A blog banner depicting two women engineering students with the words "Launching STEM Careers: Stratosphere Scholarships Supports CCCS Students"

With multinational corporations, small startups, and even the Space Force calling Colorado home, the aerospace industry is soaring across the state. Today, Colorado boasts the nation’s second-largest aerospace economy with more than 400 companies dedicated to space and planetary science.

But to fuel its continued growth, companies will need more than new innovations or technologies. To find and develop new talent, industry leaders like Scott Chrisbacher are turning to Colorado’s community colleges.

“Things have changed, and part of it is because of demand. It’s costly to keep recruiting people from out of state,” said Chrisbacher, who owns the consulting firm Stratosphere. “There are great jobs that we outsourced to other parts of the world, and now they’re coming back.”

Finding Talent

A first-generation college student, Chrisbacher is passionate about lending a “hand up” to today’s aspiring engineers and scientists. Although he went to a four-year university, he identifies with community college students looking to break into the industry.

Scott Chrisbacher Foundation Board Member 2020

Scott Chrisbacher founded the consulting firm Stratosphere, which supports scholarships for community college students in STEM fields.

Chrisbacher earned a degree in information systems from the University of Arizona and landed his first job at Honeywell Aerospace, where he worked for many years before taking a position with Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado. He noticed that the aging workforce, combined with an inadequate talent pipeline, was impacting the company.

“We were having trouble finding young talent,” he said. “We started to ask, ‘How do we get homegrown talent? How do we attract and connect them with the right education and the right job?’”

Those questions inspired Chrisbacher to partner with the Foundation for Community Colleges to fund scholarships for STEM students. Now several years in, the Stratosphere Scholarship has supported dozens of community college students across the state.

Chrisbacher is heartened to see the program’s impact so far.

“It has proven to be really successful,” he said. “It’s heartwarming to hear about the people who are benefiting.”

Expanding Horizons

A screenshot of Arapahoe Community College's Colorado Space Grant project.

Joshua Russell designed a payload for Arapahoe Community College’s Space Grant project, summarized above.

One of those students is Joshua Russell, a third-semester engineering student at Arapahoe Community College (ACC). The army veteran says he was always tinkering with things as a child, taking apart a gas meter outside his parents’ house when he was five years old.

“I have a deep, insatiable curiosity for quantum theory and space and the mechanics of how this universe works,” he said. “I have that ability to see how things work and apply a theory that might make it work better.”

Russell has already put these skills to the test, building a payload structure as part of ACC’s DemoSat team. Working with three classmates, the group designed, coded, and presented on high-altitude balloon project.

The experience confirmed Russell’s new career direction. He plans to transfer to a four-year university to continue his studies.

“I’m excited to learn what the industry has currently, expand on it, and find amazing new forms of propulsion, of spacecraft, of travel,” he said.

‘Feeling Hopeful’

Like Russell, fellow Stratosphere scholar Jacob Mejia Jimenez uncovered his career aptitude early on.

“I’ve been really good with computers ever since I was a kid,” said Jimenez, who lives in Arvada. “I actually studied C++, which is a computer language, when I was like 11.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Jimenez opted for computer science when he arrived at Red Rocks Community College. He also hopes to minor in finance or economics with the goal of working for the RAND Corporation.

It’s really inclusive—everyone helps each other out.
Jacob Mejia Jimenez, Red Rocks Community College student, on the campus environment

“It’s really inclusive—everyone helps each other out,” Jimenez said of RRCC’s campus. “It’s something within the community that I like a lot.”

That community has been especially important for Jimenez, whose family recently fled Colombia to escape political persecution. Becoming a Stratosphere scholar has been a financial and morale boost.

“It’s been quite challenging, but I’m feeling hopeful, he said. “I got this scholarship, which is a lot of help.”


Generating Great Talent

With another cohort of Stratosphere scholars in the pipeline, Chrisbacher is eager to see the program make a tangible impact on the aerospace industry. He’s also working with the Colorado Community College System to find ways to expand aerospace pathways across the state.

Whether it’s funding scholarships or advising on engineering curriculum, industry leaders can shape the next generation of aerospace workers, Chrisbacher said. He urged other businesses to get involved.

“Certainly, from an industry perspective, I’m hoping that we generate great talent here in the state to fill great jobs. And I’m hoping we help students achieve what they’re trying to achieve—to get to where they want to be.”

If you are interested in applying for or funding scholarships for Colorado Community College System students, please visit the Foundation for Colorado Community Colleges website.