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2004 Distinguished Alumni Recipients

A national aviation safety champion and the entrepreneurial founder of the largest African-American owned business in the United States will receive the 2004 Distinguished Alumni Award at the annual dinner during 2004 Homecoming.

Aviation Safety Champion

Paula Mitchell Derks ’79 finished her public relations degree from UCM and became managing editor of Avionic News, the monthly trade publication of the 1,200-member Aircrafts Electronics Association.

Now, 25 years later, she’s president of the organization itself. In one of the world’s most heavily regulated industries, her reputation as a champion and change agent is well known, from testifying before Congress to working with the FAA on issues facing the industry.

A fierce defender of civil rights, she has argued issues in Congress post 9/11 that would have denied due process to aviation pilots and mechanics. She supports safety innovations and programs featuring terrain awareness systems, radar systems, warning systems, etc.

Successful Business Entrepreneur

David Steward ’73 leveraged his UCM degree into jobs for Missouri Pacific Railroad, Federal Express and Wagner Electric. Determined to own a business, he bought a company from a man nearing retirement.

In 1990, he started World Wide Technology as a software developer and hardware reseller. He took the risks and lived through the lean times.

Today, World Wide Technology and its affiliate company,, employ 600 people and have more than $1 billion annually in sales. As its founder, chairman, majority owner and CEO, Steward was voted by Ebony in 2002 among “the 100 Most Influential Black Americans.” He was hailed in 2004 by Black Enterprise magazine as having the largest black-owned business in the U.S.