Mateus Baptista sitting at his desk

Mateus Baptista Shows How to Think Globally, Act Locally

Former Rutgers University–Newark student Mateus Baptista isn’t one for platitudes or bumper-sticker slogans, but one might be apropos: Think globally. Act locally.

That’s been his modus operandi since his teens, when as a senior at Newark’s Science Park High School he regularly read the journal Foreign Affairs, while also serving as sole student representative on the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board, bringing together student leaders from across the city to advocate solutions for the ailing school district and organizing a citywide student walkout to protest proposed budget cuts to education.

It was his M.O. in college, when he majored in global politics at RU-N as a freshman and sophomore, while finding time outside his 19-credit course load to teach ESL at a Newark nonprofit and advise DREAMers like himself how to navigate the college application process.

It was his approach after transferring from RU-N to Brown University for his junior and senior years, where he received a B.A. in International Relations and an M.A. in Urban Education Policy while working with local schools in Providence, RI, and consulting for the Rhode Island Department of Education.

And it’s his guiding principal now as a Program Officer for the Victoria Foundation here in Newark, a role he landed after working as a policy advisor for Mayor Ras Baraka, and before that as a legislative fellow for U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in Washington, D.C., and as a consultant for a Southeast Los Angeles school district.

The city is at a really interesting point in its history, and we need more progressive young people to be doing this work in Newark.

“A lot of great work happens at the federal level,” says Baptista, “but I thought it would be better to return to Newark and work here at the local level, where the rubber meets the road and so much change is happening, where you can test ideas and then scale them up.”

At age 27, Baptista relishes his role managing a grant portfolio for the Victoria Foundation focusing on education and economic development, working with local nonprofits and determining where strategic investments should be made. It gives him a birds-eye view of Newark, enabling him to see gaps in and duplication of services that he’d be blind to pushing the agenda of any one of those organizations.

“It’s a privilege to work on that level and have that kind of perspective,” he says. “The city is at a really interesting point in its history, and we need more progressive young people to be doing this work in Newark.”

Meanwhile, Baptista remembers his time at RU-N fondly.

Arriving in fall 2010 on a prestigious Chancellor’s Scholarship and as part of the Honors College, he thrived academically, doing undergraduate research with two professors, presenting papers at academic conferences, and taking part in a public-policy leadership conference at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Along the way he received numerous awards, including the Alex J. and Rose Marie Plinio Scholarship, NCAS Dean’s Scholarship and the NJ Devils Foundation Award.

Several professors and administrators played a pivotal role for him at RU-N, and Baptista maintains a close relationships with them to this day.

“I had incredible opportunities at Rutgers-Newark,” says Baptista. “It was essential to where I am now. I’m happy to be home in Newark and look forward to giving back to Rutgers for what all of my mentors did for me.”