Determined to Pay it Forward
Jim Russell’s ’56 story is the tale of a small-town boy whose family and farming roots, along with the support of a caring University of Idaho faculty member, helped him find success as an international entrepreneur.
“With a large family — two sisters and three brothers — and lots to do on the family farm in Sandpoint, we learned how to get along and get things done efficiently and effectively,” Russell said. “We had to figure out how to tackle and complete our responsibilities, just like an entrepreneur.”
Russell brought those values and life lessons with him when he enrolled as an engineering student at U of I in 1952. But like many students, he still struggled to afford his education.
After learning about Russell’s financial situation, then-College of Engineering Dean Allen Janssen awarded him a scholarship. He also encouraged Russell to get involved in campus activities, which later included the social activities committee, Intercollegiate Knights, intramural sports, ROTC, living group leadership and student government.
“Dean Janssen showed he cared, and he has motivated me to this day,” Russell said. “My drive was built on the foundation that inspiration, motivation and success are derived from the working relationships you have in whatever organization you are in.”
That foundation helped Russell launch his career. He served as a U.S. Army officer at the Redstone Arsenal Guided Missile School in Huntsville, Alabama, where he established the first military course in transistors and directed 75 instructors on missile guidance and propulsion courses for U.S. and foreign military personnel.
From there, Russell accepted a position at Johns Hopkins University's Operations Research Office, which later transitioned to Research Analysis Corporation, developing skills in operations research methods and improving security and efficiency.
Russell spent the bulk of his career as senior vice president of Science Applications International Corporation, helping grow a startup of 90 people into an employee-owned science and technology company with 42,000 employees and over $6 billion in annual revenue.
Russell has since worked as an independent consultant, corporate board member, senior advisor and private investor in helping over 100 technology companies develop and grow.
In recognition of his accomplishments and many technical contributions to the College of Engineering, Russell was inducted into U of I’s Academy of Engineers in 2012. Inspired by Janssen, Russell “paid it forward” by giving to the Engineering Student Success Center and the Grand Challenge Scholars Program. He is a Loyal Donor to U of I with 29 years of support and will be inducted into the U of I Hall of Fame on May 10, 2019.
Article by Erin Rishling
Published in the spring 2019 issue of Here We Have Idaho.