The California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) Alumni Association has selected College of the Canyons Chancellor Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook as its 2013 Distinguished Alumna for the College of Liberal Arts, in honor of her tremendous professional achievements, dedication to the field of education and ongoing contributions to the community.
Dr. Van Hook was recognized May 9 alongside 21 fellow honorees selected by the Alumni Association Awards Committee. They include nine Distinguished Alumni, nine Outstanding Graduates (students), an Outstanding Professor and Outstanding Staff, as well as the recipient of the President’s Distinguished Service Award.
In addition, Dr. Van Hook has been invited to attend the CSULB College of Liberal Arts commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 23, in Long Beach, where she will be recognized in front of the crowd of more than 9,500 graduates and guests.
“At College of the Canyons, we believe ‘if you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you dream it, you can do it,’” Dr. Van Hook said in explaining COC’s success. “By employing this philosophy, COC as a whole has vision, energy, commitment, flexibility and courageous leadership at every level. That, in turn, inspires us to plan and expand instructional programs, secure significant increases in funding, launch a robust building program, develop partnerships and collaborate initiatives, take risks, be entrepreneurial and believe in ourselves every day.”
Dr. Van Hook graduated from CSULB in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts in sociology. During college she worked as a Head Start preschool teacher, and after graduation, she became a junior high school teacher.
She went on to earn both her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of La Verne. She worked as a counselor at Santa Ana College, and launched the New Horizons program, which helped re-entry students succeed in college. The program was ultimately implemented at 60 community colleges in California.
In 1984, she became the Dean of Instruction/Student Services at Feather River College, and two years later, became Dean of the College District at Lake Tahoe Community College.
“Dr. Van Hook’s lifelong dedication to education and the leadership she has provided to College of the Canyons has positively affected the lives of tens of thousands of students,” said Diane Fiero, COC Assistant Superintendent/Vice President, Human Resources. “She is a tireless advocate for community college education, building partnerships, and community involvement. She gives freely of her time, expertise, and talents in helping others realize their own potential. She is so very deserving of this honor, and we are thrilled for her.”
She returned to Southern California in 1988 when she was originally hired as the Superintendent-President at COC. Just 37-years-old at the time, Dr. Van Hook became the youngest serving California Community College CEO, and was one of only five women to serve as a district-level CEO in the state’s 70 community college districts.
“I was fortunate to have served as the president of the board of trustees when the college hired Dr. Van Hook,” said Michele Jenkins, Santa Clarita Community College District board member. “At the time I couldn’t help but smile to myself, thinking about how much of a difference she was going to make at the college, because she’s just so dynamic.
“Days later, after she had been formally introduced, I asked one of our instructors what he thought about our new president, to which he replied ‘administrators come and go, and it wont really make a difference who the administrator,’” added Jenkins. “I simply smiled again and thought to myself, he has no idea what this woman's leadership will bring to College of the Canyons. Today, nearly 25 years later, I’m still smiling.”
Today, with nearly 25 years served at College of the Canyons, Dr. Van Hook is the longest serving CEO in the entire California Community College system and a widely respected visionary and leader throughout the state.
Since 1988, the college’s budget has grown from $8 million to $180.8 million, and its physical space has gone from just under 200,000 square feet to 812,000 square feet over two campuses. Student enrollment has climbed from 4,000 to a high of 27,000. The college is the sixth largest employer in the Santa Clarita Valley, and community leaders describe College of the Canyons as an “innovative, cutting-edge, responsive, flexible, resourceful, high-quality institution of higher learning.”
“Our success as a college is a result of the great team of people we have in place here,” Dr. Van Hook said. “Their care for students, their innovative and entrepreneurial spirits, and their determination enable us to achieve results that others can only dream about.”
Dr. Van Hook is a strong and consistent advocate for community colleges at both the state and national levels, with her leadership having garnered recognition from a wide range of groups and organizations. She has received every statewide recognition that can be bestowed on a California Community College CEO.
Awards she has received include: the Community College League of California Five Star Leader Award; the Association of California Community Colleges Administrators Harry Buttimer Distinguished Administrator Award; the 4CSD (California Community College Council for Staff Development) Presidential Leadership Award; the Network of California Community College Foundations (NCCCF) Presidential Leadership Award; the North American Council for Staff, Program and Organizational Development (NCSPOD) President’s Award; the Single Mothers Outreach of Santa Clarita Education Icon Award; and the Phi Theta Kappa (the community college honor society) Shirley B. Gordon Award of Distinction. She has also been the Santa Clarita Valley Press Club Newsmaker of the Year, the Boy Scouts of America — Leaders of Character Honoree (2007), the Betty Ferguson Foundation Woman of Honor (2009), and the Fifth Supervisorial District Los Angeles County Woman of the Year (2009).
Passionately committed to higher education and its integral role in economic development, Dr. Van Hook has also led the way in forging educational and training partnerships with community organizations, government agencies, and private industry to ensure that citizens possess the high-technology skills that will sustain California’s economic growth.
In the community, Dr. Van Hook is actively involved with many of the groups and organizations that call Santa Clarita home. She has served as a board member of the Red Cross, SCV Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation, United Way Executive Cabinet, and the SCV Fine Arts Council, as well as the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Governance Committee and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer Board of Directors. She helped launch the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation, and still serves on its board of directors.
“Dr. Van Hook’s visionary leadership is evident and far reaching, but what truly sets her apart is her passion and compassion towards those around her,” said COC professor Jia-Yi Cheng Levine. “She cares about the students at COC. She cares about the future of the Santa Clarita Valley and the academic success of local K-12 students who may never attend COC. Most importantly, she cares about those who try to find a new path in their personal and professional lives by mentoring them patiently and graciously.”
Herself a graduate of a community college (Long Beach City College), she is committed to creating outstanding educational opportunities for the benefit of all those served by College of the Canyons.