In elementary school May Lee decided that purple would be her color. Forty years later, her email address, her name tag, and even her license plate all use the name “Ms. Purple.”
It’s fair to say that when Lee makes a decision, she dives in completely.
Some of that tenacity may have been passed down from her father, Lin-Fa Lee.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan, to illiterate parents, Lin-Fa Lee immigrated to the US at age 23 and promptly earned three bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree, supporting his education with part- time jobs and scholarships. He ultimately settled “down as a chemical engineer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and raised three children.
The fact that my dad was able to get so many degrees in a place where he had no family to support him has always inspired me.” –May Lee
Lin-Fa Lee was successful enough to fly his parents out for the World’s Fair in 1982, where the whole family saw the newly erected Sunsphere in Knoxville. Six years later, May Lee graduated from UT with a bachelor’s degree in computer science—the foundation of a fulfilling decades-long career.
When Lin-Fa Lee passed away in 2019, May Lee felt it would be natural to honor him on her old campus.
“I already had a great relationship with Development Director Brian Shupe,” she said. “I told him I wanted to name something at UT after my father. When I saw that there was a terrace at the Min H. Kao Building with a direct view of the Sunsphere, I knew that’s what I wanted.”
Once that first step was taken, Ms. Purple was all in.
Working with Shupe, Lee developed a scholarship that will support two computer science students each year. The May Lee Scholarships are tied to Systers, a campus organization devoted to increasing the recruitment and retention of women in computer science and electrical engineering.
She was able to meet the inaugural winners of her scholarship, senior Lily Sharpe and junior Julia Steed, on the same day that the Lin-Fa Lee Terrace was dedicated last fall.
“It was one of the most profound moments in my life,” she said, “to meet both of these young women and think about how they’re going to go forward, enriched from having a computer science education, and that I would forever be a small part of their journey—the same way my dad had that input from someone to fuel his journey.”
Between the Lin-Fa Lee Terrace, the May Lee Scholarships, and other generous donations to UT Libraries and the College of Arts and Sciences, May Lee has devoted $1.6 million dollars to future Vols.
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