10 Questions: Max Levi
By Carly Mallenbaum
College Relations Intern
“10 Questions” is an occasional feature spotlighting Schreyer Scholars recently in the news.
Penn State has one of the most widely recognized mascots in the Big 10 Conference. The Nittany Lion is beloved for his one-armed push-ups, Michael Jackson dances and crowd surfing, and has been the face of Penn State for more than 100 years.
Schreyer Scholar Max Levi has been the Nittany Lion mascot since October. Before he graduates in May, he'll be turning the familiar brown suit over to a new Lion. Tryouts for the coveted spot begin this weekend.
In human form, Max is just as wild as his feline alias.
1. Did you ever think you would be the Nittany Lion?
I didn’t think it would ever happen. When I found out I had the permanent position [after being the temporary Lion] I was given two days to think about it. I got off the phone and just screamed.
My mom, who’s from Russia, didn’t understand the significance of being the Lion. She was like, “What do you mean, the mascot?”
2. How do you become the Nittany Lion?
There are two days of tryouts. You have to interview with about twelve people, including the previous lion and cheerleading coaches. You have to have a prepared skit and then you do an impromptu performance with an object. I was given a plaque off the wall and I had to do something with it. I pretended it was a pizza I was spinning, and then that it was a board I was diving off of.
3. I guess your diving background came out in that skit?
Yes, I was a diver freshman and sophomore year. I did gymnastics before that, but I quit because it was way too much—my body started hurting. Junior year I switched to cheerleading and I tried out for the Lion and didn’t get it then. [Max is a 5th-year senior now.]
4. What was it like to step out into Beaver Stadium as the Lion for the first time?
It went really fast. There’s a lot to worry about because it’s live on TV, but there’s no time to be nervous. It was weird to be the only one on the field.
I actually used to be terrified of standing up in front of people.
5. It looks like you got over that fear, huh?
I like to do what I am afraid of. And I love adventure. My brother and I bicycled across country, from New Haven, Conn. to San Francisco, Calif. And I did an Ironman Triathlon in November, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon run. [Max rolls up his jean leg to reveal a red Ironman tattoo on his ankle]. I got this after the race.
6. What do you do in school, outside of these extreme activities?
I’m majoring in math and economics with Russian and statistics minors. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, but if you study math you can go to grad school for anything else.
7. I take it you’re thinking about going to grad school after you graduate in May?
I want to go to Russia and do some grad work. Afterward, I want to go to law school for a joint law and MBA program. Then, I might get into some sort of litigation.
8. How has being a Schreyer Scholar impacted your academic life?
I’ve gone on a lot of trips sponsored by the Honors College. For example, I went to New York City with Schreyer for tours of Merrill Lynch one year and then to a law firm another year. The Schreyer Career Services Coordinator has been very helpful to me. The Schreyer travel grant paid for a large portion of my study abroad experience in both Russia and England, too. The thesis work is a great help in allowing me to pursue my academic interests even further.
9. What’s your honors thesis about?
It’s about a problem in game theory and, specifically, the prisoner’s dilemma. For example, if you and I got busted for robbery and they put me in one room and you in the other, the prisoner’s dilemma explains why we might rat each other out even if it’s in our best interest not to do so. I study what the robbers would do, and then I extend that finding to an infinite number of people. I have to find long-term equilibria. The thesis is called “Equilibria in Overlapping Neighborhoods Local Interaction Model. “ Yeah, it doesn’t sound like it makes sense.
10. Do you ever find yourself acting like the Lion outside of the suit?
Yes, it’s embarrassing. I act very animated [Max demonstrates by doing a pop-and-lock move] and sometimes I find myself doing the Michael Jackson point when I say “hi “to my friends [Max proceeds to do the signature MJ point in the middle of Kern Building].