NSC 402). In this class, students get to look into the ethical philosophies of the greats over the years, both the pros and cons, and understand each of them. Each class period we ask them two questions: one, what is right? And two, how do you decide what is right? This approach is useful on the battlefield, and we apply them in practical exercises.

"I love learning — it's a great part about teaching. I love even more when someone else is learning; knowing that I helped is very rewarding. Even if it isn't directly through my words, I want to be able to help set the environment and context for my students. Being able to do this as a primary job is a blessing.

"My teaching philosophy is to use passion and genuine care. With the military being so large, it's easy for things to become impersonal. What I remember the most about my time in the military are the personal relationships. I want these students and future officers to understand how getting to know the others that they are with is so important. It will truly transcend their time in the military.

"Making a true connection with students is important. So when they are out at 6 am for PT [physical training], I'm right there with them. I want to demonstrate passion by action."


"I myself do not do any hands-on research; it's done through the students. Since we are educating and preparing them for military service to our great nation, what better way to do that than actually experiencing it? Most Naval ROTC professors are here directly from the operational Navy and Marine Corps, and then we do two or three years of teaching. We're sharp enough on our trade, so we can bring real-world experience to the classroom.

"Students need hands-on experience. All of our students are sent out on summer training, where they'll go out on ships, squadrons, and submarines. Some are able to go out on multiple summer training events. One such experience is a 4-week summer training after their freshman year, which allows them to spend one week with naval aviation, one with surface navy, one with submarines, and one with the Marine Corps.

"Some students come back and say that the Navy isn't for them. Others say that they want to switch from the Navy to the Marine Corps. Some say that they love the Navy but they're now thinking about going into aviation or submarines. That's the purpose of the experience, and it's better than any research you can get from a computer or a book.

"I earned my commission through the Naval ROTC program and ended up switching from wanting to go into nuclear power to naval aviation following a summer training evolution. After my first flight in a carrier-based aircraft, I felt challenged and captivated. I learned new things from that experience that I might not have learned anywhere else."

Outside the Classroom

"I am a very self-motivated person, so the fact that I am accomplishing my goal set 26 years ago is motivation enough to want to bring excellence into the classroom each and every day! If I get sick and need motivation to push through my illness, I think of the students and the great things they have to offer this nation, and that's enough to put a smile on my face.

"God, family, and country are my priorities in life. I spend most of my time devoted to Miami's Naval Science department. Outside of the university, I spend my time with my wife and children. I also put a lot of time into my church, where I am a small group leader of adults and also teach 4th and 5th grade boys in Sunday school.

"Outside of that, I enjoy running and hiking, anything outdoors really. I don't feel like I need any projects outside of that. I have plenty enough to keep me busy already. I am truly blessed."

[August 2016]