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San Diego nonprofit working to increase diversity in STEM-driven careers

San Diego Squared matches students with internships in STEM-driven careers

SAN DIEGO — One San Diego nonprofit is working to increase diversity in STEM-driven careers.  San Diego Squared introduced CBS 8 to one of their success stories, Charles Bannerman, a Cal State San Marcos graduate who is now working at a San Diego biotech company.   

“It’s been great,” said Bannerman. “Tracon has been a great company.  They’ve been very supportive of me from the beginning.” 

Bannerman grew up in Columbus, Ohio before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton and after nine years of military service, he attended college at Cal State San Marcos with a major in biotechnology.  When he graduated, he wasn’t quite sure which path to take. 

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“It can be very challenging to get your foot in the door,” said Bannerman.  “Everyone talks about getting the degree, but no one really talks about, ‘How do I find a career after this?’” 

His chemistry teacher connected Bannerman with ‘San Diego Squared’ in hopes that he could acquire a meaningful internship. 

“Aptitude is there. It’s just the access that’s missing,” said H. Puentes, Executive Director for San Diego Squared. Through the Squared Intern Program, Bannerman began an internship at Tracon Pharmaceuticals a year ago, and soon after he was hired as a full-time clinical trials assistant for new cancer therapeutics. 

“I was able to be introduced to an industry I really had no idea existed,” said Bannerman. “Many people don’t know how we actually get the drugs in the stores or if you ever do need cancer treatment.” 

At Tracon, Bannerman is now involved with clinical trials for new cancer treatment. 

“[Bannerman] is contributing to our ENVASARC pivotal trial, pivotal meaning it’s a trial designed to approve the drug, which we feel could transform the standard of care for patients with sarcoma,” said Charles Theuer, CEO of Tracon. 

As a biotech student, Bannerman had the raw talent. He just needed somewhere to apply it in the professional world. 

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“Sometimes you just need that opportunity to show what you’re capable of for people to believe in you,” said Bannerman. “You know, we’ll take a risk and see what happens.” 

When Bannerman was hired full-time, the team over at SD Squared was elated to hear the news. 

“When we found out that Charles got placed at Tracon, the team was yelling in excitement,” said Puentes.  “We were so happy because there’s just no greater feeling than knowing you made a positive impact on a student’s trajectory.” 

For Bannerman, he’s grateful for the work SD Squared is doing to extend STEM-driven career opportunities to people from underrepresented communities. 

“It’s not that we are incapable or that we’re uneducated. It’s more along the lines that we just need that opportunity to show what we’re capable of,” said Bannerman.  “I think there are more people like me who are out there who just need that chance.”  

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