Interim UTPB engineering dean has wide experience

UTPB interim College of Engineering Dean T. Dwayne McCay talks about his new post during a recent interview in his office. He has several things on his plate as he gets adjusted to his role. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Just finding his desk, T. Dwayne McCay is getting adjusted to his new role as interim dean of the University of Texas Permian Basin College of Engineering.

Before he arrived at UTPB, McCay had been doing consulting work based out of Jacksonville, Fla. Prior to that, he was at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., was in the Army, leaving as a first lieutenant, and worked for NASA.

He was on active duty for training and was in the reserves for 18 years.

McCay has been in higher education since 1986 when he and his wife left NASA after the Challenger explosion.

He had been chief of propulsion at NASA and his wife, Mary Helen, was a PhD metallurgical engineer. They knew people at the University of Tennessee and both were hired there.

He had been at NASA for five years and Mary Helen had worked for NASA for about 20 years.

Before that, he was at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Lab in California.

When he was getting out of the military, he got hired by a company that operated Arnold Engineering Development Center, a huge aeronautics development center.

“I was involved with wind tunnel design and testing engines; testing rocket systems, and rocket designs … and just sort of made my way over,” McCay said.

He added that NASA was a very regimented organization.

“I worked at Marshall Space Flight Center, which is in Huntsville, Ala. It was a very high-energy organization because we were launching vehicles,” he said.

“When a vehicle sits on the pad, it’s a very expensive proposition — about $3 million a day. That was back then,” he added.

“I hope to at least be involved with some classes whether I teach anything or not. In the last few years, I’ve been involved with a class or two and a variety of things like leadership in engineering and ethics in engineering; that type of thing,” he said.

McCay said he was a member of The Registry, an interim placement firm for higher education. There is a national competitive search underway for the College of Engineering dean position. McCay has agreed to serve up to two years depending on the eventual outcome of the search, according to UTPB.

A native of Wynne, Ark., he earned all his degrees from Auburn University.

“I won a (full) scholarship that paid for either physics or engineering. (I) went to Auburn on the scholarship. If I wanted to go to college, I went in one of those things. I wanted to be a journalist, believe it or not, that was my goal. But when I got a free education, it was hard to turn down,” McCay said.

His bachelor’s is in physics; his master’s in aerospace engineering; and his doctorate is in aerospace engineering and applied mathematics.

He was drawn to UTPB because President Sandra Woodley and the provost were so nice to chat with.

“Life is fairly short and if you have pleasant people to work with, and for, it makes life a lot nicer. I love engineering and I’ve always been in the aerospace world, but I have an affinity for wind turbines and the energy environment in its own right and this is sort of the energy environment of the United States, the Permian Basin. Always heard of it, but never been here,” McCay said.

He knew it was oil and gas country, but he didn’t expect 50,000 operating wells.

“That’s amazing,” McCay said. “This area produces 48% of the crude oil produced in the United States.”

He has several objectives while he’s here and one is to grow the university a little bit. Right now, they are going through reaccreditation for Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology for two of their programs and they’re starting accreditation for two more.

Petroleum and mechanical engineering are undergoing reaccreditation and the ones going through accreditation are electrical and chemical engineering.

“The accreditation process is pretty high on my list of things that need to get done,” McCay said.

The reaccreditation process will be conducted at the end of this semester, but there will still be a period of time before they get the results.

Accreditation for the electrical and chemical engineering courses will be next fall.

McCay said he is impressed with the faculty in the College of Engineering, although it is too small for the things that need to be accomplished.

“That’s another thing on my list of things to do and that is to hire some qualified faculty to supplement what we already have. That’s high on my list also. I’ve met with most of them and you know, it’s between semesters, so there’s several of them missing. But so far, I’ve found them not only intelligent and really committed to the university, but delightful people actually. I’m pleased with the faculty that are here,” McCay said.

He and his wife, Mary Helen, have two daughters and four granddaughters. One of their daughters passed away during the pandemic.

Woodley said McCay is a great asset to the university and the region.

“He earned a distinguished president emeritus designation, which says so much about the impact he had at Florida Institute of Technology. His executive experience, in addition to the knowledge and experience in his discipline, provides UTPB with high level strategic leadership in the interim. His appointment will allow us to take all the time needed to find the right fit going forward,” she said in an email.