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Columbus Foundation Community Grant
Christopher Columbus Gold Medal Award

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation has a proud history of recognizing outstanding individuals and groups innovating to serve their communities. Through rigorous national competitions; multiple science, technology and mathematics fields have been recognized. Through these initiatives, researchers, innovators and educators were recognized in multiple awards programs.

Over time, as new discoveries and technological breakthroughs were made and our nation’s agenda evolved, multiple Foundation awards programs were developed. Some legacy programs were retired while new ones were added.


Among the Foundation’s proudest efforts is its Christopher Columbus Awards (CCA) program. For 18 years, the Foundation’s CCA has provided middle school students opportunities for scholarship, team achievement and at its core, community service leadership.

Students are challenged through the Christopher Columbus Awards (CCA) competitions to identify a problem in their community and apply the scientific method to create an innovative solution. The problem must be real and tangible, the scientific method rigorous and the solution both practical and implementable.

Thousands of teams, guided by mentors and community resources, submit proposals to be judged, evaluated and ranked by independent judges and CCA Trustees. Annually, only 30 teams achieve the semifinals but each, whatever its ranking has already benefited from scientific commentary, evaluation and guidance for future endeavors. At the semifinals, held at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC, judges meet to review semifinalist projects to select finalists.

From Washington, the eight finalist teams, further refine their proposals with guidance of the judges and bring their final products to the Orlando Competition. The 3-day long competition is held by the Christopher Columbus Academy at Walt Disney Companies Disney World Park. It is a careful examination of each proposal and, following selection, coaching by the Board of Trustees, Disney faculty and judges to help the winners maximize community benefit. All of this is intermingled with 3 days of education culminating in a day of family fun.

Winning is important to team members and their communities. The 8 finalist teams compete for valuable student scholarships, 2 Gold Medal awards and, the crown, a $25,000 Community grant to bring the winning STEM solution to life. The Community Grants program requires long term community benefit through the practical application of scientific achievement.

Winning the Community Grant brings new responsibility to each team. Each builds program implementation upon new community leadership, scientific guidance, private and public resources and extensive volunteer energy. Yearlong implementation of the team’s strategic plan is carefully monitored and nurtured by the Foundation and reports regularly provided to the communities
Among CCA Community Grant winners to have widely recognized community impact are:

  • ‘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.

The Foundation has noted with great pleasure the diversity and breadth of its impact. Well over 19,000 middle school students from across the country, 50 plus percent girls and 40 plus percent minorities, take part. The percentage of urban and underserved audiences has been rapidly building in tandem with the long term application of alternate education opportunities in this “informal education” program.

As all who have participated know, the Foundation is very dependent on its volunteers, both nationally and within thousands of communities, for their service. It is their new ideas and applications which will keep the CCA program fresh and beneficial for future generations of students.


In the near future, new and rededicated middle and high school programs are planned to augment the standing CCA. Each is to be built upon proven Foundation subject matter expertise enhancing and diversifying 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: