This bi-monthly feature spotlights the dedicated community members behind the transformative organizations based at UC San Diego Park & Market. These resident partners operate from physical office spaces in the Park & Market building, located in the East Village neighborhood of downtown San Diego. Our mission at Park & Market is to convene community organizations to spark conversations and enhance collective impact.
Meet UC San Diego Park & Market Resident Partner H. Puentes of San Diego Squared
In the heart of San Diego’s vibrant educational landscape, a force of change has been quietly revolutionizing the prospects of young minds, propelling them toward a future of possibilities. At the helm of this force is none other than H. Puentes, co-founder, president, and CEO of San Diego Squared.
“I met with the legendary biotech executive Bill Rastetter in 2020, and we bonded over this idea that talent can come from everywhere but that the same opportunities we enjoyed in our education were not readily available to all young people in the San Diego region,” said H.
H. and Rastetter founded San Diego Squared and discovered a whole team of like-minded visionaries; their focus: discovering others who want to take action around inclusivity, empowerment, and the transformative opportunities that happen when students are given new experiences as part of their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education.
Before arriving in San Diego, H. started in New York City and moved to Houston. Born to immigrant parents from Colombia, his upbringing was marked by financial struggles.
“I know what it’s like to be in a family where the idea of going to college and then entering the workforce to sit with executives at gigantic publicly traded companies—that wasn’t something anyone in my family understood,” H. said.
In high school, H. was consistently a top-performing math student and an accomplished student-athlete as well. The world around him saw only the athlete, not the stellar math student. This stark disconnect led him to coast along in areas where he might otherwise have excelled. Despite his innate potential, he missed out on opportunities that could have opened meaningful doors.
“I was in Houston as a teen high school football player. People wanted to talk to me about football, not mathematics or engineering. The executives at Houston’s biggest companies—I wasn’t aware that they would see me as a great talent worthy of joining their workforces. It just never came up. We didn’t hear much about the types of jobs at Houston’s great energy, tech, and science companies.”
H. graduated high school and, defying expectations, entered college at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. When he entered grad school at the London School of Economics, he found his trajectory altered forever. Amid the academic excellence around him, he not only discovered knowledge, but an understanding of the currency of connections.
“Being in London changed my life. I realized that had I not gone to such a great school, I would have missed out on the incredible network of people,” H. shared. “You can get a great education almost anywhere; it’s more about who you know, and there’s a great deal of trust associated with recognition. My profile might be impressive to others, but I can’t help but think of all the students who didn’t get the same opportunities I had.”
This revelation ignited his passion for creating a platform that wouldn’t just provide education, but also grant access to networks that had the power to shape destinies.
Before San Diego Squared, H. garnered experience at San Diego startup accelerator CONNECT, where he spearheaded the organization’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. This experience solidified his understanding of the transformational power of connecting talent with opportunity. But his true motivation came from his unwavering support system—his wife. With her encouragement and the financial stability afforded to them by her job, H. found the freedom to pursue his passion with wholehearted dedication.
His connection with Bill Rastetter followed. Rastetter is famous for his co-invention of the cancer therapy Rituxan. They met through a mutual connection on LinkedIn. The resulting conversation in 2020 that gave birth to San Diego Squared was galvanized over the idea that “it’s more about who you know.”
H.’s perspective on STEM education transcends its conventional boundaries. He views it as the key to dismantling income inequality and unlocking avenues for marginalized communities. His belief stems from the realization that economic empowerment is a catalyst for change across multiple domains—from healthcare to criminal justice. By diversifying the landscape of STEM professionals, he aims to channel wealth into the hands of those who can actively influence policies and initiatives that drive equitable progress.
Stories of the transformative might of STEM education fill the offices of San Diego Squared. For example, Sophia, a San Diego Squared scholar, set a goal to meet a neurosurgeon, and her quest led her to not only meet six neurosurgeons but also to connect with additional influential leaders who were eager to help, broadening her horizons beyond imagination.
Another story is about how college student Victoria’s pairing with her mentor Ana Moreno led to a paid internship experience at a San Diego life sciences organization. Yet another is how Alejandro wrote extensively in his application to Princeton University about his experience as a Squared Fellow, which helped solidify his passion for driving for more diverse genetic data in medical trials. Or how Bill Rastetter personally helped prepare Squared Fellow, Alex, for his interview at Ivy League schools before he was accepted into Brown University. These are just some of the narratives from San Diego Squared that illuminate how STEM education, combined with access to networks, can create ripples of impact that extend far beyond the classroom.
“At San Diego Squared, we focus on helping our students build their confidence and social capital so that when they enter these rooms they’ve never even heard of, they’re ready,” H. shared. “Employee referrals account for 30-50% of all hires. If you come from a family like I did where there is no parent, guardian, aunt, uncle, or neighbor that you know working at one of these companies that can help make that referral, you are already massively behind the curve. At San Diego Squared, we help to synthesize the social capital for students that do not have a support network on their own to help even the playing field.”
H.’s dreams for the future are as bold as they are inspiring. His short-term goals involve the expansion and enhancement of San Diego Squared’s model, enabling it to uplift even more young minds. His long-term vision is to create a network that spans cities, nurturing talent on a national scale. But his most cherished aspiration revolves around seeing a former San Diego Squared scholar become a professional who actively contributes to the next generation, creating a cycle of empowerment and transformation.
“Bill and I talk about this dream we have where students enter the San Diego Squared family then become working professionals, and then they start giving back to the next generation,” said H. “To think of an affiliation with San Diego Squared as a distinguishing mark that signals you’re talented, connected, committed, and making the investment in yourself—that’s a dream scenario.”
H.’s journey is a testament to the potential of one individual’s determination to effect change. With a heart dedicated to breaking barriers, fostering inclusivity, and unleashing the power of education, he is not only leading an organization but also helping to create a future where every young mind can thrive and make a difference.
For more information on San Diego Squared, visit them at UC San Diego Park & Market or online at sandiegosquared.com. You can also find them on LinkedIn, Facebook, X/Twitter, and Instagram. The organization is actively seeking mentors in technology, engineering, and the sciences to join their work with young San Diego students.