Dianne Van Hook: Canyon Country campus celebrating 10 years of service to Santa Clarita Valley

Alexander Walker controls a mechanical arm with two thumb-sized joysticks at the College of the Canyons Canyon Country Campus MakerSpace open house in October 2016. Katharine Lotze/Signal

I want you to remember three numbers important to the College of the Canyons Canyon Country campus: 10, 5,000 and 55,000.

We’ll start with 10. It was 10 years ago this fall semester the Canyon Country campus opened on Sierra Highway, and we are celebrating a decade of academic excellence and community impact. What a difference a decade makes!

Envisioned to provide high-quality instructional programs, supportive student services, and robust community partnerships in the eastern Santa Clarita Valley, the campus has excelled in fulfilling that vision.

Our efforts in Canyon Country go back more than 25 years. In the early 1990s, the state Chancellor’s Office concluded another campus would be needed to ensure access to higher education for the valley’s growing population.

Our commitment to meeting that need took a major step forward when we opened the ACCESS Center in the Jo Anne Darcy Library in 2001. Classes filled quickly, so in 2002 we began looking for a permanent campus site. It took another three years to locate and purchase the land, design the campus and secure state approval of our plans.

Throughout 2006 and 2007, we transformed 70 acres of raw land into a welcoming campus that opened for the fall 2007 semester. Initial enrollment exceeded our five-year predictions and continued to grow in subsequent years. In fact, enrollment at the campus has exceeded that of 12 stand-alone community colleges in California.

And that number I asked you to remember – 5,000? Here’s where that comes into play. We have offered more than 5,000 classes at the Canyon Country campus in the past decade. And campus enrollment averages around 5,000 students per semester.

The key to building this campus was the support we received from the community through the passage of local bond measures in 2001 and 2006. Because the state does not fund land purchases or construction for new community college campuses, it is up to local colleges and their communities to fund such efforts.

The community also played an important role in helping us shape the campus. A dedicated group of Canyon Country residents joined the site selection committee that began meeting in 2002, evaluating possible locations and providing insightful feedback. Many of those original members still serve on our Advisory Committee today, continuing to guide the growth and development of the campus.

Building on the vision of college leaders and the advisory committee, we have welcomed the community to the campus. Whether through our Star Parties, Battle of the Bands musical exhibitions, or Garden Walks, we have thrown open the doors to the campus and welcomed our neighbors to visit.

A decade after opening, the campus is poised for a major facilities expansion. And here’s where that last number – 55,000 – comes into play. With designs completed, we are in the final stages of approval for a state-of-the-art 55,000-square-foot Science Center. The groundbreaking is planned before the end of the year.

By providing more science labs for high-demand anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biology courses, the Science Center will address an urgent academic need. Hundreds of students are on waaiting lists waitlisted for these courses each year, slowing their efforts to earn a degree or transfer. With more classes available in the new labs, students will complete their academic goals much more quickly.

The Science Center is the first step in our plans to build out the campus to its full capacity. With the passage of Measure E by local voters in 2016, we have the resources needed to build three more similarly sized buildings. And, if we receive state funding to help offset the costs of those buildings, we may be able to build two additional buildings on the site.

The Canyon Country campus is filled with students, staff, and faculty who exemplify the pioneering spirit that makes this amazing site thrive. With their passion and dedication, we celebrate the progress made and eagerly anticipate the opportunities ahead.

The pubic is invited to an open house at the COC Canyon Country campus 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14. Family friendly exhibits, entertainment and food trucks will be available. Details can be found at https://www.canyons.edu/Offices/CCC/Pages/10years.aspx. Dr. Dianne Van Hook serves as chancellor of College of the Canyons.

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