Russ Fisher-Ives was a man ahead of his time, a man Rio Rancho High School robotics instructor Denny Marquez and others termed “larger than life.”
He was instrumental in the formation of RoboRAVE not only in Rio Rancho and then Albuquerque, but in places around the world.
Fisher-Ives, a former science teacher at Rio Rancho High School, passed away earlier this month.
Tributes to his legacy occupied the minds of many who knew him, thanks to his international RoboRAVE events.
Fisher-Ives started RoboRAVE as the nonprofit Inquiry Facilitators, Inc., in 2001, with headquarters in Bernalillo, aiming to “enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through academic competition, support of student research, and professional development for teachers.”
And that’s what he did, offering the popular robotics “play shops” statewide throughout the year, highlighted in the early 21st century with an annual robotics competition at the Albuquerque Convention Center each May, and alternating that between North America and international sites.
After graduating from Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1973, Fisher-Ives attended the University of New Mexico, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in geology and certification as a secondary math and science teacher. He received a secondary education certificate in those subjects, also from UNM, in 1984.
Later, he was teaching at Rio Rancho High School, leaving West Mesa High School to become the head of the new City of Vision school’s Science Academy, which he later convinced others should be renamed SciMatics Academy.
On the local scene, those who knew him well are also saddened by his recent passing after he lost a battle with stage 4 cancer.
- “Mr. Russ Fisher-Ives was a phenomenal educator who consistently put his students first, above all else,” said Superintendent Sue Cleveland. “Rio Rancho Public Schools was fortunate to have Mr. Fisher-Ives as an ally for many years, and his efforts in science and robotics have not only left a lasting impact on Rio Rancho High School, but the entire district and beyond. He was one of the original RRHS academy heads who opened the SciMatics Academy in 1997 and was a crucial member to the school’s science department. We join our community in mourning the passing of this outstanding educator and wish the best for his family at this time.”
- Jeanette (Miller) Brahl worked closely with Fisher-Ives at Inquiry Facilitators and was saddened by his loss.
“Russ taught me so many things, and not just about science. We first worked together at Rio Rancho High School in 1999. Russ wasn’t just a teacher there — he was an innovator, a convener and a driving force for SciMatics,” she recalled. “Working with Russ on the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair of 2007 was a true-life experience. It was a labor of love for all of us who were involved — and it was a huge number of people who organized, volunteered, judged, funded or otherwise supported the fair — but Russ led that endeavor with his amazing humor and passion. Life-long friends were made from that experience.
“Russ’s efforts to build the RoboRAVE also inspired countless students, teachers and parents — many of them internationally! Russ operated with an attitude of ‘who else can we bring in?’ He was evangelistic about kids and learning,” Brahl said. “I can’t tell you how many wonderful memories I have of Russ. I’m so glad I was able to call him a friend.”
- “RIP to the man who gave me my first teaching gig some 24 years ago,” Brian Wade posted on Facebook. “You were an amazing educator, mentor and friend and someone who no one would doubt lived life to the fullest. The world has lost a good one, and I truly mean the world as RoboRAVE has touched the lives of so many kids around the globe.”
- Dr. Shelly Gruenig, R4 Creating founder and executive director, said, “The loss of Russ Fisher-Ives is a huge blow to the robotics community in New Mexico and across the world. His infectious energy, ability to make everyone feel included and his passion to reach every child with robotics inspiration will be a legacy that he leaves behind.”
“With Russ, everyone felt like family and with that philosophy he made robotics affordable and inclusive no matter where you were in the world. I will never forget the first time I watched him work a robot firefighting competition at RoboRAVE — by the end, the entire crowd was roaring with enthusiasm, and he was handing out cash from his own pocket to the winners! Russ brought a level excitement and fun to everything he was part of, and that competition was no exception. He made a difference in the lives of many.”
- Marquez said, “I started teaching robotics in 2010 and, naturally, started taking teams to the RoboRAVE competition since it was here in town. I met Russ there at one of those events and was completely blown away by his enthusiasm and passion for education and robotics — actually learning by doing robotics and having fun while doing it.
“Russ immediately knew who I was because I was now representing his school. I didn’t know that he had such a history at RRPS. We talked and immediately hit it off as friends.” Marquez said. “COVID was, of course, devastating for Russ and RoboRAVE. People couldn’t travel; people couldn’t get together in large groups; it was the knife in the heart of RoboRAVE right when it was growing into a worldwide phenomenon. I know my friend took it pretty hard and tried hard to keep it going virtually, but we teachers were struggling with even teaching curriculum, much less competition. … Soon after this, Russ was diagnosed with the C word. I saw him one last time in April, before the end of the last school year. It was clear that he was undergoing therapy and in some amount of pain. We walked around his property and talked like we were old friends, not even caring about robots anymore.
“His enthusiasm and passion for education were inspiring for me.,” Marquez added. “Russ grew to be a close friend and someone that I cared very much for. It was very emotional for me upon hearing of his passing, and it still is. He left a legacy for me as a true friend and an inspiration.”
- Former RRHS teacher Cheryl Kerby said, “It is a rare individual who can stay true to their vision and values. Russ had a vision of engaging ‘kids of all ages’ in learning using the excitement of robots. … From a small competition in a gymnasium, Russ grew RoboRAVE to an organization which now includes programs on every continent except Antarctica. Russ always reminded teachers, coaches and ‘players’ of the three principles for playing: fun while learning, sharing and teamwork.
“He always reminded us, ‘You don’t have to know it all. Learn with your students. Be humble enough to learn from the students,’” Kerby said. “A great piece of advice. Russ’s wisdom and presence will be forever missed, but his vision and values carry on in RoboRAVE International.”
Fisher-Ives is survived by his wife Ann, son Dillon, a former Rams’ soccer player and member of the RRHS Class of 2006, and younger son Keegan, a La Cueva High graduate.