The Panetta Institute Staff

The Panetta Institute staff members work together to implement the Institute’s programs. Our professors work with Secretary Panetta and Sylvia Panetta to provide programs that range from the post-graduate level to basic elementary school. These programs are targeted to students throughout the Monterey Bay region, while the annual Leon Panetta Lecture Series and the Jefferson-Lincoln Awards reach out to the entire community.

In working with young people the goal is to inspire them to be involved in our communities and become future leaders. Programs such as the Leon Panetta Lecture Series, the Congressional Internship Program, the Policy Research Fellows Program, the Leadership Seminar, Monterey County Reads and Jefferson-Lincoln Awards rely on the skills, knowledge and commitment of the Panetta Institute staff.

Staff members are at the cornerstone of each of these programs, all of which require exceptional organizational and communication skills. This includes strong research, writing and editing abilities, along with record-keeping, data management and event coordination. The Institute staff holds itself to high standards in developing programs and working with the many partners who support the Panetta Institute. In keeping with the Institute’s goal of service, this team reflects the commitment to professionalism and public service.

Our Professors

Sonia Banks, J.D., Lecturer and Professor

An experienced attorney and award-winning educator, Sonia Banks is a professor at The Panetta Institute for Public Policy. She teaches in the Policy Fellows Research Program, the Leon Panetta Lecture Series mid-week student seminars and student program, the Leadership Seminar and the Congressional Internship Program.

The daughter of Indian-American immigrant parents, Dr. Banks had the opportunity to live and explore various parts of the world: Freetown, Sierra Leone; Tripoli, Libya; Kuwait City, Kuwait, and Montreux, Switzerland. She attended North Monterey County High School where, in her senior year as part of the National Merit Honor Scholarship, she traveled to Washington, D.C, where she met Secretary Leon Panetta (then United States Representative Panetta).

After college and law school, Dr. Banks practiced law as a private attorney for one of the top law firms in Washington, D.C., in San Francisco and in Monterey. She served as in-house counsel and board member for one of the largest Swiss financial firms.

Dr. Banks earned her B.A. summa cum laude in political science and economics at University of California, Los Angeles. She earned her doctorate in economics with an emphasis in taxation summa cum laude from University of California, Berkeley and her J.D. summa cum laude from University of California, Hastings School of Law.

Dr. Banks has earned many awards, including Teacher of the Year Award twice at Monterey Peninsula College and also at Gavilan College. She has authored several legal articles and published two books.

William Daniels, J.D., Lecturer and Professor

A specialist in the field of conflict management and a co-founder of the Monterey College of Law, William Daniels practices law and mediation and is a lecturer and professor at The Panetta Institute for Public Policy in the Policy Fellows Research Program, where he specializes in role of mediation and how judicial knowledge can aid in addressing community concerns.

Mr. Daniels began his law career as a public interest attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance from 1967 until 1970. In that year, he was appointed assistant professor of social sciences at City University of New York. In 1971, he joined the Monterey County law firm of Heisler, Stewart, Silver and Daniels. He co-founded the Monterey College of Law in 1973 and the Mandell Gisnet Center for Conflict Management in 1988.

A graduate of Dartmouth in philosophy and religion, Mr. Daniels received a J.D. from Boalt Hall Law School, the University of California, Berkeley.

Fred Keeley, Lecturer and Professor

An elected official on the Central Coast for twenty-four years, Fred Keeley teaches in the Policy Research Fellows Program directing students through exercises focusing on consensus building and reaching real-world political solutions to present-day issues.

Mr. Keeley has been directly involved in Monterey Bay area and California public policy-making for more than four decades. He first served as a member of the Santa Cruz County board of supervisors for two four-year terms. He was also the elected treasurer for the County of Santa Cruz for ten years. For three terms, Mr. Keeley represented the Monterey Bay area in the California State Assembly, where he served as Speaker pro Tem for four Speakers. He also teaches in the Masters of Public Administration program at San José State University and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program at California State University, Monterey Bay.

Richard Kezirian, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

As professor emeritus, Dr. Kezirian’s principal responsibility is to teach and moderate many of the Institute’s classes. He also serves as a grant-writer for the Panetta Institute. For the Leon Panetta Lecture Series, Dr. Kezirian conducts mid-week seminars for selected students and presents lectures during the Leon Panetta Lecture Series Afternoon Student Program. Along with other staff, he teaches in the Congressional Internship Program and Leadership Seminar and the Policy Research Fellows Program.

Dr. Kezirian earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D., all in the study of history, at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His forty-three-year teaching career includes positions at Monterey Peninsula College, the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and the Naval Postgraduate School.

Dr. Kezirian is the author of American History: Major Controversies Reviewed, a textbook that has been used at numerous colleges and universities, and he has written op-ed articles for many California newspapers. He is the recipient of the Allen Griffin Award for Excellence in Teaching and a three-time winner of the Monterey Peninsula College Honor Society’s Teacher of the Year Award.

Supervisors and Staff Members

Tyler Crocker, Chief of Staff and Programs

A graduate of California State Monterey Bay, Tyler Crocker serves as chief of staff and programs for The Panetta Institute for Public Policy. In this capacity, Mr. Crocker directs the staff and programs through the daily operations of the public policy center.

Mr. Crocker has worked at the Institute since 2009. Previous to his present position, he was supervisor of the Institute’s Monterey County Reads (MCR) program, and was responsible for the various aspects of organizing the recruitment, training and placement of program volunteers in school programs throughout Monterey County. He also oversees plans for the MCR student literacy assessment  of elementary students to determine if they qualify for the program and, at the end of the year, to measure their progress in reading skills.

Mr. Crocker holds a B.A. from California State, Monterey Bay in global studies.

Ellen Wilson, Writer and Archivist

Writer, editor and archivist at the Panetta Institute, Ellen Wilson provides research and background for Secretary Panetta’s many writing needs and speaking engagements. She began working at the Panetta Institute in 2000 on the creation of the Leon E. Panetta Archive, processing material in the archive for a period of five years.

Ms. Wilson has a history in archival work, research and writing. She attended Scripps College and graduated with honors with a double major in French and history and a double minor in legal studies and political science. She spent her junior year in France and studied history and political science at Sciences Po, an international university in Paris.

Tom Honig, Writer

A writer and journalist, Tom Honig oversees the Panetta Institute website, as well as contributing a variety of other writing and editing tasks at the Institute. Mr. Honig is a longtime journalist in the Monterey Bay area, specializing in politics and government. He is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with degrees in anthropology and geography.

Mr. Honig held a variety of positions during a thirty-five year career at the Santa Cruz Sentinel,  starting as a reporter in 1972 and serving as editor-in-chief and lead editorial writer from 1992 until 2007. He has also worked as a freelance journalist and as a public relations executive and has served as a member of the Monterey Herald Editorial Board.


Program Associates


A graduate of University of Hull in the United Kingdom with a degree in American studies, Toby  Brookes, has worked at Hamilton Rabinovitz and Associates in Carmel.

A graduate of Santa Clara University, Lauren Brown has worked in the banking and produce businesses in Monterey County and across the Central Coast.

A graduate of California State University, Monterey Bay, Steven Bruno has worked at a variety of administrative positions, including the Walker and Reed law office.

A graduate of San Francisco State University, Ricki Liang has worked in political campaigns and was an intern in the office of United States Congressman Jimmy Panetta.

After attending Hartnell College and Central Coast College in Salinas, Geana Ruiz has worked in a variety of banking and customer-service positions.

Literacy Specialists

These educators work closely with elementary students, school site staff and volunteers in administering the Monterey County Reads program. They bring a broad range of expertise, and help to further the impact of the Monterey County Reads program in its outreach to schools in ten districts throughout Monterey County by training volunteers, providing orientations for school site staff and testing children’s literacy skills.

Victoria Palminteri taught for forty years at the Monterey Unified School District and is a teaching and literacy coach.

Mary Alicia McRae is an experienced literary consultant who also worked for many years as a bilingual instructor in the Salinas City Elementary School District.

Taffra Mayo has served as a teacher and administrator at all levels of public instruction, from elementary school to community college and adult education.

Donna Bessant, an administrator in the Monterey Unified School District,  has worked as a teacher,  librarian and district administrator  for nearly 40 years.

Laurie Bloom-Sweeney, Ed.D is a former school principal, administrator, adjunct professor and author in the field of reading and literacy.

Tina England is a retired teacher and longtime resource teacher, mentor and coach in the Alisal Union School District.

Bertha Guzmán de Jasso is a longtime teacher and reading coach who taught for many years in the Alisal Union School District.