Born in Philadelphia, Russ holds a B.S. degree in civil engineering from the University of Delaware and an Sc.D. degree in the field of structural engineering from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He taught at Lehigh University and Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) before joining the faculty of the University of Connecticut where he held the position of Chairman of the Civil Engineering Department and taught for twenty-six years. In 1991 Russ received the Outstanding Civil Engineer Award from the Connecticut Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.