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SPOTLIGHT: Joshua Gray, PhD Candidate & GSA for Diversity Outreach

by Justine Saquilayan

Joshua Gray is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in USC Viterbi’s Industrial and Systems Engineering Program. He currently serves as the Graduate Student Advocate for Diversity Outreach with the Graduate School.

joshua grayWhat is your role with the Graduate School?

As Graduate Student Advocate for Diversity Outreach, I help support outreach and advocacy for diversity. That translates into participating in panels or seminars with first generation undergraduate students and underrepresented minorities and women in both the undergraduate and graduate levels to encourage them to pursue PhDs in their area of interest. My specific focus is in the STEM disciplines. I also help provide a platform for current grad students to give feedback to the Graduate School on how we can improve recruitment and retention.

How did you get this position?

I actually first got involved with the Graduate School through the Academic Professional Development (APD) workshops and institutes. After participating over a number of semesters, I talked with Dr. Andalon, the Associate Dean for Diversity Outreach and APD, about helping support the existing programs and developing new programs.

What particular concerns do you deal with?

So, the concerns I deal with are when students feel as if there is a lack of support for them within their program or would like more support from the Graduate School. I help students find a sense of community and association with peers and identify resources that they can utilize, either within their department or within the university, to become more acclimated within the campus environment.

What advice do you have for new or continuing students?

For students, I definitely recommend applying for and participating in our APD programs because it allows you to meet students prepare for the different milestones within a graduate program, such as a screening exam, the quals, dissertation defense, as well as graduation.

I also recommend that students of color and females participate in some of the diversity programs and mixers we host. We’re currently in the process of revamping those and looking at how we can get more feedback on ways to be more supportive of students.

I would also say to reach out to staff within the departments or within their schools. Certain schools have offices that support different groups, such as the Center for Engineering Diversity in Viterbi and Dornsife’s Office of Diversity and Strategic Initiatives. On the Health Sciences Campus there are also many different groups and organizations. It’s really beneficial for students to get involved in some of the professional organizations.

Also, don’t be shy with people who are higher in administration. Dr. Sally Pratt is very genuine and down-to-earth administrator who I actually met at the Expo Line Train Station. I just sparked up a conversation with her, and she’s been very supportive and encouraging of me. I mean, even certain trustees within the university that I’ve had privilege of getting to know, they’re interested in my research and diversity within USC.

Students should try to get involved in some kind of leadership role. It looks good on the CV and allows them to get connected with others who can help them with placement after they graduate. It allows them to get involved in conferences, and I encourage students to conduct research and apply by submitting their abstracts to participate in conferences. Some allow you to travel, and that can support students that want to actually go and present and really explore the opportunities that are available as a result of being a graduate student. There’s limited funding, but through travel grants, you can make the most of your experience.

To contact Joshua Gray, please email