Associate Professor DeLeon Gray Receives New Leader Award from The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology
NC State College of Education Associate Professor DeLeon Gray says he would not be in the position he is today without the aid of his mentors.
One of those mentors is Charissa Chea, who helped Gray realize as an undergraduate that he could make an impact by becoming a researcher and faculty member. This advice inspired him to enroll in The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology, where he earned his master’s degree in quantitative research, evaluation and measurement and a Ph.D. in educational psychology.
Now, the College of Education and Human Ecology is recognizing his accomplishments, including Gray’s own work as a mentor, by presenting him with the Alumni Society and Board of Governors’ New Leader Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions alumni have made to their fields.
“I think about it as a recognition not only of me, but of the people who are entrusting me to serve in any leadership capacity,” Gray said. “I still talk to my OSU mentors quite regularly, so it’s really more of a recognition of their continued investment in me and their valuing of the work that I’m doing and providing encouragement to go further.”
Gray’s OSU mentors – which include Eric Anderman, James L. Moore, Lynley Anderman, Anita Woolfolk Hoy and Ann O’Connell – and their continued support have shaped the way Gray approaches his role as a mentor to both students in the College of Education as well as youth mentees in his iScholar program.
Just as his mentors did for him, Gray said he works to make sure that students who work with him get opportunities to present research and share their experiences and voices. For example, this year, Gray will co-present at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual conference with a 16-year-old who has collected data alongside Gray through iScholar.
“It’s been 10 years in the making for me to figure out how I could have the same impact that my undergraduate and graduate mentors were having on me, but at an earlier stage,” Gray said. “I make sure I’m playing a very supportive matchmaking role for these young people, advocating for them but also getting them into these spaces, so they can break barriers and make history.”
In addition to providing an opportunity for youth to speak at national events, Gray has also given a platform to teachers he works with to share their experiences with funders and those in positions of power in the realm of education.
Doing this, he said, is important because while rigor is necessary in educational research, authenticity is also important when asking teachers to take research into consideration in their classrooms.
“Authenticity is important because if we want people to implement any type of suggestion or application, they need to know it’s the real deal. There’s no better way to signal that than for people who are experiencing these systems to be able to share their own testimonials and stories,” he said. “I’m really finding ways to center communities in my research, where they really have a voice and perspective in academic conversations, so that knowledge is not just coming from the academy, it’s coming from people who are experiencing these things.”
Just as his mentor once inspired him to earn a graduate degree, Gray is also proud of the fact that he has established a pipeline of educators who chose to pursue their doctoral degrees in NC State’s College of Education after working with him through iScholar.
Current doctoral students, including Joanna Ali and Kia Allah, he said, joined the College of Education after working with iScholar.
Like Gray, these students had not initially considered a career in educational research but came to the field to learn more and leverage their own experiences to make change.
“We all have experiences that teach us a lot about the world and a lot about people. We just need to be in a space where we can really apply those,” Gray said. “My position at NC State and working on projects with this fantastic team really affords me those opportunities to take some of my learnings from my own personal experiences and apply those in a productive way.”