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COC president reaches milestone

Dianne Van Hook marks 20 years as president of the college today

Posted: July 1, 2008 1:42 a.m.
Updated: September 1, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Dianne Van Hook presides over the graduation ceremony for the class of 2008. She marks 20 years as president of the community college today.

When 37-year-old Dianne Van Hook accepted the position of Superintendent-President of College of the Canyons on July 1, 1988, she became the youngest person to hold that position in California, and one of only five women to serve in that position at the district level.

Today, on her 20th anniversary, Van Hook is the longest serving CEO in the entire California Community College system.

"I thought I would work with community colleges for the duration of my career, but I never thought I would stay somewhere for 20 years," said Van Hook, adding that the average tenure for a college president is three and a half years.

Van Hook worked hard to get to COC, applying three times during the 1980s.

"During my second year at Lake Tahoe (Community College District), the job that I have now became open again and this time I got it - I guess the third time is the charm," Van Hook said. "I just really wanted to work here, so I kept at it."

One of the reasons Van Hook was drawn to Santa Clarita was the opportunity to grow the college along with the growing community.

"I like to build programs and build partnerships in the community," she said. "It's a lot easier to do that if you go into a community that is not yet built out - where there's a lot of uncharted ground."

Under Van Hook's leadership, COC has experienced its most significant period of growth and advancement since the college was originally built in 1969. Since 1988, the college's budget has grown from $8 million to $169 million, and its physical space has gone from just under 200,000 square-feet to 560,000 square-feet.

Some of the challenges Van Hook has faced over the years include four state budget crises, getting the state to recognize the extreme growth in the Santa Clarita Valley and increase funding, and working to get two bond measures passed. But she doesn't look at these situations as challenges.

"My approach to a challenge is to look at it as an opportunity to come up with really creative solutions to problems," Van Hook said.

Among her greatest accomplishments over the past 20 years, Van Hook recounts getting the College of the Canyons-Canyon Country campus up and running just a little over 13 months after digging the first shovel of dirt; being able to build the college's budget and offer more programs; and getting the state to fund the college's Performing Arts Center.

"They said, ‘no, no, no, no, no' for 15 years, and then they finally said, ‘yes' - I guess I wore them down," she said. With a $2.4 million commitment from the city of Santa Clarita, the college was able to expand the center's capacity from 400 to roughly 900 seats.

Van Hook is also proud of the people she has hired over the years. The fact that 50 percent of full-time employees are former students shows that Van Hook is not the only one who doesn't want to leave.
"So many students come back here to work, which I think is terrific," she said.

In May 2007, the COC board of trustees voted to honor Van Hook by naming the new university center the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center, and more recently, the board voted to change Van Hook's title to Chancellor-President.

The new title goes into effect today.

"I'm just incredibly grateful to have the experiences that I've had here," Van Hook said. "It's gone really fast - if I didn't know better, I would say, ‘No way, it can't have been 20 years.'"


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