Alumnus Paul DeHerrera worked his way from the ground up to the C-suite in avionics.

Paul DeHerreaPaul DeHerrera is a high achiever – literally. An FAA-instrument-rated pilot, he serves on the board of directors for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and is the CEO of Universal Avionics Systems Corporation in Tucson, Arizona.

Yet his self-described highest achievement?

“Earning my undergraduate degree, because it took so long,” said DeHerrera, who spent 10 years pursuing an electrical engineering technology degree at MSU Denver while working full time and raising a family. And it was that degree that helped transform his life and led him to even greater heights.

“Finishing that was huge, as was earning my pilot’s license, graduate degree, airframe and power plant license, my instrument ratings for flying and a rescue dive certification. These are all big accomplishments, and the same is true with being named CEO.”

But the title of CEO certainly wasn’t on the radar when DeHerrera got his start in aviation. At the time, his only experience was fueling airplanes at Stapleton International Airport. His employer offered a program that would pay for a degree, but he would first need to become a licensed airframe and power plant mechanic. So he did.

“I always wanted to excel,” said DeHerrera. “It was always in me, so I put myself through school.”

After graduating, DeHerrera moved to Tucson to become Universal’s marketing manager. And that same ambition he demonstrated at MSU Denver took him all the way to the C-suite 20 years later.

“I always had this drive to move through the ranks and do more,” he said. “I probably would not have guessed that it would happen, but I worked hard for it.”

While Universal has a large focus on regional, commercial airlines and military, they also developed an airborne flight management system to help smaller helicopter and air ambulance aircrafts fly to municipal airports, like those in many Colorado towns.‌

“Most large cities have instrument landing systems to help airplanes land in bad weather to guide them to the end of the runway,” DeHerrera explained. “The tough part is if you go outside of major cities. They don’t have it, because the municipalities can’t afford it.”

So Universal developed a solution. It produces equipment that provides the most precise and accurate GPS-based approaches available, improving safety and accessibility at smaller municipal airports.

“Not everyone has accidents in big cities,” DeHerrera said. “Sometimes there will be an emergency with a child, and the only way to get them to a clinic is by air ambulance or helicopter rescue. But if the weather was bad, there was no way to get in there. Now there is a way. Now they can land and get patients out to major cities.”

DeHerrera’s success at Universal is an example of how persistence and fortitude can transform lives, but he is quick to credit those around him for his success – from a mentor early in his career to the faculty and staff at MSU Denver.

“Metro was really terrific to me,” he said. “People are always trying to help you succeed. I am grateful for the foundation they gave me. It’s fun; it’s not all work. The people are terrific, and that’s what it’s all about – the relationships.”

DeHerrera with plane