The Panetta Institute Staff

The Panetta Institute professors and staff members work with Secretary and Mrs. Panetta to develop and 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 Monterey Bay and state of California community.

In working with young people the goal is to inspire them to be involved in their 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 knowledge, skills and commitment of the Panetta Institute staff.

Professors and 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 professors and staff hold themselves to high standards in developing programs and working with the many partners who support the Panetta Institute.

Our Professors

Sonia Banks, J.D., Professor and Program Director

An experienced attorney and award-winning educator, Sonia Banks is a professor and program director at The Panetta Institute. She teaches and directs the Policy Fellows Research Program, the Leon Panetta Lecture Series, the Congressional Internship Program, the Leadership Seminar and the Youth Engagement Survey.

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 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.

Fred Keeley, 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 and Program Director

As professor and program director, 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 fifty-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 Monterey Peninsula College President’s Award, 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 Operating Officer

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

Mr. Crocker has worked at the Institute since 2009. He is also supervisor of the Institute’s Monterey County Reads (MCR) program, and is responsible for the various aspects of organizing the recruitment, training and placement of program volunteers in elementary schools 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.


Toby Brookes, Chief Financial Officer and HR Director

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.

Mr. Brookes manages the finance and human resource area and works closely with the Institute CEO on related matters.


Geana Ruiz, Administrative Assistant

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



Ellen Wilson, Writer and Archivist

Writer 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.  In addition to her work at the Panetta Institute, Ms. Wilson also serves as Vice President of the Carmel Art Festival.

Literacy Specialists

These educators work closely with elementary students, school site staff and volunteers in administering the Monterey County Reads program. They have brought 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.

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

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 specialist, 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.