Ventura County Leadership Academy Announces New Board Members and Officers

The Ventura County Leadership Academy has elected new board officers.   Serving for two year terms, the newly elected officers are:


Melissa Baffa (Cohort XVII) – Development Officer, Foundation & Corporate Relations, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Melissa is also an instructor with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University, Channel Islands and a Science Communication Fellow with the Ocean Exploration Trust. She taught secondary science at the middle and high school level for ten years before making the move to the nonprofit sector a decade ago. A resident of Ventura, Melissa is the Vice-Chair of the Ventura County Women’s Economic Roundtable and serves on the the advisory board of KidSTREAM Children’s Museum. She is a previous board member of the Ventura County Women’s Political Council, the California League of Park Associations, and the Oxnard Downtown Management District.

Vice President

Tom Cohen, Esq. – Partner, Cohen Begun & Deck, LLP

Tom is also a director for the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Immediate Past Chair for Alliance for the Arts. His leadership also includes serving as the Past Chair of the United Way Ventura County and Rebuilding Together Ventura County. Tom lives in Thousand Oaks.


Rudy Gonzales (Class 2 & Cohort XXIV) – Government Relations Manager, So Cal Edison

Also a resident of Thousand Oaks, Rudy holds the unique distinction of being the first VCLA graduate to go through the program a second time; he is a member of the current cohort (XXIV). Rudy is very active in the community, also serving as a director for the Ventura County Economic Development Association and the Conejo/Las Virgenes Future Foundation. Previously, he has served as a board member of the Moorpark, Oxnard, and Calabasas Chambers of Commerce, El Concilio Family Services, and the Moorpark College Foundation.


Sharon Cromartie (Cohort XIX) – VP of Administration, Kids & Families Together

Sharon also serves as a Steering Committee Member for the Nonprofit Leadership Council and as a volunteer for the Ventura Center for Dispute Settlement and the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. She is a resident of Ventura.

In addition, VCLA welcomes three new board members, also serving for two years:

Jennifer Caldwell (Cohort XXIII) – Directory of Marketing, FOOD Share

A recent graduate of VCLA, Jennifer is the Chair of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group and a director for the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, where she chairs the Young Professionals Group and co-chairs the Non-Profit Committee.

Pattie Mullins (Cohort XIX) – CEO, Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties

Prior to being hired as the CEO of Make-A-Wish Tri-Counties, Pattie was the CEO of the Museum of Ventura County and the Vice-President of Program and Volunteer Services for the Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast.

Herb Gooch, Professor Emeritus – California Lutheran University
Herb retired from California Lutheran University in May of this year, but continues to hold an instructor position there and  with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University, Channel Islands. He is the President-Elect for the Thousand Oaks Rotary Club, a board member of the Community Leaders Association, and the Past President of the Lutheran Colleges Washington Semester Consortium.

About Ventura County Leadership Academy

The Ventura County Leadership Academy (VCLA), founded in 1994, delivers on its mission of connecting people and issues to strengthen our county by developing, educating and inspiring a diverse group of leaders who aspire to enhance the quality of life in Ventura County. The curriculum of the year-long Academy is delivered through ten full-day interactive sessions and exposes the cohort members to critical issues in the region as well as current leaders in their fields of expertise. One of the sessions takes place in Sacramento where the cohort is given a detailed overview of the legislative process and the opportunity to meet with government officials.  Other session topics include education, public safety, health care, housing, transportation, economic development, arts, environment, infrastructure and agriculture.  Cohort members also complete an immersion activity in the community; examples of past immersion activities reflect the diversity of the cohort members’ interests, such as a police ride along, shadowing an elected official, volunteering at a non-profit organization, and others.

VCLA infuses personal leadership development throughout the curriculum with the goal of ensuring that its graduates recognize that leadership is a relational process and that leading at any level within any organization is a choice one must intentionally make.

For more information about the Ventura County Leadership Academy please contact: Melissa Baffa via phone: (805) 665-3504 or email:

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