Jose Cruz

Chief Executive Officer

Harvard University – Master of Education (Ed.M.) in Adolescent Risk and Prevention

San Diego State University – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Psychology and Spanish, magna cum laude.

Jose was born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. In 1983 his mother left everything behind to move to San Diego in search of medical services for Jose’s brother, Gabriel, who was born with brain damage and cerebral palsy. Jose grew up in a single parent home in City Heights. He was the first in his immediate family to go to college. While in college he wondered why none of his close friends from the neighborhood enrolled in college with him. Some of them dropped out of high school. He conducted research on Latino identification with high academic achievement while at SDSU and went on to Harvard to study community-based prevention programs for at-risk students. Jose joined BLCI December of 2009. He can be reached at jose.cruz@blci.or

Favorite Quote: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez

Sara Boquin

Chief Operating Officer

San Diego State University – Master of Arts (M.A.) in Latin American Studies

University of California, San Diego – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Spanish and Latin American Literature

Sara was born in Fullerton, California. At the age of three, her parents decided to move her family back to their home country, Honduras, Central America. They lived in San Pedro Sula for over six years, where she and her sister further developed their native language, absorbed the culture, and learned the realities of life in a third world country. Upon their return to California, her family moved to Riverside where her parents still reside. Sara found her passion for Latin America’s rich history and literature as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego. Graduating from UCSD was not easy and she leaned on support programs and friends available to her. This is why she believes in supporting students in their educational path–she is grateful for those who supported her and believes in paying it forward and has dedicated her career to working with educational equity programs.  She can be reached at

Passions: Encouraging and providing opportunities for every person, regardless of background and resources, to reach their potential.

Favorite Quote: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Barbara Chavez Ybarra

Chief Advancement Officer

University of California, Santa Barbara – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Political Science

With 20 years of experience working with non-profits and public policy, Barbara Ybarra serves as Director of Engagement for Barrio Logan College Institute (BLCI). In her early years, Barbara learned the fundamentals of organizing and community outreach from her grandfather, Cesar Chavez.

Barbara worked as the Executive Director of One San Diego, National Program Director for Eureka Communities, an executive training organization for non-profit leaders in San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C. and with the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a consultant for their Neighborhood Development Initiative. This led to a $500,000 economic development grant to the Bronze Triangle area of San Diego.

Barbara was a founder of the Cesar E. Chavez Commemorative Breakfast, has served as a Puente mentor, and writes and speaks frequently around the state about her grandfather. Barbara is a graduate of University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Political Science and holds an MBA. She can be reached at

Passions: Barbara is passionate about higher education for all students.

Favorite Quote: "¡Sí se puede!" – Cesar Chavez

Cristina Aguirre

Director of College and Career Success

University of San Diego – Master of Arts (M.A.), Specialization in School Counseling, with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential

University of California, San Diego – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Sociology

Cristina Aguirre was born in Ramona and moved to Fresno, CA at age six and is the 3rd eldest of seven siblings. As a child of immigrants and field workers, Cristina understood the importance of an education at an early age. She is the first one in her family to graduate high school and go to college. She is an alumna of the first cohort of the University of California San Diego’s (UCSD) TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program, a program that provided the support for Cristina to stay in and graduate from UCSD. For the last 15 years, Cristina has been working in TRIO Upward Bound programs; 4 years at San Diego State University and 11 years at the University of San Diego. (Upward Bound works with low-income first generation to college students to prepare them to be admitted into and graduate from college just like BLCI.) Working with TRIO programs, Cristina found her passion in working with educational equity access programs.

As the first one in her family to graduate from college, she understood the need and importance of advocating for those students most underserved. She is an active member of and currently serving as the President of the Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel (WESTOP). WESTOP is one of ten regional associations dedicated to furthering educational opportunities for low-income, first-generation and disabled students. She can be reached at

Passions: Advocating for equity in education and closing the educational achievement gap.

Favorite Quote: “Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity?” – Cesar Chavez

Tony Garcia

High School Specialist

San Diego State University – Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Spanish; Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Chicano/a Studies

San Diego Mesa College – Associate in Arts (A.A) in Transfer Studies

Jose “Tony” Garcia was born in Culiacan, Sinaloa but moved to Tijuana shortly after being born. He remained in Tijuana for the first 4 years of his life as his mother worked in the U.S. to make enough money to bring him and his siblings to the U.S. to take advantage of all the opportunities the country had to offer. He was taught that education would be the most important thing to make changes in his and his family’s lives. Tony went to high school in Fallbrook and continued on through community college first then to San Diego State University, where he graduated as a double major in Spanish and Chicano/a Studies. He was the first of his entire family, which includes over 50 cousins, to attain a college education.

Tony has been involved with the education field for over 25 years, first as a tutor for AVID in college and later with Upward Bound TRIO programs for the last 12 years. He started at SDSU Upward Bound as a counselor for their STAR program, working with second language students to promote their ascension to higher education levels. Most recently, he was the coordinator for the UCSD Upward Bound Math Science program that helps first generation, low-income students prepare for and go to college with math and science majors and careers as the focus. Being the first to graduate from college from his family made him realize how important it was to promote higher education not only to his family but to his community as well. He does this not only with students but with professional colleagues as well. He is an active member of and currently serving as the President Elect of the Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel (WESTOP) Southern California Chapter. WESTOP is one of ten regional associations dedicated to furthering educational opportunities for low-income, first-generation and disabled students.  He can be reached at

Passions: Opening minds and doors for those seeking a better life. Helping everyone attain an adequate education and access to all available resources to accomplish all their goals in life.

Favorite Quote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

Mariela Brambila

External Relations Associate

University of San Diego – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Communication Studies; Certificate in Non-profit Management

Mariela was born and raised in San Diego, CA. She went to pursue her Bachelor’s Degree in South Orange, New Jersey but due to financial circumstances she came back home after completing her first year of undergrad. Coming from a single-parent and low-income household wasn’t easy, but her determination to obtain a college degree persevered. After taking a semester off, she transferred to the University of San Diego (USD) where she studied Communication. While attending USD, she studied abroad in Paris, France and London, United Kingdom. She also got involved with the Mulvaney Center for Community, Awareness, and Social Action where she cultivated relationships within the Linda Vista and Barrio Logan community in order to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds thrive academically and personally. Thanks to the support of her family, close friends, and TRIO Programs, she is the first in her family to go to college and graduate.  She can be reached at mariela@

Passions: Helping others become better versions of themselves and traveling around the world.

Favorite Quote: “Don’t postpone happiness.”

Jennifer Peña

Upward Bound Director

San Diego State University – Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Rehabilitation Science and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Spanish

Jennifer was raised in El Salvador and moved to the United States when she was 16 years old. She has been able to experience first-hand the distinct differences in academic resources among underrepresented communities and thus made education and learning a priority in her life. Jennifer became the first in her family to pursue higher education. She obtained a double degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Rehabilitation Science and Spanish from SDSU. Through involvement in the community, Jennifer has made an effort to ensure equal academic opportunities for students interested in achieving higher education. She can be reached at 

Passions: Jennifer is passionate about education and believes that being part of BLCI will help her achieve her career goal of making a positive impact in children’s future.

Favorite Quote: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia