Collette Michaud of Children’s Museum of Sonoma County wins North Bay Women in Business award

Collette Michaud

Founder and CEO

Children’s Museum of Sonoma County

1835 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa 95403


Collette Michaud says she has learned not to take normalcy for granted. She is a 2020 North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Awards winner.

Professional background: Print and game designer

Education: Bachelor of Arts, University of North Texas

Staff: 10

Tell us about yourself and your company: Previous to founding the Children’s Museum, I worked as a software game designer, art manager and animator for more than 15 years. I helped launch Lucas Learning, a children’s entertainment software company in 1996 where I worked with teachers, scientists, and young children to create award-winning educational games.

In 2001, my husband and I started a family, which opened my eyes to the need for hands-on experiential learning -- outside the computer.

In 2005, when my sons were four and six years old, and with the help of many volunteers, I started the challenging journey of building the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County, a 501(c)3 nonprofit serving children and loved ones through joyful, transformative experiences.

For the past fifteen years, the Children’s Museum has been a labor of love for me. My passion is creating and imagining interactive spaces where children and their loved ones learn through the power of play.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

Providing significantly reduced or free access to the Children’s Museum for thousands of children and their loved ones that might not otherwise have the ability to come.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Founding and then having the honor of running the Children’s Museum of Sonoma County for the past seven years.

What is your biggest challenge today?

My biggest challenge is reopening the Children’s Museum safely during the pandemic and ensuring the experiences for children remain joyful and transformational, while also safeguarding the sustainability of the Children’s Museum.

Words that best describe you: Strong, fair, honest, diligent, driven, creative, strategic, informed

In what ways have the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders changed who you are as a person that will be a part of you long after the pandemic has passed?

The pandemic has taught me to never take normalcy and routine for granted again. I now know what incredibly good fortune it was to come into work every day and be greeted by the smiling faces of my team members…in the flesh rather than on a flat screen.

I look forward to hearing the joyful giggles of children playing at the Children’s Museum and seeing the heartwarming moments of loved ones spending meaningful time with their children when we reopen.

Also, what ways do you think it will change the way you go about your career and your business?

The pandemic and the media’s coverage of it has made people hyper aware of the transference of bacteria…and much more fearful unfortunately.

As a result, we will have to institute more stringent safety protocols to make sure parents and loved ones feel comfortable spending time at the Children’s Museum.

On the positive side, I can see the Children’s Museum devoting more space in the future to experiences rather than offices because the pandemic has proven that we can work from home effectively as a team.

And when it comes to the COVID-19 issue, what are some the lessons learned for the business community?

From the standpoint of running a nonprofit business, it has shown the extreme importance of setting aside money towards a “rainy day” reserve fund.

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

Balancing work life and family has been the biggest obstacle.

As a woman growing up in a traditional household with a stay-at-home mother, I have struggled with the personal need to achieve a career and be perceived as a “good” mother and wife to my two boys and husband. Founding a nonprofit allowed me to have flexible hours, especially during the startup stage, which took nine years!

During the day I was full-time mom. Then, starting at 7 p.m. after dinner was served and the boys put to bed, I started my second job. When asked in elementary school, what their mom did for a living, my youngest son replied, “My mom picks weeds!”

By the time we opened the doors to the Children’s Museum, my boys were old enough to take care of themselves. Still, it was a shock for them when I started going to work outside of the house and stopped doing yardwork during the day.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

I fear there will be a greater emphasis on “safe” experiences for children that move away from the true need for hands-on learning through play, which is so important to the healthy development of children. I hope I’m wrong!

Who was your most important mentor? And tell us a little bit about that person:

I have had the good fortune of so many wonderful mentors, but I would say that the most influential is Jennifer Alexander, founder and executive director of KidCity Children’s Museum in Middletown, CT.

Her children’s museum is a true gem and work of art! Jennifer taught me so much about what is truly important in creating a children’s museum. Her deep insights into the needs of both children and parents, and her incredible creativity, inspired and gave me the self-confidence to trust my own instincts in creating a children’s museum for Sonoma County.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?

Reach for your dreams, let your imagination guide you, and never give up. It’s not how smart you are, but how determined you are in reaching your goals that matters. It’s not a race, it’s a marathon.

Be patient, put in the hard work, and you’ll get there. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Most admired businessperson outside your organization:

Bill Gates, because as a Harvard University dropout, he co-founded Microsoft and subsequently became one of the richest men in the world.

But what I admire most is that he and his wife Melinda have used their vast wealth to support education and world health. Bill has become a civic leader in the footsteps of other great philanthropists before him like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. I admire how he realized that he had an obligation to give more of his wealth to charity while still alive.

Typical day at the office: Answering emails and phone calls, helping write proposals and grants, meeting with investors and colleagues, and collaborating with team members on designing and building new programs and experiences.

Best place to work outside of your office: My little office at home in Petaluma with windows that look out onto our backyard. I love seeing birds and hearing the sound of the pond waterfall while I work.

Current reading: “Nature’s Best Hope” by Douglas Tallamy; “Triangle” by David Von Drehle; “The Natural Laws of Children” by Celine Alvarez

Most want to meet: Bill Gates of Microsoft, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, and Michelle Obama, former First Lady

Social media you most use: Facebook

Stress relievers: Solitaire on my iPad, working in the yard, massages, watching cable new shows, and SNL YouTube videos

Favorite hobbies: Constructing new exhibits, reading, hiking, visiting museums, road trips

What would parents or significant others say if asked to brag about you?

They are proud of how hard I have worked to start and open a children’s museum.

Collette Michaud

Founder and CEO

Children’s Museum of Sonoma County

1835 W. Steele Lane, Santa Rosa 95403


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