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. 

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 sara@blci.org.

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 barbara@blci.org.

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 aguirre@blci.org

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


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@ blci.org.

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

Favorite Quote: “Don’t postpone happiness.”


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 tgarcia@blci.org

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


Iyari Arteaga

Middle School Specialist

California State University, Long Beach – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Anthropology

Iyari was born and raised in San Diego, California.  Since a young age her parents taught her the importance of giving back to her community.  As a child she grew up involved within the arts and community outreach with her families San Diego based non-profit, Izcalli.  An organization which aims to empower Latinx and Native students through the arts and education.  Due to her upbringing, much of Iyari’s work and passions revolve around the importance of bridging the arts, education and community engagement.  She attended Cal State Long Beach in which she received her degree in Anthropology and learned that she was passionate about working within education. 

Soon after graduating, Iyari moved back to San Diego and continued to work within arts education.   She was a part of the exhibitions team at the New Children’s Museum and also taught as a Teaching Artist, through Izcalli and Arts for Learning, teaching theater and writing to high school and middle school students.  Through her work she has witnessed the powerful impact that the arts have upon empowering and engaging students in developing their sense of identity, confidence and improving their overall performance within school.  She is determined to continue to dedicate her time and energy to her students in order to further prepare them for their future of graduating from the university and fulfilling their dreams.  She can be reached at Iyari@blci.org

Passions: Creating a more equitable education system and ensuring that all, regardless of background, have access to the arts and higher education. 

Favorite Quote: "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time." - Angela Davis


Yanet Lopez

Elementary School Specialist

California State University, Northridge – Masters of Arts (M.A.) in Chicano Studies

University of San Diego – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Ethnic Studies and Sociology

Yanet Lopez Cardenas is the first in her family to attend college and also pursue graduate school.  Yanet was born in Jalisco, Mexico yet grew up in coastal North County San Diego where she was able to experience first-hand how education can powerfully shape someone’s life. While in middle school and high school, Yanet participated in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, a program designed to prepare first generation students to attend college immediately after high school. At the University of San Diego, Yanet additionally benefited from being involved in federally funded equity programs including the Student Success Services and the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Program. Through the Ronald E. McNair Program she pursued research alongside her professors, presented her research at academic conferences, and successfully pursued graduate coursework at California State University, Northridge.

Yanet was deeply influenced by her own schooling as she prepares third, fourth, and fifth grade students to transform their communities via a college degree. As an educational equity professional, she has a diversity of experiences working with first-generation high school, middle school, and elementary school students across state funded, federally funded and, now, through privately funded programs. Yanet bridges together her past personal and professional experiences to inform her current position. She actively incorporates creative, high impact strategies as well as twenty-first century essential/critical skills into her programming with elementary school students. In addition to working with students, she began a Parent Academy to concurrently prepare parents on college knowledge topics.

She is active within the Southern California Chapter of the Western Association of Educational Opportunity Personnel (WESTOP). In 2018, Yanet was recognized as “Staff of the Year” at the WESTOP regional conference. She can be reached at yanet@blci.org. 

Passions: Innovation, creativity, workforce readiness, design-thinking pedagogy. 

Favorite Quote: “People are fulfilled to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world), and create it with their transforming labor." Paulo Freire


Abraham Gomez

CVCI Program Coordinator

San Diego State University - Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Comparative International Studies, emphasis in Latin America and the Caribbean and Minor in Spanish.

Abraham was born in Anaheim, CA and grew up in nearby Garden Grove. Being the first in his immediate family to go to college, he quickly understood the struggles of a first-generation college student. Noticing that he was inadequately prepared for college because of his lack of extracurricular activities and knowledge of college life, he knew he had to work twice as hard to keep up with the rest of his peers. This understanding has given him the passion to motivate other students to take advantage of programs, such as BLCI. While at SDSU, he worked for the Compact for Success program which focused on mentoring students in the Sweetwater Union High School District to pursue higher education.  Since graduating in 2015, he has continued to work in local underserved communities promoting higher education to students and families. Abraham is also an AmeriCorps alumnus. AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs, made up of three primary programs that each takes a different approach to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. Members commit their time to address critical community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks, preparing for disasters, and more. He can be reached at Abraham@blci.org

Passions: Helping others become the best versions of themselves and the key is Keep Educating Yourself.

Favorite Quote: “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.” Ziad K. Abdelnour


Rebecca Bernhardt

CVCI College Coach

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

University of San Diego – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Sociology and Communication

Rebecca Bernhardt was born and raised in Loveland, Colorado. As a sophomore in high school, she moved out on her own, learning at an early age what it meant to be strong and resilient. Rebecca never had the luxury of visiting the University of San Diego (USD), but in August 2006, she packed her car with all of her belongs and drove 16 hours to attend USD, participating in TRiO Student Support Services' (SSS) Summer Bridge Program. She is the first in her family to attend and graduate from a four-year university. To Rebecca's surprise, a few years after receiving her baccalaureate degree she returned to school and received her M.A. in School Counseling. As an undergraduate student, it was not easy for her. It was imperative for her to lean on mentors, friends available to her, and especially support programs such as TRiO SSS. These people and programs in her life mean a great deal to her and are a large part of why she is where she is at today. It is through these relationships she found her love of working in education, especially within underserved communities. 

Passions: Supporting students with their social and emotional development.

Favorite quote: "It's not IF you are going to college, you ARE going to college."


Andrew Buitron

CVCI College Coach

Pitzer College - Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Psychology

Andrew was born and in raised in San Diego, specifically the Southeast and South Bay regions. He spent the first 4 years of his life living in Queretaro, Mexico and then moved back to California before the birth of his younger brother. Andrew attended the Preuss School UCSD, a charter school for low-income, first-generation college students, for both middle and high school. Due to the college-going culture at Preuss and its close proximity to the UCSD campus, Andrew really began to imagine himself as a college student. More than anything, he was motivated to be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college.

Andrew went on to study at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges. There, he worked for the Office of Admission, initially as a Diversity Intern that helped to organize overnight visits for students from historically under-represented communities in higher education. In his senior year of college, Andrew became an Admission Fellow in which he had the opportunity to conduct interviews and information sessions to prospective students. After graduating in 2015, Andrew was awarded a Fulbright Grant to teach English in Bachok, Malaysia where he spent the majority of 2016. This experience confirmed his love and passion for working with youth as well as his desire to learn about world cultures. Ultimately, Andrew decided to come back to San Diego to be close to his family and to give back to the community that helped him grow into the person he is today. He can be reached at abuitron@blci.org.

Passions: Intercultural understanding, educational equity regardless of background, identity formation community building, hip-hop and sports.

Favorite Quote: “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”—Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.


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 jenn@blci.org. 

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