Editor’s Note: The following is the first installment in an occasional series from The Signal newsroom looking at influential women throughout modern Santa Clarita Valley history.
In her 30th year at College of the Canyons (COC), Dianne G. Van Hook is one of the longest serving community college chancellors in the state of California.
Under her leadership, the college has grown in size and reputation throughout not just the Santa Clarita Valley but the state of California, as it welcomes new students, programs and grants to its operations annually.
Since Van Hook joined COC in 1988, the school hired 279 additional full-time faculty and staff, added 57 certificate training programs and 58 degree programs, welcomed 15,491 additional students to its campus, established the Canyon Country campus and expanded its budget by $231.1 million.
In June 2017, the college celebrated the largest graduating class in its history as 2,046 students graduated with associate’s degrees in 110 different majors.
“When I was hired, the board advertised that they wanted someone who could get money, who could plan, who could help establish a vision for the district and market it, who could develop facilities and programs and partnerships,” Van Hook said. “The reason I applied for the job is because that’s what I like to do.”
Van Hook knew it was something she was meant to do. However, before she joined COC at 37 years old, she held five different jobs at California colleges.
Van Hook’s interest in education was first sparked by a children’s literature class she took at Long Beach City College, which inspired her to get her teacher’s permit and work at the college’s preschool.
When she transferred to California State University, Long Beach, Van Hook decided to pursue a career as an elementary school teacher while she worked with the Head Start Program for disadvantaged youth.
After three and a half years, Van Hook graduated from college, gained her teaching credential, got married and began working at Long Beach City College at night.
She briefly worked as a junior high school teacher — while earning her master’s from the University of La Verne — before she turned to college counseling at Santa Ana College.
“I loved it and I knew that I did not want to return to K-12 because I liked the creative potential of being on a college campus,” Van Hook said. “I liked the idea that everything we did wasn’t controlled by the state, you could be a designer and a developer.”
At Santa Ana, Van Hook started a program for women to get into non-traditional careers, created a Technology Exchange Center and formed a foundation to get land and money donated to the college, all while earning her doctorate.
“I realized I really wanted to be in charge of things. I wanted to develop things, I wanted to imagine things, I wanted to develop partnerships,” Van Hook said. “I talked to the vice president and he said, ‘I think you’d be a great administrator, because you’re courageous and you can see things ahead of when anyone else can see them.'”
In 1984, Van Hook moved to Feather River College in Quincy, Calif., to become the dean of instruction and student services.
“It was the single best career move I ever made in my entire life because I got to do everything,” she said. “I was the only dean they had so I was the dean of everything.”
Two years later, Van Hook became dean of Lake Tahoe Community College, where she helped build the college before she moved to the helm at COC in 1988.
“I had five jobs in 16 years before I came to COC, and I’ve been here for 30,” Van Hook said.
Impact on COC, SCV
When Van Hook moved to COC, she knew she wanted to work with the community to create business partnerships and develop entrepreneurial endeavors with the local population.
“This community is very unique and it is predisposed for more significant outcomes than most places are,” Van Hook said. “Most community colleges are not like this. We have one city, one community college district, one high school district, one chamber and that makes it easier to do things.”
These partnerships have allowed for the development of programs like Academy of the Canyons with the William S. Hart Union High School District and the creation of the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center.
“The college was 19 years old when I started and it was just trying to get its grounding,” Van Hook said. “It’s gotten its grounding because of the way people who were hired to work here work with each other and the outside players. They’ve created an interwoven network of possibilities.”
For Van Hook, the most noteworthy improvement she accomplished for the college was changing the college’s growth formula at the state level to bring additional funding to the school.
“I think our ability to impact the funding formula and resources to come to this college were the most significant in terms of creating capacity and being able to fund our ideas,” she said.
Van Hook credits her success, and the success of COC, to the college’s dedicated staff, the community’s support and her personal love of her work.
“I’m a firm believer that if you’re working at doing what you like to do, you’re going to do it better and longer than if you do that which you really don’t enjoy doing or if it’s not a good fit,” Van Hook said.
She also voiced her appreciation for the growing, innovative environment of the Santa Clarita Valley, which keeps the “fire alive” to pursue new ideas and opportunities.
“It’s an exciting place to live and it’s nice to be able to participate,” Van Hook said, “and make a contribution.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_