Escape Velocity Podcast, Episode 5:
“I Am Not A Unicorn”

As a Black engineer in the 1980s, Darin Gray was looked upon as a rare, unique phenomenon. He quit his high-paying job to join K-12 education, seeking to change this.

Episode 5: “I Am Not a Unicorn.”

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Darin Gray, co-director of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s K-12 STEM Center, is not overly fond of unicorns.

“The phenomenon you have with a lot of African-American men who’ve accomplished things in the STEM field,” said Gray, “is that people look at you as if you’re this unique individual. That you have special skills, special talents and that’s the reason that you are that way. There are lots of talented African-American, Hispanic, Native American men and women who don’t have the same opportunities. And being a unicorn kind of gives you this mystique that you are special. And a lot of people are special, but it’s about giving those opportunities to those with the same level of talent.”

Gray has spent the last 30+ years of his life trying to provide those opportunities in K-12 education.

Listen to his story:

Brandi Jones, professor of research at the USC Rossier School of Education, noted: “We absolutely need more Darin Grays. His extraordinary passion and deep commitment to STEM outreach leads to the Wanda Austins, the John Slaughters, the Timothy Pinkstons and Stacey Finleys of the future.”

The USC Viterbi K-12 STEM Center — which Gray co-leads with Katie Mills — impacts 927 schools per year. That’s roughly 18,000 students a year, 98% of whom are historically underrepresented in STEM. In 2020, Gray was named the James E. Ballinger Engineer of the Year by the Orange County Engineering Council (OCEC) for his profound impact on K-12 education.

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s podcast series “Escape Velocity” originally launched in 2016 as an audio drama series capturing the intersection of engineering and everyday life — stories of love in a time of algorithms, unlocking the human body and even an old school radio drama about AI buildings as friends.

In 2020, it was reimagined in partnership with Professor Jones to capture the intersection of race, academia and STEM.

Featured in this episode:
Darin Gray, (B.S. ’88, EE, BME, Math; M.A. Teaching ’11) co-director of the USC Viterbi School K-12 STEM Center

Host: Daniel Druhora
Producers: Marc Ballon and Adam Smith
Sound Design by Sarah Hinesley
Sound Mix by Ryan Stewart