“It’s About Making Everyone Better:” Matthew Levin-Nussbaum on the Importance of Community

By Rachael Jennings

Matthew Levin-Nussbaum considers himself “a procrastinator who truly wants to learn.” In class, he is “all in.” In terms of academics, he is “a historian who enjoys the social sciences, and,” as he says with a sheepish shrug, “much to [his] disgrace and embarrassment, Mr. Scalfano has gotten [him] slightly interested in poetry.” Matthew hangs his head. “It's awful,” he smiles.

In Mr. Walter’s comment letter from last spring, Matthew Levin-Nussbaum is described in the following terms: “Captains exist on sports teams, pirate ships, and army companies—rarely in English electives. But this course had elements of all three, and Matthew was, without a doubt, its commander-in-chief. Often I would enter the classroom to find the white board covered with anarchic slogans, or hypotheses on the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, or great dates in extraterrestrial history. Matthew brought a sense of dramatic possibility [...] where it seemed that the whole world was suddenly ripe for investigation. He blew the walls off the classroom, so that virtually any topic was in play, connected to our discussion sometimes by an absurd, tenuous thread, but more often by an ingenious set of associations that heightened and improved the conversation.”

Matthew, who has been exploring dramatic possibilities, making others laugh, writing all-school e-mails about the Head of School’s absences in the world of Brad’s Blog, and building absurdities and puzzles here at Dublin, is now in his senior year.

His goals? He wants to “be successful and have a positive impact on the community.”

In particular, he wants to bolster the community of the Robotics Team.

“I want to make sure that the team is more of a community and more cohesive, and I want the team to be strong and structured in such a way that all students are learning and responsible but that no team rests on one or two upperclassmen,” he says. “I want the whole team to be strong.”

“I want to give everyone the opportunity to be involved in multiple areas,” he explains. “So, I first got involved in machining, the drill press, the bandsaw, and now that's kind of my thing, in addition to design. I want people to be able to say, hey, I'm going to try electrical. And just try it.”

Matthew got into Robotics because his first roommate at Dublin was into it.

He didn’t predict how much his passion would blossom.

“It seems like many people think I'm going into engineering or something, and I'm not. But I'd like to be a mentor on [Robotics] teams. That's something I'm considering for colleges. I like the end result. I like working with the people and getting there.”

His work with Robotics has sparked a joy in teaching and has, in Matthew’s words, “translated to a lot of the STEM work at school.”

He says that, in fact, the skills he learns in Robotics translate to overall life at Dublin.

His involvement and leadership with Robotics has “helped with conflict resolution, communication, self-confidence, even more than just as that relates to achieving something, it's more than winning at a competition. It's about building a bot and completing it and then bagging it up, I mean, that's an experience.”

In addition, Robotics “serves as a place where students who might not necessarily fit the typical mold are able to find a voice and a place to connect with and a community. People don't realize that there's a creative artistic side: there's the photography and writing and web design.”

Participating in Robotics is, in essence, as much about community as it is skill development and competition.

“A general life goal for me is to make a positive impact on the community, any community,” he says. “I don't know if give back is the right way to say it. Because it's not necessarily about what I've been given. I want to give to people. Certain things are long term: being a part of a team, remembering someone's advice, knowing that someone supports you.”

“You could say that it's solely based off a fear of not being remembered when I die, if you want to get existential, but, you know, who knows,” he smiles.

When he reflects on his role in the Big Brothers & Big Sisters Program that pairs Dublin School students with local elementary school students, he describes that feeling of giving to others. Matthew works with a thirteen-year-old, and they have been paired together for three years.

“It just seemed like a good thing to do [when I first heard about it], a thing that would make a difference,” he says. “It has been really rewarding. I can see that I've had a measurable impact.”

In the process of being a Big Brother, Matthew says that he has learned “that [he has] more of an imagination than [he] thought in terms of, just, like, playing.”

“Robotics gives you that, too,” he says. “It gives you the chance to play. And the great thing? It's not about making the best better. It's about making everyone better.”