Distinguished Technology Alumni Dinner

Distinguished Technology Alumni Dinner

The College of Technology alumni awards honors those alumni who have elevated the University and college by using his/her education to improve and move the world forward.

The alumni listed below have exceeded those expectations of the University, college and their community. We honor them for harnessing the power of their Purdue degree to Imagine, Create, and Experience.

2014 Distinguished Technology Alumni

  • James Paulsen (AT ’83) (Bio)
  • Don Scifres (TLI ’80 – OLS) (Bio)


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DTA biographies


James Paulsen BS ’83, Aviation Technology
1986-2011: U.S. Navy
2012-Present: Chief Flight Instructor, Lafayette Aviation

The Purdue Legacy

James Paulsen was drawn to Purdue, in part, by the history, legacy and reputation of its aviation program. Paulsen’s impressive aviation career, particularly his nearly four decades as a U.S. Navy officer and pilot, builds on the storied reputation of a Purdue education.
“A lifelong interest in aviation and history naturally led me to Purdue, with its pioneering interest and contribution in the development of aviation,” he says.

Career and a Calling Fulfilled

Paulsen knows college wasn’t preparation for all the challenges of a dynamic career, but he knows the foundation for 30 years in the Navy was laid with assistance from the College of Technology. What followed would fill the pages of a thrilling book or blockbuster movie. He flew FA-18s from aircraft carriers, served as a political advisor to the U.S. State Department, commanded a strike fighter squadron in combat and initiated counter-IED technologies for the Marine Corps. In addition, he led an air wing of eight squadrons of different aircraft into combat and directed human resources responsibilities for half of the Navy’s 53,000 officers.
All told, Paulsen has more than 5,000 flight hours in the cockpit, including over 3,000 hours in the FA-18 Hornet and Super Hornet. He also had 1,000 landings on the decks of nine aircraft carriers. From his years as a U.S. Navy pilot and commander and his days at Purdue, he has discovered that the dynamic nature of aviation technology demands origination and adaptability to maintain its leading edge. “I have found innovation to be a more precise description of the requirements of the world of naval aviation, and creativity is more of an element of that innovation. In my experience, that innovation has been necessary to adapt to the continuous change of the industry.”

He's Already Back

Now retired from the Navy, Paulsen enjoys a second career in aviation, returning to the Purdue region as chief flight instructor for Lafayette Aviation. And he’s reconnecting with his Purdue roots. “I have fond memories of meeting several Purdue grads and fellow naval aviators, including those who have walked on the moon.”



Donald Scifres BS ’80, Technology Leadership and Innovation
Managing Partner, VisionTech Angels
General Partner, VisionTech Partners

Dedicated to Purdue

The right learning environment can make all the difference in finding that perfect career fit. The atmosphere at Purdue allowed Donald Scifres to explore endless opportunities and pointed him toward a career that advanced his range of interests. As an alumnus, he’s still involved with Purdue as member of the John Purdue Club, President’s Council and a Life Member of the Purdue Alumni Association. Scifres recruits and promotes the careers of interns and graduating seniors and serves on the College of Technology Dean’s Executive Council. That enthusiasm shines through his participation in all aspects of Purdue life.

An Out-of-the-Box Thinker

Thinking outside the box and taking the long view of a problem are characteristics that Scifres sees as a gift. He has visualized the endless possibilities that have helped spark successful careers and businesses. Scifres feels fortunate to have a career he considers a hobby, focused on connecting quality investors to high potential earlystage companies. His time at Purdue laid that foundation “Being a bit of a contrarian thinker who many times sees the world differently than others has allowed me to imagine and pursue outcomes to help people and organizations accomplish more than they may have otherwise thought possible.”

What’s next?

Scifres sees himself as an entrepreneur and teacher. In his successful career as managing partner at VisionTech Angels and general partner of VisionTech Partners, he has connected people with complementary experiences, skills, interests and perspectives who have then been able to accomplish more as a team. “My career focus has shifted in the past several years to identifying, supporting, and investing in early-stage and high-growth technology, life science, medical device, pharma and similar businesses. I expect to continue these endeavors for the foreseeable future while allocating more time to family and not-for-profit endeavors.”