OUR TEAM

Alison De Lucca

Executive Director

Alison’s passion for higher education attainment was sparked as child growing up in an agricultural region. Her mother provided college guidance services to those who could afford it, while offering pro bono support to those who couldn’t – namely the children of migrant workers. Within a decade, she witnessed how her peers and community were transformed by the influx in college degrees.

As the Executive Director of SoCal CAN, Alison works with more than 118 organizations to expand college access and completion for low-income students in the region. The network plays an important role in the field by bringing together direct service organizations to exchange effective practices, address existing service gaps, and weigh in on policies and practices that help or hinder students’ ability to smoothly reach their goal of college graduation. Alison has worked on social change issues in both the United States and Central America for more than 25 years. She’s worked in the women’s, environmental, and immigrant rights fields. Prior to joining SoCal CAN, she served as Program Officer for the Los Angeles Immigrant Funders’ Collaborative, Program Director for Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), Campaign Director for Friends of the Earth International, and Women’s Micro-enterprise Developer for the Costa Rican Ecologist Association.  Alison graduated from University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a B.A. in International Development and received her M.A. in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA ). She is bilingual in English and Spanish and has served as an appointed member of the UCLA Department of Urban Planning Advisory Committee and is an emeritus board member of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy. She has also been a fellow with the Women’s Policy Institute, California Education Policy Fellowship, and Southern California Leadership Network. Connect with Alison on LinkedIn.

 Lina Calderón-Morin

Deputy Director 

Lina is a native of Los Angeles, born and raised in East LA and Pasadena, CA. She is passionate about community wellness, education equity, and all things college access and success. Informed by her personal experiences as a first generation college student and her years spent providing direct support and counseling to diverse communities, Lina is continually motivated by the belief that postsecondary education should be a viable option for everyone. As Deputy Director of the Southern California College Attainment Network (SoCal CAN), she serves as an executive leader dedicated to SoCal CAN’s organizational development, sustainability, and strategic growth. In her role, she also strives to amplify the network’s mission of ‘advancing education equity for all’ by building and deepening partnerships, cultivating connections & resources, developing impactful programming, and identifying opportunities for cross-sector collaborations on behalf of our 118+ member organizations.

Since 2010, Lina has partnered closely with public school districts, postsecondary institutions, community-based organizations, and federal and state agencies to design, implement and scale holistic, community and student-centered initiatives. Prior to her role at SoCal CAN, Lina worked at Occidental College as the Assistant Director of Student and Community Engagement and helped institutionalize, expand, and deepen Oxy’s community engaged learning and service opportunities. Before her time at Oxy, Lina worked with multiple community organizations, including College Access Plan, Learning Works and Homeboy Industries where she oversaw the development, operation, and success of nearly a dozen college access programs serving thousands of students across Los Angeles County.

Lina was selected as a Leading for Equity Fellow by the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) in 2022 and has served on numerous committees focused on improving support for BIPOC, first-generation, and low-income students in partnership with Occidental College, California Student Aid Commission, California Community Foundation, and LAUSD. She earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern California where she focused on Public Health and Military Social Work & Veterans Services, and a BA in Sociology from the University of San Francisco. Connect with Lina on LinkedIn 

Marcos Montes

Policy Director & Let’s Go Program Manager  

Marcos manages SoCal CAN’s policy agenda, Changemakers student advocacy fellowship, and Let’s Go To College CA. He graduated in 2018 from Cal State LA with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Law and Society. He is the first in his family to graduate from a university and a proud product of college success programs. Marcos brings a wealth of knowledge around student engagement and student advocacy. He served two years as an executive member Cal State LA’s student government and one year as Vice President of Legislative Affairs for the Cal State Student Association (CSSA). During his time as a student, he was very passionate about improving college affordability, increasing civic engagement, and supporting undocumented students. He received numerous awards commending his work as a student leader including 2017 CSSA Student Advocate of the Year and a State Resolution from the CA Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon in May 2018. Marcos has years of legislative experience, student advocacy, and institutional change. Connect With Marcos on LinkedIn.

Niña Abonal 

Project SOAR Program Director

Niña graduated from Loyola Marymount University with her Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a Master of Arts in General Education. She has dedicated over a decade working for educational non-profit organizations focused on providing enrichment opportunities to youth ages 6-18 years old and developing impactful programs for young adults centered on college access and early career development. Her work with students has fostered a deep and passionate fervor for empowering students to succeed and serving her community by continually seeking innovative ways to improve the quality of and access to educational opportunities and resources for all students. As the Project SOAR Program Director, she leads Project SOAR and oversees and supports the SOAR counseling team as they support and guide residents in public housing to achieve their post-secondary goals, develops programs and partnerships, and works to expand the program’s reach across public housing sites throughout Greater Los Angeles. Connect with Niña on LinkedIn.

Jason Vazquez

Policy & Development Associate

Jason is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Political Economy from the University of California Berkeley. During college, Jason studied abroad twice and spent a semester in Washington D.C. interning at the United States Trade Representative. Prior to joining SoCal CAN, he was the advocacy intern at the Urban Foundation where he collaborated with college access partners to advance several federal and state policy priorities focused on education equity. This past summer, Jason served as Public Policy Intern with the Lumina Foundation. Now, he’s working with the SoCal CAN team to advance our policy agenda. Jason is passionate about improving access to economic mobility through education because he understands the magnified impact it can have on a person’s long-term success. Connect with Jason on LinkedIn.

Bianca Esquivias

Digital Content Coordinator- Let’s Go to College CA

Bianca Esquivias is a first generation student from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), where she received a B.A in Sociology with a concentration in Global Information and Social Enterprise to create sustainable change using digital platforms. Her path to college started when she was awarded a scholarship for low-income students in LA that provided mentorship, financial and academic support throughout her four years in college. During her time at UCSC, she proactively sought out and secured opportunities in various industries such as Advising, Marketing, Strategic Partnerships, Product Development and Community Outreach. In addition, she had the opportunity to study abroad in Paris and London where she became passionate about creating sustainable solutions on a global scale. She is passionate about connecting and empowering individuals through meaningful marketing campaigns which motivates her to create and collaborate as the Let’s Go Digital Content Coordinator. Connect with Bianca on LinkedIn. 

Melanie Alvarez-Rojas

Project SOAR Education Navigator

Melanie is a first-generation and recent graduate of California State University, Northridge where she received a bachelor’s in Political Science with a minor in Civic Engagement. While pursuing her degree, she also devoted her time and efforts towards helping her community prosper by taking on several roles in non-profit organizations such as the University Student Union. Throughout her three years with the University Student Union, she focused on issues of education equity and basic needs. During her role as co-chair for the Diversity & Inclusion Committee, she was an active advocate for nontraditional students such as those who identified as undocumented, parents, and formerly incarcerated. Her senior year at the USU, she was elected chair of the Board of Directors where she led a group of student leaders to successfully pass a vote for the allocation of 1.2 million surplus funds to address issues that were highlighted with the pandemic. Her passion for non-profit organizations started in high school during her time with InnerCity Struggle with their component that focuses on leadership development of youth within the greater eastside of Los Angeles. Connect with Melanie on LinkedIn.

Elizabeth Guevara

Project SOAR Education Navigator 

Elizabeth is a first-generation college graduate with a unique educational journey. She attended a small private university right after high school but became homeless during her Sophomore year and consequently stopped out of college Junior year. Elizabeth came back to school after a few years in the workforce, attended community college for one year, successfully transferred into a public university and finally earned her bachelor’s degree after almost 10 years of breaking down barriers.
Elizabeth has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services from California State University, Dominguez Hills and has been working as a College Counselor/Advisor in Higher Education for the past 5 years, including counseling positions with the Los Angeles Job Corps, Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD), and Los Angeles Trade Technical College. She is passionate about education attainment as she believes education not only opens doors to great opportunities, but that it is also one of life’s few investments no one can ever take away. Elizabeth’s combination of personal and professional experiences in higher education make her uniquely qualified to aid others as they navigate the complexity of their own educational journeys. Contact Elizabeth at elizabeth@socalcan.org

Tania Torres

Project SOAR Education Navigator 

Tania (they/them) is a first-generation college graduate hailing from Southern California. Tania initiated their academic pursuit at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC), fostering a foundational passion for Political Science, which seamlessly transitioned into an enriching academic experience at UC Santa Barbara where they completed a Sociology degree in 2021. Throughout their undergraduate tenure, Tania demonstrated unwavering commitment to advancing student equity and championing the success of first-generation college students, manifesting through active participation in mentorship programs and counseling initiatives. Post-graduation, Tania has been dedicated to various roles within education and counseling, contributing significantly to diverse student communities.
At the core of Tania’s professional ethos lies a profound commitment to mental health advocacy, a passion that has evolved from personal experiences and a nuanced understanding of the unique challenges faced by marginalized communities, including People of Color, those from low-income backgrounds, and the LGBTQ+ community. Looking forward, Tania aspires to complete a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology, and help establish a therapeutic environment where rigorous research and hands-on counseling converge to specifically support People of Color, low-income individuals, and queer clients.  Connect with Tania on LinkedIn.
 

Alejandra Leon

Project SOAR Education Navigator 

Alejandra is a passionate, community oriented, first-generation college student from the City of South Gate. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelors in Social Welfare and a minor in Education, being the first in her immediate family to do so. As a proud product of public schools, Alejandra received firsthand the benefits of a public education and how it can be a useful tool to empower students. Her former teachers and counselors inspired her to eventually want to give back to her community as a future educator herself. She is a strong believer in advocating for more resources and support for all students, especially those that come from historically marginalized backgrounds. Alejandra has experience in various capacities within education, such as working on political campaigns at the National Education Association, enacting community and policy work with LAUSD Board Member Jackie Goldberg, and serving students directly as an academic advisor with GEAR UP 4 LA. Her holistic approach to education is what qualifies Alejandra to serve students of all backgrounds in order to help accomplish whatever educational goal they may have. She believes any individual has the power to transform their lives by investing in themselves and their education. Alejandra plans to one day become a high school counselor where she can help guide students towards the future they envision for themselves. Connect with Alejandra on LinkedIn

Benedict Lopez Joson

Executive Administrative Assistant

Ben is a queer Filipino immigrant, community organizer, and operations professional.  Ben’s work in the social sector is inspired by his experience growing up in New York and receiving both a private and public education in the nation’s most segregated system. He is deeply committed to the belief that all people should receive an inclusive, equitable, quality education, regardless of who they are and where they are born. As a recent transplant from Queens and a new resident of South Pasadena, Ben is actively engaged in local, national, and global efforts to nurture community and advance justice. Ben joined SoCal CAN in spring 2023 as our first ever Executive Administrative Assistant and provides invaluable support to the SoCal CAN leadership team on administrative projects critical to organizational development and coalition-building. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn.

Alejandro Haro

College Comeback Navigator

Alejandro is a first-generation college graduate with the experience of re-entering higher education after being removed from the college he first attended. His time away from higher education consisted of working as a gardener with his father and reassessing his plans for the future. Although supported by his immediate family for working, Alejandro was consistently advised to return to school before committing his future to manual labor. He perceived higher education as unattainable and undesirable throughout his time away; however, this mindset was transformed once he completed his first Chicano/a Studies course upon re-entering. Deeply inspired by the history of the Chicano/a Movement, Alejandro re-envisioned his contribution to the world and aspires to one day be a Professor of History, where he can promote historical subjects that resonate with future generations.

Alejandro earned a bachelor’s degree in both Chicano/a & Central American Studies and History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Alongside his education, he also has experience working as a College and Academic Success Associate with The Fellowship Initiative (TFI) at Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI), mentoring Black and Latino male students in public high schools across Los Angeles. He is empowered by his own experience of overcoming expulsion from higher education and is highly motivated to encourage others on their journey of re-entering college. He believes that, although the path of returning to school may feel daunting and insurmountable, mountains are there to be climbed, and everyone is capable of ascending. Connect with Alejandro on LinkedIn.

Jennifer Murillo Castro

College Comeback Navigator

Jennifer is a first-generation college graduate with a B.S from the University of Washington. She also holds an M.A.Ed. and MBA from the University of Arizona. Being the eldest in a farm-working family she experienced firsthand the disadvantages children of migrant workers and low-income families experience. As she entered her undergraduate path, she created a program for her community where she could mentor and empower other students who were applying to postsecondary education programs and students looking to move directly into careers. Within a year she expanded the program to have a mentorship component for parents of first-generation students.

She is passionate about making education equitable, and for the past eight years Jennifer has worked with The Princeton Review, Microsoft, and ScholarFund to create equipotential classrooms that support students in K-12. She continues to volunteer with nonprofits as a college counselor to provide support and counseling to students as they pursue postsecondary education.  Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn. 

Learn more about becoming a SoCal CAN member