Attributes education as catalyst for career progress and professional confidence.
Derek Settles, alumnus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has been honored with the 2023 Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) STEM Outstanding Achievement Award. Settles won in the Modern-Day Technology Leader category, which recognizes a commitment to shaping the future of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
“This is a national award, and it’s a big honor,” Settles says. “I’m a very humble guy. I’ve always supported people with their careers and goals. That is part of who I am. This amazing honor is an acknowledgement to all the persons and entities that have supported me throughout my journey. I’m just thankful and blessed to receive this award.”
Settles graduated from UA Little Rock in 2006 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in management information systems. He said his education at UA Little Rock has been a catalyst in the development of his career and confidence.
“It was one of the most rewarding times I’ve had in my life,” he says. “There are so many professors, instructors, and peers that have made me who I am. I graduated with honors, cum laude, and I put a lot of effort into everything I did. I realized there is something special about that particular characteristic, when you want to put everything you have into everything you do. My experience at UA Little Rock was absolutely without a doubt the foundation of where I’m at and where I’m going.”
During his college career, Settles worked as a production manager and machinist. After graduation, he made a career change that led to Textron Aviation, a general aviation business with a versatile and comprehensive aviation product portfolio and a workforce that has produced more than half of all general aviation aircraft worldwide. Textron Aviation is owned by Textron Inc., a multi-industry company that leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial, and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative solutions and services.
“I took a $25,000 pay cut to go into a different career field—aerospace engineering,” he says. “My degree gave me the confidence to change careers and start over. I started off as a field service engineer who traveled all over the world. I just continued to progress. My degree gave me the substance to say that I want to challenge myself.”
Settles is now a supervisor for Interior Engineering at Textron Aviation, where he manages the Cabin Electrical Systems team. They are responsible for the development, design, and engineering of cabin management systems within business jets. His work in expanding the Cabin Electrical Systems team, as well as his creation of a project development team, helped produce new innovations, create better customer experience, and generate revenue for the business. Settles also works with different employee resource groups to promote diversity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace, as well as to give back to the community. These groups include SELF (Start Eliminate Leverage Finish), a wellness group, and FUSION, which celebrates diverse lifestyles. His favorite group is WINGS (Women’s Initiative for Networking, Growth, and Success).
“A lot of my pride and passion is for WINGS,” he says. “It’s a women’s initiative to help women advance in their careers. It’s given me some understanding of what it’s like to be a woman in a field where gender inequality still exists. My wife Tina and I have a 22-year-old daughter, Ammarilia, and a 17-year-old daughter, Gabi. WINGS has helped me connect more with my daughters. Throughout this journey, it made me a better husband and father, and there’s nothing more priceless than that.”