Matthew Nagowski ’05, a Buffalo native, ILR School graduate and a group vice president at M&T Bank, was honored for his leadership and volunteerism in the Buffalo community with the Cornell New York State Hometown Alumni Award Dec. 7.
Nagowski leads M&T Bank’s group of quantitative analysts and modelers, teaches statistical programming at Buffalo State University, is a board member and former chair of Buffalo’s Partnership for the Public Good (PPG), on the board of and former president of the Cornell Club of Buffalo, and is a board member of the Western New York Book Art Center. He also is an artist who uses statistics and data analysis to create prints that visually communicate community trends.
Nagowski is a Cornell University Council member, an active member of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network, and serves on several academic advisory boards in the region. He is a supporter of the Cornell High Road Fellowship program in Buffalo and established M&T Bank’s sponsorship of two High Road fellows.
The Cornell University New York State Hometown Alumni Award recognizes Cornell graduates who return to their home counties or regions to start or enhance a business or nonprofit, and who regularly volunteer and are making an impact in those communities.
Jason Cole, associate vice president for university relations, presented the award, noting that Nagowski could have taken “his truly immense talents” and gone off to New York City, London, Tokyo or any other global financial center, but instead “chose to return here, to his hometown, to share the knowledge and skills he acquired at Cornell with members of his community. … Here, Matt is working to address the roots of social injustice and inequality by helping numerous nonprofits with his energy and expertise.”
Nagowski’s Cornell experience “instilled in him a tremendous work ethic and a desire to get engaged,” Cole said.
Rahwa Ghirmatzion, executive director of PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) Buffalo, served on the PPG board when Nagowski was chair. She called him “one of the smartest, most committed, most dynamic people I’ve ever met.” What impressed her most about Nagowski were his works of art that transform data into abstracted imagery, she said.
Brian Taylor, director of foreign exchange trading at M&T Bank in Buffalo, said Nagowski has helped drive diversity and inclusion initiatives at the bank and has boosted the volunteer work done in the community by employees. “There is no one who is more deserving,” Taylor said. Nagwoski “cares about people, and when you have one person like that, it’s really infectious.”
Accepting the award, Nagowski said he was “really surprised and deeply humbled.
“If you would have told me, back when I was a student at Cornell, that I would be back in Buffalo 15 years later, winning a Cornell hometown alumni award, I would have been incredulous,” he said.
“Life takes funny turns sometimes,” he continued, crediting that credo to his friend and mentor, ILR professor Ron Ehrenberg. “And that’s OK. What’s most important is that you need to have fun while you’re taking those turns.”
The best thing about the honor from Cornell, Nagowski said, is that he can highlight the organizations with which he has been working.
As part of the award, Cornell is donating $1,000, in Nagowski’s name, divided among PPG, the Western New York Book Art Center, The Matt Urban Center (named for the Class of ’41 alumnus and Medal of Honor winner) and the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood, an M&T Bank community program.
Nagowski said that, ultimately, what really motivated his work in catalyzing the Buffalo community are two “lasting lessons” he took from his time at Cornell.
First, from his freshman sociology class, in Voltaire’s “Candide,” is the reminder to “cultivate your gardens where they grow.” “And we’ve cultivated a tremendous garden, a tremendous community, here in Buffalo,” he said.
And second, the inscription on Eddy Gate, the original entrance to Cornell University tucked away in Collegetown: “So enter that daily thou mayest become more learned and thoughtful; so depart that daily thou mayest become more useful to thy country and to mankind.”
“When we talk about that special sauce, what they put in the water in Ithaca, it’s that ethos of what’s written on Eddy Gate,” Nagowski said. “We are developing people … to be the type of change, to be the type of catalysts – in their communities, to their neighbors, to their fellow countrymen, to the world at large – that we need for the challenges that we face.”