Why, What and How

CCA group in Orlando, FLThe Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation (CCFF) was established by Congress in 1992 as an independent federal government agency. The Board of Trustees is appointed by the President.

On January 19, 2017, CCFF temporarily suspended its federal agency operations. This temporary suspension of business operations was in compliance with federal procedures. Relaunch of the agency is anticipated.

CCFF’s suspension was required by the scheduled “end of term” for the Boards remaining Trustee. Formal relaunch of the Foundation occurs with the arrival of new Members of the Board of Trustees. These new Trustees can be nominated by Members of Congress for Presidential review.

During the suspension, independent programs to carry forward the mission will continue through promotion of a new “partner” in this public private partnership (PPP). The new partner is the Columbus Fellowship Foundation (CFF).

Creation of the CFF enables new opportunities for STEM promotion policy efforts and, most importantly, full scale implementation of community service programs launched by Christopher Columbus Award (CCA) Teams nationwide.

Our mission:

Community service through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by middle school and high school students nationwide.

Our focus:

Creating and providing competitions, awards, programs and policy initiatives driving STEM education’s practical application benefitting competitiveness, diversity and communities from urban to rural America.

Our plan:

“Refocus, retool and rebuild” the 18-year-old Christopher Columbus Awards (CCA) STEM team competitions. Enhance program development, student team support, scientific application and community service.

Competitions and Awards
The Christopher Columbus Awards

Students are challenged through the Christopher Columbus Awards (CCA) competitions to identify a problem in their community and rigorously apply the scientific method to create an innovative solution. From thousands of team proposals, first 30 semifinalist teams and then eight finalist teams of three to four students and their adult coaches attend the National Championship Week – learning at the Christopher Columbus Academy, through the Walt Disney Company with Disney Corporation, at Walt Disney World.

At the Columbus Academy, finalist teams compete for valuable scholarships, two Gold Medal awards and a $25,000 Community grant. Each is awarded to enable the teams to bring the winning STEM solution to life in their communities. Each winning grant team builds upon community leadership, scientific guidance, private and public resources and extensive volunteer energy. Each winning team is carefully monitored and nurtured over the coming full year of performance.

Well over 19,000 middle school students from across the country, 50-plus percent girls and 40-plus percent minorities, take part in this unique STEM education program. Its application through volunteers, in-kind contributions, expert guidance and nurture provides tangible results. Its students – not just winners – are supported and rewarded throughout.


  • ‘Rez Protectors’ from the Crow Reservation in Montana, an all-girl team, developed and spread straw block housing, from indigenous materials, to other reservations;
  • ‘BEE Aware’ of rural Elk Banner, North Carolina, our 2014 winner, developed a science-based community-wide outreach program protecting honey bee populations;
  • ‘Zero Waste’ of Hockessin, Delaware, successfully launched city-wide composting plans and brought their message of economic and efficient community action to the state legislature, Congress and the White House; and
  • ‘The River Rangers’ of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina utilized technology to open up navigable waterways and clear repeated hurricane damage.

Year after year, CCA teams have been honored to exhibit at the White House Science Fair. In 2015, three CCA teams were selected bringing participation to a record five consecutive years. Through local and national media, the program has been regularly featured and praised in national and community forums. Participating students have to date received eight U.S. patents and one provisional patent. Thousands of volunteer hours by coaches and mentors have been repeatedly recognized.

Funding History

In 1992, Congress commemorated the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by passing Public Law 102-281, the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Coins and Fellowship Foundation.Christopher Columbus Gold Coins

The Foundation, created by Congressman Frank Annunzio, received $7.6 million from surcharges on the sale of three denominations of specially minted coins sold by the United States Mint. (This fund, sometimes called the “endowment,” is held by the Department of Treasury.) The Foundation operated entirely under the original funds through 2007. At that point, coin revenue funds had been nearly depleted through program expansion. To address this gap, Congress appropriated funds to help maintain the competitions and multiple awards.

Since 2008, the Foundation has continued to operate through a combination of “endowed” support, federal appropriations and private-sector contributions. Congress permanently authorized funding for the Foundation in the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, with strong bipartisan support. The Foundation’s appropriations record is:

  • FY 1992 – 2007 – Zero appropriated funds
  • FY 2008 – $600,000
  • FY 2009 – $1,000,000
  • FY 2010 – $750,000
  • FY 2011 – $499,000
  • FY 2012 – $450,000
  • FY 2013 – $426,462
  • FY 2014 – $150,000
  • FY 2015 & 2016 Federal Budget requests submitted by the Foundation:
    • FY 2015 – $676,000
    • FY 2016 – $676,000

Awards Programming

The Foundation has a proud history of recognizing and providing financial awards to outstanding individuals, groups and teams innovating to serve their communities and our nation. Once again, the Foundation has undertaken change to enhance and target its ongoing contributions to achievement of a vital national priority: STEM education. New student STEM applications, utilizing agency and private sector cooperation, are emerging from CCA efforts and outreach. Ongoing STEM CCA Awards programs are The Christopher Columbus Gold Medal, The Columbus Foundation Community Grant and The Christopher Columbus Chairman’s Award.

In the near future, rededicated middle and high school programs, built upon proven Foundation subject matter expertise, can enhance and diversify the CCA model in answering new and currently unimagined, challenges. Each can recognize teams, as well as their STEM mentors and leaders, in addressing select themes and “national challenge” opportunities including Agriscience and the Life Sciences. Moving forward, STEM promotion will advance through multiple initiatives.

A. Agriscience

Agriscience Awards LogoThese awards would honor, reward and enable middle school and high school student teams exemplifying excellence in the agriculture-based application of exact and natural sciences for community service.

Built upon the CCA program model, the coming launch incorporates extensive outreach to a highly diverse national audience of educators, students, and interested citizens. From initial response, the Foundation expects extensive inquiry and interest supporting farm, food and production STEM innovation.

Significant interplay between team participants, mentors, judges and diverse elements of the Agricultural community encourages team excellence and improved products. Gold Medal Award winners may extend their mentored STEM community service applications through multiple academic, business community and leadership organizations.

B. Life Sciences

Life Sciences Awards LogoLife Sciences Awards would honor, reward and enable middle school and high school student teams strongly committed to protecting and advancing human health.

Life Sciences Award opportunities and innovative approaches would be explored with lead Federal agencies, scientific and provider leadership and vital community interest organizations. Youth groups and healthy lifestyle initiatives could well be central too much of the coordination and team support.

Targeting of Life Science applications encompasses a variety of vital disciplines. With unique factors in reaching out to this wide audience, the application, evaluation and judging processes will be enhanced to better nurture and support student teams.

C. Annunzio Awards

Annunzio Awards LogoThis non-cash award will honor vital providers of STEM education and leadership. It recognizes STEM educators, leaders and mentors – adults, who exemplify, facilitate and provide community service through the application of STEM.

Carrying forward Congressman Annunzio’s role, it offers Federal Foundation recognition of citizen leaders in both public and private sector roles. Full coordination with nonprofit, for profit, congressional and agency support is envisioned, leading to wider recognition of individual contributions and leadership.

STEM education and application pioneers and leaders will drive selection. STEM competitions, support organizations at all levels, technology leaders, policy drivers and scientific organizations will be fundamental in mobilizing recognition for outstanding public and private sector leadership and contributions.

Foundation Development

Alongside new programming, much has been done in the Foundation’s vital drive to “refocus, retool and rebuild” through dedicated federal, community and private sector coordination. New mission-driven initiatives opened in September 2013 with Board of Trustees action leading to: 1) March 2014 reorganization as its first step; (2) relocation to Washington, DC; 3) installation of new staff leadership; 4) FY 2015 creation of new Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives; 5) reaffirmation of 3-prong funding program reconstruction and 6) at its core, the new vision to efficiently and effectively implement Congressman Annunzio’s mission. The three to five year program of fully reshaping operations is underway.


Going forward, CFF will build upon its 20 years of leadership in forming public-private partnerships. To date, it has partnered with lead agencies including the National Science Foundation. Non-profit and for-profit private sector partnerships have featured Bayer Corporation, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Walt Disney Company, DISCOVER Magazine, the National Italian American Foundation, the National Museum of Education, the Association of Middle Level Education, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In program and competition development, CFF utilizes relationships with both public and private sector entities focused on vital disciplines. Building upon multiple established PPP elements to pursue ongoing “national opportunity challenge” themes has encouraged teams to access significant resources in their Community Award service. This enables multi-phase, implementable solutions to the issues our students face in their own communities.

A complementary effort to augment private-sector and individual contributions is being launched by a new independent advisory group, Innovation Generation: A STEM Education Foundation (iGEN). iGEN has initiated leadership of public and private sector non-profit 501(c) (3) promotion and support to fulfill its purpose: Community Service through STEM by middle and high school students. (The Foundation’s tax-exempt status has long received both in-kind and monetary contributions directly to the U.S. Treasury through Pay.gov. Through iGEN a complimentary method has been established.). As programs develop, it’s anticipated that total private sector funds, both iGEN and directly to the Foundation, will replace current direct Federal financial support.

Federal Interface

Ongoing federal agency efforts are coordinating a “cohesive national strategy” to advance STEM education programs. This worthy effort will increase the impact of federal investments in areas where CCA has an established presence: grades 6-12 STEM instruction and application; increasing and sustaining public and youth community engagement with STEM; and better serving groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields.

Advancing vital national social and educational policy goals through its partnerships has also long been a focus of the Foundations innovation. Going forward, the program replicates, for inner city and educationally underserved communities, its successful diversity outreach that has grown annual female youth participation to 50+ percent plus and minority students to 40+ percent. It innovatively drives urban and underserved community service through creation of continued technology and alternate learning opportunities such as home schooling and online education. Concurrently, the work supports national performance programs and can help meet the broadly recognized need to dramatically grow the employment training application of STEM beyond simple classroom and contest environments.

Building upon its record, CFF has the expertise and systems in place to administer multiple aspects of existing and new federal and private sector competitions. It can conduct nationwide nomination solicitations; promote and advertise all phases of the competitions; and develop the nomination and related materials such as procedures and criteria. It can provide federal network facilitation by which the recipient(s) can pursue development and funding of their innovation(s) and community service.

National Service

The Board of Trustees invites and welcomes your input. Through citizen involvement, it looks to continuously enhance the Foundation’s public service. Contributions of funds, other resources, ideas and volunteer support are surely welcome. Please join us – you’re invited.