Throughout her four-and-a-half decades of leadership in California higher education, College of the Canyons Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook has worn many hats.
A pioneer. An architect. A builder. A trailblazer. A dreamer. A doer. Whatever the label, Dr. Van Hook creates futures. She works every day to help others discover their own potential; to encourage them; to motivate them to realize their own dreams; and to see in themselves what they do not yet see in themselves. Whether a student, a staff member, a friend, or a colleague – she invests in people.
Dr. Van Hook’s lifelong commitment to making a difference for others began in 1972, when she started her career in education as a junior high school teacher and part-time instructor at Long Beach City College, her alma mater. Her desire to inspire students to become whatever they imagined they could be; her passion for creating possibilities in people; and her unique ability to spot and develop potential in others are exactly what led her to pursue a career in the community college system. She taught as a part-time career guidance instructor at Cerritos College, providing one to-one personal and career counseling, and launching the college’s Women’s Center.
After accepting a full-time position at Santa Ana College, Dr. Van Hook worked in a variety of roles over seven years. But no matter what department she was in, she made a lasting difference. She conceived of and launched New Horizons, which is now a statewide program. It served, what were then considered, non-traditional student populations – adult re-entry students, senior citizens, and ESL students, as well Indochinese refugees fleeing Southeast Asia in the wake of the Vietnam War. As the executive director of the Rancho Santiago Foundation, she helped form the foundation and raise funds for the district’s Orange Canyon Campus, which is now separately accredited as Santiago Canyon College.
In 1984, she left the familiarity of Orange County for California’s rural north, working for two years each at Feather River College, and Lake Tahoe Community College. Trading in high heels and designer suits for snow boots, she launched a wild trout fish hatchery program and a pack horse stable operations training program that are still thriving at Feather River. She assisted in the planning and development of the construction of Lake Tahoe’s new campus, which enabled the college to move from converted commercial spaces – a motel and car dealership – to a new campus designed for higher education and four times the number of students.
Dr. Van Hook brought her wide range of leadership experiences and an increased passion to College of the Canyons in 1988. This year marks her 30th year serving as chief executive officer of the college, a milestone that garners her the unique distinction of being California’s current longest serving community college CEO. When she was first hired, she was the state’s youngest community college CEO, and one of only five women in a district-level CEO position at the time. Dr. Van Hook is living proof that if you have the courage to dream, to go against the status-quo, to trust your instincts, to work hard, and to never give up – you can, with talent and ideas, indeed dream it … and do it!
With that positive attitude as her guide, she has provided the vision, energy, enthusiasm, commitment, and courageous leadership needed to hire talented staff, collaborate, and move to an amazing future for College of the Canyons while enhancing its potential to change lives and enrich the community. She has guided College of the Canyons through a period of remarkable innovation and advancement, in which the once-sleepy campus emerged as one of the fastest growing community colleges in California, and even the nation. From 1988 to now, it has achieved remarkable progress across multiple metrics:
- From an $8 million annual budget to $239 million.
- From 60 full-time faculty to more than 200.
- From 44 degree and certificate programs to 159.
- From less than 200,000 square feet of classroom, lab and office space to more than 900,000 on two campuses.
- From 4,800 students per semester to 22,000.
- From no money in training funds to work with business and industry to creating an Economic Development Division serving over 800 businesses a year with job-specific training, with 4,000 employees of local businesses trained annually.
- From $109,000 in annual fundraising revenue to $1.1 million.
- From less than $100,000 per year in grant funds to $15.9 million.
Given the college’s commitment to deliver, community voters approved three local bond measures over 15 years that provided $470 million to fund needed construction and the establishment of a second campus in Canyon Country.
The impetus for this expansion is Dr. Van Hook’s belief in the power of collaboration to create opportunities that would otherwise not be possible. As the college grows, it cultivates partnerships that benefit the wider community. Annually, College of the Canyons counts more than 75 active partnerships with non-profit, governmental, and educational organizations, plus it serves hundreds of companies through its economic and workforce development initiatives.
In the community, Dr. Van Hook has been actively involved with many of the groups and organizations that are dedicated to making Santa Clarita a great place to live. She currently serves on the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, where she will become the founding chair of The Chamber Institute, which will develop an executive-level think tank focused on business issues in the SCV, as well as overseeing the re-envisioned Leadership SCV program. She also is a founding board member of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation.
Her commitment to Santa Clarita also includes past service as a board member of the Red Cross, SCV Education Foundation, the SCV Fine Arts Council, the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Governance Committee, the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer, and chairing the United Way Executive Cabinet. These connections enable the college to not only fulfill its traditional mission of providing outstanding higher education, but also enhance its ability to serve the broader community, including K-12 students, veterans, older adults, and local business and industry through, for example, the college’s K-12 Arts and STEM initiatives.
Passionately committed to higher education’s integral role in economic development and ability to impact people’s lives, Dr. Van Hook has led the way in forging training partnerships to ensure that citizens possess the high-technology skills that will sustain California’s economic growth. She has served on more than 35 statewide commissions and boards and currently sits on the Economic Development Program Advisory Committee at the state level.
Above all, Dr. Van Hook is committed to ensuring the highest quality educational experience for students at College of the Canyons, and removing obstacles that stand in the way of students’ success. The college is ranked No. 1 in Los Angeles County for the percentage of students who transfer to four-year universities, and second in California for the rate at which college-prepared students complete their courses.
Keeping the cost of college within reach for as many students as possible is among Dr. Van Hook’s priorities. College of the Canyons has led the way in developing online educational resources (OER) – free, electronic educational materials that may be used in place of traditional textbooks – which save students $3 million per year in textbook costs. COC is also among the first community colleges in California to develop and offer accelerated math and English classes, and implement innovative math and English placement methods, both of which help students bypass remedial classes and save $1.6 million annually in tuition costs at COC alone. College of the Canyons recently launched First-Year Promise, which enabled more than 250 students to attend their first year of college tuition-free.
Because College of the Canyons is recognized among the leading community colleges in California, it has been selected by the Chancellor’s Office to lead statewide efforts on behalf of the state’s 114 colleges. Most significant among them is the Institutional Effectiveness Partnership Initiative (IEPI), a multi-million-dollar program that helps campuses implement best practices in strategic planning, enrollment growth, and student services. The Chancellor’s Office selected College of the Canyons to be their partner to provide infrastructure support for the Doing What Matters program, a key state policy initiative that focuses on further enhancing career and technical education at community colleges in support of California’s urgent workforce needs.
Dr. Van Hook is also recognized for her efforts to improve access to higher education at all levels. Under her leadership and “can-do” spirit, the college secured $44 million to build and establish the University Center, which offers more than 40 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees on the Valencia Campus, as well as services for employers and employees in the Santa Clarita Valley. The University Center, which the college’s board of trustees named in Dr. Van Hook’s honor, is a first-of-its-kind model for the state and the nation. Since opening in 2002, it has served more than 44,000 students, who have had access to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees which otherwise would not have been within their reach. The University Center also houses Academy of the Canyons, a school on the college campus operated in partnership with the William S. Hart Union High School District that enables ninth- through 12th -grade students to take college classes. More than 70 percent of the class of 2017 graduated from high school and earned an associate degree from College of the Canyons at the same time!
Passionate and ever-committed to the development of human potential, Dr. Van Hook stresses the importance of professional development for employees of College of the Canyons. She developed and launched the Leadership Education in Action Program (LEAP), which equips employees from across the campus to lead at all levels of the organization. Dr. Van Hook personally mentors employees from departments across the campus, and is quick to encourage faculty, staff, and administrators to stretch and grow by taking on positions with increased responsibility. Many of California’s community college CEOs credit her expertise, guidance, and friendship with helping them succeed as leaders on their own campuses.
In recognition of her leadership and innovation, Dr. Van Hook has received the most distinguished awards given to community college CEOs. She was given the Five-Star Leader Award from the Community College League of California, the Harry Buttimer Distinguished Administrator Award from the Association of California Community College Administrators, and the Shirley B. Gordon President’s Award of Distinction by Phi Theta Kappa. She also received Presidential Leadership Awards from both the California Community College Council for Staff Development and the Network of California Community College Foundations. National honors include being named Pacesetter of the Year by the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations and being recognized for Outstanding Contributions to Staff Development from the North American Council Staff-Program Organizational Development. She has been honored to be inducted into the Long Beach City College Hall of Fame, was named the Alumni of the Year from Cal State Long Beach, and was distinguished as one of the University of La Verne’s top 75 graduates.
In Santa Clarita, Dr. Van Hook was named as the SCV Newsmaker of the Year, a Leader of Character by the Boy Scouts of America, and the number one most influential person in the Santa Clarita Valley’s Top 51 by The Signal. She was honored at Zonta’s 2016 Tribute to Women for service to women in the community, and chosen as the 2017 Inductee into the Court of Lord Chamberlain at the Shakespeare Lord Chamberlain Gala in recognition of her significant contributions in support of the arts in the community.
Of all the ways to describe Dr. Van Hook, the best is this: she is a consummate builder. As demonstrated throughout her trail-blazing career she is a builder of places, community, possibilities, partnerships, opportunities, and most importantly, people. Her leadership has not only shaped College of the Canyons, but has also impacted the California Community Colleges, and by extension, the millions of students who rely on them for the opportunity to seek higher education and change their own lives.