LeShelle May

LeShelle May

Photo Credits: JESSE STESHENKO / AGGIE FILE

How her childhood made her the assertive, innovative leader she is today

One of the first things noticeable in conversation with LeShelle May is that she has a refined sense of objectivity. Whenever anything negative comes her way, she takes a step back and looks at things objectively to understand how to best handle it. She credits this skill to her mother.

“I grew up with a very nervous mother. I was always trying to please her. Anytime she got nervous, I would say ‘Okay, calm down. Look at the big picture.’ That forced me to mature a little earlier.”

May grew up in Harlem in New York City and comes from humble beginnings. When she tells her story, people frequently assume that she was a first-generation college student. On the contrary, both of her parents have undergraduate and graduate degrees. She grew up in a single-parent home where she lived with her mother.

“My mom worked as a social worker. She felt that my high school opportunities would be limited because the parochial school I was in ended after sixth grade. It gave me a strong foundation in math and science which I had a better aptitude for.”

This led to May moving to a predominantly Jewish town in New Jersey for middle school and meant that she would have to travel to New York to visit her father.

“I didn’t visit him that much. He was not a father type figure. But what he would do during the weekends that I did spend with him was teach me how to play chess. I used to be really good at chess. It was just that logic and thinking and that kind of helped.”

In New Jersey, May was able to take classes in AP Physics and AP Calculus and hone the math and science skills she already had an affinity toward. She described herself during that period of time as outgoing but shy. She considered herself a nerd, never the popular girl or the cheerleader type. Most of the students from May’s high school went to top-tier colleges. May wanted to go to Brown.

“I studied at Boston University. But my first choice was Brown, where I was waitlisted. My dad wanted me to go to Vassar for the law but I told him that’s not happening.”

May credits her high school for making the transition to college courses at Boston University easier. Her tough high school teachers made college courses seem a lot easier.

“But then when I started to build into these tough academic courses, your confidence can be compromised. But at the same time, I didn’t have an option B. I knew this was it. My family wasn’t well-to-do so I had to keep a certain GPA to keep my scholarship. That kept me studying harder and working harder.”

LeShelle May has now been working in software development for CNN for over 20 years and is also passionate about health and fitness. She’s also an avid traveler.

Written by: Kriti Varghese — science@theaggie.org