Leodson Jean Baptiste, known to friends and family as Leo, was born in Newark, NJ to Haitian immigrants. His family moved often before finally settling in Orange, NJ, where Leo and his three brothers were raised by their single mother. His experiences growing up led him towards a life of public service. He views technology and public policy outlets for bettering the world. Despite his unstable home situation, Leo was always able to excel academically. Although neither of his parents graduated with college degrees, he was encouraged to work hard in school and often took inspiration from his mother’s work ethic.
At school, Leo is the Navy Junior R.O.T.C. Commanding Officer and has learned to embody the N.J.R.O.T.C. core values: honor, courage, and commitment. Leo also works on initiatives like peer tutoring and an annual college awareness festival. He is especially passionate about STEM education and the ways in which empowers minority and low-income students. Outside of school, Leo leads the Mayor’s Youth Council, which seeks to provide young people with a voice in local government and a platform for civic engagement. Some of their most recent accomplishments include the enactment of an ordinance, working on political campaigns, and coordinating an annual anti-drug conference. Leo is vehemently against substance abuse after witnessing the negative effects it has had on his peer. He is a Youth Leader in a national anti-drug coalition and was recently named the coalition member of the year because of his exceptional work within Essex County.
Growing up, Leo was always fascinated with technology. Although his family could not afford at-home internet service or to purchase him a computer, he still took a keen interest in computer science; becoming a member of his school’s robotics team and working on open-source coding projects for nonprofits through an online web platform. During MITES (Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science), a six-week summer residential program at MIT, Leo was exposed to other high achieving minority students passionate about STEM. Being surrounded by such amazing people cemented his decision to pursue a degree in computer science. Leo is unconventional in that he would like to pursue a degree in a STEM field but ultimately sees himself working in government or the nonprofit sector. He would like to challenge the notion that engineers should not be employed in government as policy makers. During MITES, Leo learned that artificial intelligence is at a critical stage, yet AI policy has remained largely underdeveloped.
Leo has an enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship and a strong desire to create technology that does good for humanity. Ultimately, his goal is to create superintelligence that leads to solutions to significant global problems. However, in order to avoid the existential risks that are inherent to such a powerful tool, he recognizes the need to work in partnership with institutes, industry, and government. It is also important to him that everyone has access to these tools, particularly low-income and minority households.