2023 Fall DifferenceMaker Kick-Off and College Competition Announcement 

On Wednesday, September 20, 2023, from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m., DifferenceMaker held its 2023 Season Kick-off and College Competition Announcement! 

Holly Lalos, Director, Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, kicked off the event and thanked all the DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows. Then, Rist DifferenceMaker Co-op, Nick Jarek was introduced. Nick Jarek presented an overview of the program and spoke about the opportunities DifferenceMaker offers, such as team building, being paired with mentors, learning critical skills through events and workshops, and being able to connect with diverse students from various backgrounds. Past DifferenceMaker student team examples were also presented: Ambulatory Innovations, Benji Ball, and Hoppers.  

Lastly, DifferenceMaker benefits and impact were presented, such as $10 million has been raised by past winning teams and 43 companies have been formed.

Holly Lalos, Director of the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute kicking off the event. (Photo credit: Ed Brennen) 

After Nick spoke, guest speakers were introduced to discuss details regarding the two DifferenceMaker College Competitions. 

Thomaz De Moura, Innovations Director, Digital Federal Credit Union, announced details regarding the DCU/Manning Innovation Contest. This contest encourages innovations in the banking industry, like ideas around financial literacy and mobile technology solutions. The top prize is $500 in cash per team member and each finalist student is awarded $100 in cash. Registration for the DCU/Manning Innovation Contest opened on September 20, 2023, and will close on October 20, 2023, at 5 p.m. 

Next, Kelilah Wolkowicz, Professors, Francis College of Engineering and DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellows announced details regarding the Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition. This competition encourages students to work with a team to turn an idea into a product with any resources available – $100 is reimbursable for prototyping materials. Participants must be students at UMass Lowell and at least one member of the team must be from the Francis College of Engineering. Additionally, the team should have a faculty advisor from the Francis College of Engineering. The application registration opened on September 20, 2023, and will close on October 20, 2023, at 5 p.m. 

Kelilah Wolkowicz, Professor, Francis College of Engineering and DifferenceMaker Faculty Fellow, presenting the upcoming Francis College of Engineering Prototyping Competition . (Photo credit: Ed Brennen) 

Ruairi O’Mahony, Executive Director of the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy, spoke about the S.E.E.D. Grant Program. This program provides students funding to pursue projects around campus that focus on sustainability and improving the campus atmosphere. Students can apply for grants up to $10,000 to put their campus sustainability projects into action. 

Concluding the announcements, David Vatalaro, Rist DifferenceMaker Fellow, facilitated a fun, interactive, ideation activity. 

Students being mentored by Maria Matarazzo, Senior adjunct professor, Manning School of Business.   

During the activity, each table was asked to write down problems each individual was interested in solving. From there, each team discussed all individual problems and chose one to focus on for the remainder of the activity. Each person at the table then wrote down potential solutions to the proposed problem. Next, each team voted on which solution was the best or most creative. After that, the team members crafted models of their solutions with Legos. Each table had the opportunity to present their problem, solution, and Lego structure to the audience.

Students collaborating to build their innovative solution to a problem they defined during the ideation activity. (Photo credit: Tom Wilkes) 

Holly Lalos closed out the event. Thank you to all students, faculty, alumni, and supporters who attended! 

Learn more about the college competitions and apply today! 

Applications opened Sept. 20. 

Applications close Oct. 20 at 5 p.m.