Dianne G. Van Hook, president and CEO of College of the Canyons began work on July 1, 1988, at 37 years old. This year she will celebrate her 25th anniversary at the helm of a college that has grown significantly under her leadership.
When Van Hook arrived, COC had only eight major buildings on one campus, a budget of $8 million and 4,000 students. Since then, their highest enrollment has reached 27,000 students.
The school has since grown to include the Canyon Country campus, University Center, Performing Arts Center, and several new labs and classroom buildings.
Van Hook began her higher education at Long Beach City College before transferring to California State University, Long Beach. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1972. While attending classes, she worked as a Head Start preschool teacher, and upon graduation became a junior high school teacher. She later went on to earn both her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of La Verne.
While working as a counselor at Santa Ana College, she launched the New Horizons program, which helps re-entry students succeed in college. The program was ultimately implemented at 60 community colleges throughout the state. From there she went to Feather River College to serve as dean of instruction/student service in 1984. Two years later she became dean of the Lake Tahoe Community College District, before returning to Southern California to take the top post at College of the Canyons.
Michele Jenkins, a member or the Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees, said she expected Van Hook to make a significant impact on the college.
“At the time, I couldn’t help but smile to myself, thinking about how much of a difference she was going to make at the college because she’s just so dynamic,” Jenkins said. “Days later, after she had been formally introduced, I asked one of our instructors what he thought about our new president, to which he replied, ‘Administrators come and go, and it won’t really make a difference who the administrator is.’ I simply smiled again and thought to myself that he has no idea what this woman’s leadership will bring to College of the Canyons. Today, 25 years later, I’m still smiling.”
State Assemblyman Scott Wilk, who served on the Board of Trustees prior to being elected to state office in 2012, said Van Hook’s dynamic leadership has created countless opportunities and transformed the college into a place where “miracles happen every day.”
“I had the honor and pleasure to serve on the board for six years and witness firsthand the college’s profound impact on people’s lives,” Wilk said. “College of the Canyons is intensely focused on student access, achievement and success. That focus comes straight from Dr. Van Hook, whose vision and passion for educational excellence are boundless. The Santa Clarita Valley is truly fortunate to have had her at the college’s helm for the past 25 years.”
To have a president for 25 years is atypical among community colleges. Brice Harris, chancellor of the California community college system, said Van Hook’s focused, dedicated service to a single college district over the course of 25 years has allowed College of the Canyons to thrive and the Santa Clarita Valley to reap the rewards.
“Such longevity is a rarity and speaks to the skilled leadership she provides to the college community day in and day out,” Harris said. “This type of stability fosters institutional focus and commitment on a remarkable scale.”
Van Hook is committed to continuing the vision of COC and inspiring her students and staff.
“People who believe in themselves and the power of teamwork inspire vision, energy, commitment and courageous leadership at every level,” she said. “Those qualities propel College of the Canyons to new possibilities and exciting outcomes. The result? Expansion of instructional programs, securing significant increases in funding, launching a robust building program, and increasing our full-time staff by more than 300 percent. These qualities have helped us develop partnerships and collaborative initiatives, take calculated risks, be entrepreneurial and, most importantly, believe that we could create our own future. And, together, we have done just that.”