Dianne Van Hook | Inspiring Response Amid Challenges

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Our community has experienced extraordinary circumstances that have served to bond us together in ways we could not have imagined just a few short weeks ago. The challenges we face are great – beyond anything we have experienced. Not surprisingly, our community’s response is even greater. 

No matter where you look in the Santa Clarita Valley, you will find individuals and organizations demonstrating resilience, determination, creativity, flexibility and compassion in their efforts to address the pandemic and those touched by the virus. 

It is inspiring to see character revealed in crisis, and that is particularly true in what we have experienced at College of the Canyons. Like everyone, we have faced significant challenges in recent weeks. In the midst of unprecedented upheaval, our faculty, staff, administrators and board of trustees never lost sight of our mission. As a team, we remained focused on ensuring access to higher education, supporting student success, and meeting the needs of the community we serve. 

COC closed its campuses in mid-March and began the work to convert to online/remote instruction and student services. We had more questions than answers when the process started. After all, we were doing something that had never been attempted in the 50-year history of our college. But in the face of uncertainty, this amazing community of professionals worked to continue teaching and serving students from afar, ensuring that our students could continue to learn and stay on track to achieve their goals.

Looking back, it’s almost overwhelming to think about what we accomplished in such a short time. Whether it was converting 75% of the in-person courses to online, engaging in instructor training to work and teach online, securing and prepping equipment to support remote teaching, preparing students effectively to learn online, starting a student emergency fund, providing food for the hungry, creating the flexibility for students to drop classes without penalties, or delivering the counseling and support our students needed to navigate this unprecedented shift, our team went the extra mile, knowing their efforts would make a difference for students. While faculty, tech support staff and online learning staff carried a significant share of the load, the entire team displayed the innovative, positive spirit, can-do attitude and teamwork for which COC is known. 

Our partners in the community, collaborating with the faculty, staff, administrators, board of trustees, foundation board and student leaders, are joining together to provide support and minimize the academic and financial hardships of students. Through our COC Foundation, we established the Student Emergency Assistance Fund to help students in the greatest need; and thanks to the support of our generous foundation, we secured $50,000 in matching funds to purchase needed laptops for students. 

So much of what was accomplished was largely invisible to our students and the public as we worked to adjust our normal processes to meet the requirements of our new reality. 

Our Incident Command Team, a group of administrators pre-designated and trained in emergency response, works tirelessly behind the scenes to manage the daily operations of our two campuses. Our Curriculum Committee and Academic Senate quickly reviewed and approved regulation changes needed to allow all classes to be offered in a remote format throughout the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. And with uncertainty as to when in-person instruction can be resumed, both groups are working on extending the changes for the summer and fall 2020 terms. 

Similar adjustments were needed for nursing education. Our nursing department led the way in calling on the state Board of Registered Nursing to create flexibility in how instruction could be delivered so our students could graduate and join in fighting this unprecedented pandemic.

This crisis has taken a heavy toll on local businesses. Our Economic Development Division, in coordination with the Chancellor’s Circle, is responding to support local companies and the community by providing assistance through our Small Business Development Center, launching online courses for displaced workers looking to gain new skills and webinars on topics important to local companies, and migrating our training programs to an online format to ensure that companies and their employees can continue to receive instruction. 

As we always do, we are looking for ways to serve the SCV in ways beyond what a typical community college would do. We are coordinating production of face shields for Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital through our MakerSpace; overseeing a statewide effort among community colleges to deploy thousands of masks, gloves and goggles to our health care workers; hosting a drive-through testing clinic in our parking structure, and, with our classified staff spearheading the effort, delivering Easter lunch to health care workers at HMNH and firefighters at the testing site. 

Reaching out helps us to remember that we don’t walk alone. We are in this together and that is our source of comfort and strength in these times of uncertainty and challenge. And that is the lesson I am certain we will carry forward from this crisis. 

If we keep our head up, our hopes lifted, and our team strong, we will emerge stronger than ever and better able to meet our community’s needs.

Dianne Van Hook serves as chancellor of College of the Canyons. 

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