Creating Community Through STEM Opportunities | AFCEA and Russ Fellers

From L-R: Milissa Fellers, scholars Chelsea Baker, Cameron Baker, Avalee Cruz, Kim Call and Kimberly Jones, and Russ Fellers

Pikes Peak Robotics, Science Fairy, If You Give a Child a Book…, Goodwill, the UCCS Math Clinic, UCCS STEM Days of Summer, UCCS Giving Tuesday and UCCS scholarships.

These are just a few of the many community causes that the AFCEA Rocky Mountain Chapter (RMC) and its Vice President of Education, Russ Fellers, are involved in.

“As we’ve been able to allocate more funding, we’ve said, ‘well, how do we want to help the community? What’s our goal?’” Fellers explained. “What we decided was we want to establish enduring partnerships with the community, and we want to try to help as many of all the demographics in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas we can.”

And help they have, with about $500,000 in funding going to local STEM education and 78 schools from elementary to high school receiving equipment and funding aid this year. The RMC is also #1 in If You Give a Child a Book…, and they’ve increased what was once 15 sponsorships via the Goodwill LIFT IT program to what is now 25.

“Early literacy is a path to children having confidence because it’ll generate success,” Fellers said. “More success in school, and willingness to try things that maybe they might not have been willing to try. And all that will lead to students starting to dream big. We want to enable them to dream big.”

AFCEA and Fellers are also heavily involved in connecting young students with robotics. They work with Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region and sponsored the first drone soccer programs in the state, and partner with Pikes Peak Robotics to provide middle and high schools with robotics kits. As robotics interest and competitions grow in popularity, these kits and funds make expensive entry and equipment fees more accessible to all kids.

“All of those activities, what I love about them is that at the end of the day, there’s only one way they happen and one reason they happen. People that care, people that go ‘this is important enough for me to give my time to.’ And that’s very inspiring,” said Fellers.

Fellers is one of those people who stay involved and personally help with several of the initiatives. When That Science Fairy owner Laura M. Weilert had dozens of kits to put together for her important work of helping supply young kids with STEM projects and materials, Fellers helped with the actual packaging process alongside providing funding.

“What we really want is everyone, no matter where they’re at in this community, we want them all to be able to achieve their dreams,” said Fellers. “If you’re an adult, you have dreams, and if those dreams are STEM related, there should be a way for you to achieve those dreams. And the kids that are in those Title One school districts, they need the same opportunity as these other school districts, with money that’s coming into them, to achieve their dreams.”

Additionally, Fellers personally corresponds with many elementary, middle and high school teachers requesting aid, letting them know how they can better request funding. He also stays connected with the university by hosting events like a donor lunch where he met UCCS AFCEA STEM scholarship recipients. Fellers also volunteers his time as an advisory board member in the College of Letters, Arts & Sciences.

“It’s been a really good partnership with UCCS. And that partnership is here because UCCS is aligned so well with the community in terms of the services it aims to deliver,” Fellers said.

Another community event the AFCEA chapter sponsors is the annual Rocky Mountain Cyber Symposium at the Broadmoor. With over 3,000 people and companies in attendance, including Amazon, Microsoft, military branches and more, the conference offers many fundraising and networking opportunities. It also hosts exhibit halls, guest speakers and trainings, and is almost completely run by volunteers.

“In addition to bringing those communities together, we’re able to put on the symposium and through volunteer participation and corporate sponsorship, we can save costs and return those savings to the local community in STEM education projects,” explained Fellers.

It’s clear from AFCEA’s involvement and Fellers’ words that community is at the center of their philanthropy. Most of their causes are local and help Colorado Springs residents, and Fellers noted that part of what inspires him is seeing others helping the area thrive and give back.

“I believe that Colorado Springs is a great community where you really feel like everyone cares about each other,” Fellers emphasized. “I like doing this work because there are amazing things going on in Colorado Springs. People are doing wonderful things for each other here. I want everyone to know that. I want everyone in Colorado Springs to know all of the great things that are going on in our community now more than ever.”