Darin Gray, director of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s K-12 STEM Center and a longtime diversity advocate, accepted the prestigious Global Engineering Deans Council Diversity Award of 2023. The accolade honors exceptional programs, initiatives and projects that inspire students of diverse backgrounds to pursue and study engineering.
“It is an honor to be recognized by colleagues around the world for the efforts of the K-12 STEM Center team, and the leadership of [USC] President [Carol] Folt and [USC Viterbi] Dean [Yannis]Yortsos,” said Gray, who received the award at the 2023 World Engineering Education Forum in Monterey, Mexico, which took place October 23-27.
The USC Viterbi K-12 STEM Center partners with local K-12 schools to introduce students of diverse backgrounds to principles of engineering through hands-on programs and activities.
Gray has long been recognized for his commitment to DEI in education. In 2020, the Orange County Engineering Council named him the James E. Ballinger Engineer of the Year, recognizing Gray’s commitment to bringing STEM to historically disadvantaged students. In 2022, he was awarded the Outstanding STEM Educator Award from the Engineer’s Council.
USC Viterbi’s K-12 STEM Center impacts hundreds schools per year. That’s tens of thousands of students a year, 98% of whom are historically underrepresented in STEM. The Center’s historic impact has also led to a raft of honors, including the 2023 ASEE Hall of Fame Award — to be awarded at the ASEE Annual Conference and Expo on June 23-26, 2024 in Portland, Oregon — and the Insight into Diversity’s 2022 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award.
“Without inclusion, diversity, equity and access in STEM, discriminatory policies, practices, and procedures that impact people’s lives are more likely to persist,” said Gray. “DEI in STEM matters to serve as a bulwark against intentional misuse of STEM products and services as instruments of oppression.”
The efforts of USC Viterbi’s K-12 STEM Center build on the school’s larger push for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through initiatives such as the Viterbi Summer Institute, which is designed to enhance the transition of students from underrepresented backgrounds to USC, and USC Viterbi’s K-12 STEM Center, USC Viterbi’s Office for Inclusion and Diversity Initiatives aims to surpass national averages of minority representation in STEM, making USC Viterbi more inclusive and equitable.
Ken Bonner, USC Viterbi’s associate dean for inclusion and diversity initiatives, said Gray’s tireless fight for underrepresented groups has made a profound difference in many lives.
“By nurturing their dreams early on, the center transforms barriers into springboards, propelling these students upwards through opportunity, access and ultimately excellence,” said Bonner. “The center’s vision comes full circle, as an inclusive new generation improves DEI at USC Viterbi, inspires their communities, and sparks innovation in others to engineer a better world.”
Gray’s journey to becoming director of USC Viterbi’s K-12 STEM Center had many detours. Graduating from USC in 1988 with degrees in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering and mathematics, he soon began working for the Hughes Aircraft Company, designing analog to digital converters for the radar systems group.
While working there, Gray was approached by a woman who asked him if he’d be interested in teaching math and computer science to at-risk youth in an alternative high school.
“The kids were so super smart,” Gray said. “There were just no quality math teachers in what was then South Central L.A., and I said, ‘Well, somebody needs to do something about that.”’
Gray quit his job at Hughes and devoted his life to education for the next 30 years, working at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Division of Adult and Career Education as a mathematics instructor and later as a coordinator for an alternative high school. Still, Gray never forgot the Trojan family.
While working as a coordinator at the Metropolitan Skills Center, an alternative school, he began working part-time in STEM outreach for USC Viterbi in 1996. In 2016, Gray accepted a full-time position working for USC Viterbi.
Gray has had a renowned impact on the K-12 STEM Center, spearheading multiple campaigns and initiatives to reach more schools and students in Los Angeles and surrounding areas.
“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing the impact that the center has made in the lives of thousands of kids, and the impact the center has had on transforming STEM education in the greater Los Angeles area,” Gray said.
Published on November 3rd, 2023
Last updated on November 10th, 2023