Meet the People Behind BLCI

Helping Latino Students Pursue a Higher Education

Jose Cruz

Executive Director

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,

Latin American Studies

University of California, San Diego – Bachelor of Arts, 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


Gabriela Kovats-Murillo

Director of College and Career Success

San Diego State University – Master of Arts,

Latin American Studies

University of California, Davis – Bachelor of Arts, International Relations; Minor in Spanish

Gaby was born in Merced, California and grew up in Merced and Acapulco, Guerrero, where her mother is from. Her life experiences as a bilingual, Mexican woman of color have definitely fueled her desire to participate in community-based projects that address the various issues disadvantaged groups face while living in the US. Her Master’s thesis was an ethnographic study concerning the indigenous Mixteco community in San Diego, and focused on the development of identity among Mixteco youth growing up in the area. Her research specifically addressed the discrimination Mixteco youth experience in the classroom and the importance of valuing culture to empower under-represented students to succeed both personally and academically. Gaby joined BLCI in August of 2010.

Passions: Gaby is passionate about social justice. “I am definitely inspired by the community-based work BLCI does to make a difference in the lives of its students and parents. I am so excited to be a part of BLCI and I look forward to sharing my ideas and establishing long lasting relationships with BLCI’s students, families, and staff.”

Favorite Quote: “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” –Howard Zinn


Luis Murillo

Development Manager

California State University, Los Angeles- Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy with an emphasis in Pre-Law

Luis was born in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico and grew

up in Merced, California. Luis is also the first in his family

to go to college. Prior to his position as Administrative Coordinator of BLCI in March of 2011, Luis volunteered for seven months with the elementary school students.

Passions: Luis is passionate about various branches of philosophy in particualr applied ethics and political philosophy.  Luis is also passionate about social justice and the arts.

Favorite Quote: "All that I know about my life, it seems, I have learned in books." -Jean-Paul Sartre


Carlos Pineda

High School Coordinator

University of San Diego - B.S., Electrical Engineering; Minors in Mathematics and Spanish

Carlos is the youngest of four brothers and was born and raised in El Salvador. He moved to the US in 1991 and became the first in his family to go to college. He grew up

in a very similar environment to the one of BLCI kids. He relates to their struggles, needs and roadblocks. Carlos

joined BLCI in 2004 as the Middle School Coordinator after working for the YMCA and for Harmoniums “6 to 6” program.

Passions: Working with kids, helping them and making a difference in their lives. “I am very lucky to be working in an organization like BLCI where I get to do what I love to do.”

Favorite Quote: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi

Jennifer Peña

Elementary School Manager

San Diego State University- B.S. in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Rehabilitation Science

San Diego State University- 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


Diana Soqui

Elementary School Coordinator, Chula Vista College Institute

University of California, San Diego – Bachelor of Arts in International Studies

Phi Nguyen

Volunteer Coordinator

University of San Diego – Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies


Zinnia Burgoin

Administrative Coordinator

University of Phoenix – Bachelor of Arts in Business Management