Meet the People Behind BLCI

Helping Latino Students Pursue a Higher Education

Jose Cruz

Executive Directorjose

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.

Passions: Helping people find their passion or purpose and providing opportunities for them to meet their goals regardless of their background.

Favorite Quote: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

Sara Boquin

Associate Director

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 he 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.

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


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.

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 Coordinator

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.

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

Summer Puente

Middle School Coordinator summer

Duke University – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Spanish and French; Minor in Education; Certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Summer is a fourth generation San Diegean with roots in the Barrio Logan neighborhood. Her Puente and Collaso family member were employed by the railroads and tuna canneries beginning in the 30s until the late 80s when the canneries closed. In fact, her grandparents were living on the 1600 block of Newton Ave in 1945, the same block where BLCI is located. She grew up on the stories of community and change for Barrio Logan Chicanos. Summer is also a graduate of The Preuss School UCSD, something she is proud to have in common with many BLCI students. Although she moved across the country to complete her undergraduate degree, she has continued working with immigrant and first generation youth throughout her time away. Upon returning to San Diego, she has worked with young people at Lincoln High School, The Preuss School UCSD, and Girl Scouts and is thrilled to continue working with college bound youth.

Passions: Summer is passionate about the strength of young people, the potential of communities, and the justice found in educational access. She also has passion for outdoor and after-school education, and the differences we can make outside of a traditional classroom.

Favorite Quote: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” – Audre Lorde

Jennifer Peña

Elementary School Manager jen

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.

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


Martha Gonzalez

Parent, Volunteer Coordinator martha

IPN – Master in Business Administration (MBA)

Universidad Del Tepeyac – Business Administration

Southwestern College – Early Child Education Teacher

Martha was born in Mexico, and moved to San Diego in 1991. She worked for 15 the Hospitality Industry for 15 years.  When she got pregnant, her son changed her professional life; she decided to go back to school to take care of him and to be involved in his life. In 2003, Martha graduated as an ECE teacher, and she learn how the school system works in this country. During her last 16 years Martha has been working in the education field, encouraging parents to get involved in their children’s life. Martha has being providing workshops for parents in almost all the school districts in San Diego, and she is proud to bring the Early Childhood Program to the Imperial Valley and the CD centers with San Diego City Schools. Through all her work,  Martha learned how important it is to give back to the community and how people donate their time to change lives. She feels very fortunate to have a mentor for her son, one of the best volunteers she have ever met. She feels very lucky to be working with an organization that changes people’s lives and to be around professionals, volunteers, students, parents and people who wants the best for the students. Martha joined BLCI in the Spring of 2015.

Passions: Encouraging parents to go back to school, helping families to generate a change in their lives by connecting them with community resources, and appreciating volunteers for what they do every day.

Favorite Quotes:   “Success is a ladder you cannot climb with your hands in your pockets.” and  “The day you work in what you like, that day you stop working.”- Martha’s Mom

Phi Nguyen

Office Manager 

University of San Diego – Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Communication Studies and Psychological Sciences

Phi was born in a refugee camp in Bataan, Philippines to parents who braved the treacherous journey of escaping Vietnam in search of better opportunities and freedom.  Not knowing a word of English, Phi’s parents did their best to raise a family in the U.S. Education was a top priority, and her parents emphasized on it greatly, as it was a means to make the world a better place. Both Phi and her brother attended the University of San Diego as first generation students. In the future, Phi hopes to attend graduate school to study Industrial Organizational Psychology to promote worker well-being, satisfaction, and happiness. This point of interest manifested as Phi witnessed innumerable occasions her parents brought the burdens from work home. Phi joined BLCI May 2014, upon her return from Peace Corps Armenia. She is incredibly glad to be part of an amazing nonprofit that promotes access to higher education for first generation, low-income students. Moreover, she cannot wait to see the impact BLCI students will make in the community as empowered leaders.

Passions: Traveling, making connections with people from all backgrounds, witnessing the synergy that we create with one other, and making the most of every moment/situation.

Favorite Quote: “In Defense of Being: we fret and fuss over our future: What will we do? Who will we be? Will this all matter? The symphony of doubt and crescendo of fear. Be present I say. The rest will follow—Just be.” -Unknown