Demetrius Pearson (Ed.D. ’90) and his family only intended to stay in Houston for two years. How did that go for him? “Well, that two years turned into 34 years,” he smiles. A Philadelphia native, Pearson lived in multiple U.S. cities before coming to Houston, so his choice to stay in Houston is a meaningful one. “Our students have every opportunity to fulfill their goals here in the city of Houston, and we’re right in the midst of all of this,” he says, referring to the myriad of opportunities available. “It is the place to be!”

Pearson’s dedication to student success and the Houston community—as an alumnus, professor and volunteer—is precisely why he is a recipient of the 2016 Distinguished Service Award, which he received at UHAA’s 62nd Annual Awards Gala in May. His love of athletics and academic excellence started at an early age. “My parents were adamant about us receiving a good education,” he says. As an associate professor in the department of health and human performance, his courses and research have focused upon the socio-cultural and historical aspects of sport. But, his love of UH athletics is firmly rooted in the present.

Pearson strengthens UH athletics and UH alumni in his role as co-chair of the University of Houston Cougars Athletic Alliance (UHCAA). The UHCAA emphasizes the well-being of the student athlete, whom Pearson describes as serving two masters: one academic, and one athletic. The UHCAA’s efforts are part of the reason why UH athletes have had record-high G.P.A.s in the past few years, in addition to victories on the field. But, the group also has a tangible community presence. “The school program we coordinate each year has given more than $200,000 to worthy students here at UH,” he says with pride. “Our annual food drive has fed individuals in the Houston community for over 11 years.”

Pearson’s dedication to Houston has evolved from desire to provide stability to his family to becoming involved in multiple facets of Houston athletics and the wider community. He considers volunteering a vital part of his role as an alumnus. “I get a considerable amount out of volunteering. I believe it is incumbent upon me to give back to the institution that helped me get to where I am,” he says. “My work with the UHCAA has been something I’ll always cherish.”