After working his way up for 10 years at the largest event rental company in New England, Matt Zablocki suddenly found himself out of work when COVID-19 came along and put an indefinite kibosh on big weddings and parties.
The North Andover, Mass., native decided to use the temporary setback as a chance to return to school and complete his college degree.
“I had been thinking of going back to school, but this was the kick in the butt to do it,” says Zablocki, who originally studied history at Michigan State University, where his brother, Mark, also attended.
When Mark transferred to UMass Lowell to complete his degree in civil engineering (graduating in 2012), Zablocki followed, dropping history and enrolling in the Manning School of Business.
He also took a job loading trucks for PEAK Event Services, which eventually offered him a chance to join the company’s management team. “I couldn’t turn it down,” says Zablocki, who quit school and spent the next decade working his way up the corporate ladder. He was operating the company’s supply chain division when the pandemic hit.
“I realized that if I wanted to advance my career above the middle-management level, I really needed to learn what executives today are learning, how they’re thinking and positioning themselves,” Zablocki says. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
After earning certifications in project management and analytics, Zablocki re-enrolled at UML as a business administration major with a concentration in analytics and operations management.
Zablocki’s re-entry into college began with the Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation summer course, which included a one-week virtual workshop with more than 640 students and faculty from 23 countries around the world.
“I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurs are made and not born, so I wanted to leverage that belief to learn the skills necessary for opportunity recognition and management,” he says.
As part of the Global Entrepreneurship Exchange program, Zablocki collaborated with students from Japan, Vietnam and Myanmar on a business venture for an idea pitch contest. Competing in the social category, they proposed an app that would educate farmers about sustainable agriculture practices.
“The idea started off as one thing, but as we did the research and collaborated it became something completely different,” says Zablocki, whose teammates in Myanmar and Vietnam interviewed rural farmers and discovered a problem: They were unaware of sustainable farming. “So we tried to address a real-world problem that we’d uncovered.”
Zablocki had some experience dealing with manufacturers in Germany as part of his supply chain duties at PEAKEvent Services, but collaborating with teammates halfway around the world “was one of the most valuable portions of the workshop.”
Zablocki, who lives in Medford, Mass., with his fiancée, plans to return to work at PEAK Event Services once the pandemic subsides while continuing classes part-time. He also plans to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.
“I’m not sure how long it will take; I’m somewhere between a second-semester freshman and last-semester senior,” Zablocki says half-jokingly. “I’m definitely a unique student. But one of the things UMass Lowell is great at is making education accessible to everybody who’s interested.”