2019-2020 Difference Makers Program Concludes, But Its Impact Continues

High School students pose with Johnny as they celebrate the end of the Difference Makers program
February 6, 2020

On January 29th, 2020, the St. John’s University Staten Island Campus hosted the closing ceremony for the fourth annual Difference Makers Program, led by Dr. William Reisel, Professor of Management, Tobin College of Business. Over the past four months, Dr. Reisel’s program has engaged students from Susan E. Wagner High School, Tottenville High School, and Curtis High School with local non-profit organizations and prepared them for college and careers with academic service-learning projects.   

High school principals, students, and their parents embrace the Difference Makers program and their connection to St. John’s University Staten Island campus.  Celebrating his students’ achievements at the January 29 ceremony, Principal Gregory Jaenicke of Curtis High School said, “Difference Makers is not just about college readiness through academic service-learning, it’s about life readiness through service-learning.” Principal David Cugini of Wagner High School noted the change he saw in the students through the program: “These students were exposed to the idea that there was more to them than they knew, and they refused to settle for less.” Principal Joseph Scarmato of Tottenville High School concluded by saying, “ Our Difference Makers have entered a program to learn and to serve and my hope is that they will embrace giving back to their communities and beyond.”

Difference Makers has grown significantly in four years and is recognized throughout New York City as an innovative college-readiness program for high school students. Dr. Reisel and Dr. Robert Fanuzzi, Associate Provost and Director of Civic Engagement on the Staten Island campus, have also gained national notoriety for the program through conferences and publications.  Earlier this year, Dr. Reisel was honored as an award finalist in ‘Excellence in Pedagogical Innovation’ at the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) at the annual meeting on January 6. Dr. Reisel noted, “Our goal is to continue to grow Difference Makers. It is vital to help students learn about academic service-learning as a means of showcasing their character in their college applications.”

Dr. Reisel and Dr. Fanuzzi are recipients of a Vincentian Institution for Social Action Faculty Research Consortium Grant, through which they are investigating the relationship between student participation in Difference Makers and college-readiness. “With our grant-funded research, we are creating a model for measuring Difference Makers program outcomes that will show us our impact on Staten Island students and their academic futures.”

The future of the Difference Makers program looks bright, but the future of its high school student participants looks even brighter.