What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments?
Becoming a college president by the time I was 37 was a major accomplishment.
Being able to turn ideas about what a place like College of the
Canyons could become into reality is another. Growing a small community
college into a suburban center of higher education that has earned the
regard of the community has made me very proud. And being able to do so
with the help of a lot of committed, determined people working together
has made all of the difference. Being able to pass two bond measures in five
years with the help of our volunteers and (campaign chair) Rita Garasi has
enabled us to expand access — the greatest accomplishment of all.
Dr. Dianne Van Hook in 1988.
As a child, can you remember what you wanted
to be when you grew up?
In junior high, I wanted to be an architect. In those
days, they wouldn't let girls take drafting, auto
mechanics, wood shop or advanced math. We could
take art and music, cooking, sewing and typing. On the
aptitude assessment tests I took in junior high, I always
ranked high on spatial relations and mechanical reasoning.
I have always had the ability to design things in
my head, and I am grateful that in my position as
Chancellor, I have had the chance to build them.
Whether it is buildings or programs or partnerships or
people (professional development) or places, I'm in the
You played a big role in changing state funding
formulas that allowed College of the Canyons to
flourish. How did you do it?
In 1988, the funding formula penalized fast-growing colleges like ours as
they didn't account for the actual, real growth of our community. So I set
about on a two-fold mission: First, to get the Department of Finance to
fund our real growth and change our enrollment projections, and, second,
to secure adequate funding for colleges where there was a large demand
for access. I invited representatives from the Department of Finance to come
down here and go up with us in a Sheriff's Department helicopter so they
could see firsthand the growth and building we were talking about. We
were flying over Saugus when the sheriff's pilots got a call about a robbery
in Canyon Country. The helicopters zoomed over to Canyon Country, spotted
the suspects and helped with their capture. When they were done with that
arrest, they wanted to resume the tour but, because we were flying in
curves, everybody on board was sick. I managed to just chew a lot of gum.
I turned to the finance representative who was with us and asked if we
should continue with the tour. She answered, "No. I've seen a lot and I think
I want to go back." And I replied, "Well, you haven't seen the biggest parts
of the growth in our area," to which she responded: "It's OK, I trust you. I
believe what you say. We'll change your projections. Please don't make us
do that ever again." It was a very interesting day and a stellar moment.
We sent them our projected enrollment changes based on the number of
houses to be built. Those projections are the reason we received so much
funding And that's why we got so much growth funding and it's why we
were stepped up for eligibility for funding for future buildings. We started
on our first two big buildings, Mentry Hall and the Library, in 1994. And we
have just been on a fast clip ever since, because of that helicopter ride. As
another positive part of that helicopter experience, as we were funded to
build additional space, we were funded to expand access and serve more
students and businesses.
Tell us about your early career. It's clear
you wanted to be a college president.
I did. While I was teaching junior high school, I
went back to get a master's degree. At the same
time, I was teaching at night at Long Beach City
College and counseling at Cerritos College. I
applied for and was able to secure a one-year
sabbatical leave replacement at Santa Ana
College. I thought if I could get some full-time experience, I would be more
marketable. So I applied at Santa Ana College and got the job. I realized
that I really liked working at the community college level as a counselor and
instructor and I set my sights on that career. However, I was a temporary
replacement. I needed a strategy, so I went into the president's office and
said, "So this is the thing, Dr. Wenrick, I don't want to return to junior high
school teaching. I like the pace of change at the college level. I need a little
assistance. How do you think I can get to stay here?" He told me I could
write some grants, which, if successful, meant that positions could be
added and I could stay. I had no idea what a grant was, but I was willing to
learn. I wrote about five grants and received three of them. So, ultimately it
all worked out and I was able to stay at Santa Ana College.
So, you literally created that position for yourself. What did you do
In my second year at Santa Ana College, I enrolled in a doctoral program in
Educational Leadership at the University of La Verne. In one of my courses
on organizational development, my hypothesis was that we were providing
student services only for traditional students and that was not meeting the
needs of the students who were there. Student services were available only
between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.; we weren't open at night or on
weekends. We weren't supplying services sensitive to the needs of re-entry
adults. And, frankly, our counselors did not represent the students we were
serving. So I developed a proposal to have a non-traditional counseling center
called New Horizons, which would serve women on welfare trying to
obtain skills to go to work, support women to move into "non-traditional
careers," provide support services to non-native English speakers and develop
programs for older adults. At the end of
the term, I made my presentation to the
president of Santa Ana College and immediately
I left for a summer residency at La
Verne. To my surprise, he called two days
later and said, "You know, Dianne, we
want to implement your proposal." I had
strategically written in a counselor position
into each component; I wanted a fulltime
job because I was on soft funding
from a grant that was due to end the next
year. So I assumed he wanted me to fill
one of those positions. But he said, "No,
you're not going to be a counselor. You're
going to run the program." So I became the
coordinator of New Horizons, which
evolved into a model program that in 1984
was deployed statewide.
You made a name for yourself in
Santa Ana making it easier for businesses
to train their employees. Can
I finished my doctoral program and along
the way I became involved in an initiative
with Congressman Jerry Patterson; our
dean of vocational education, Dr. Kathy Lusk; and Dr. Bernie Luskin, who
was the chancellor down at Coast Community College District. We decided
that we needed to do something differently to figure out how to match
companies that wanted to move into Orange County with the right college
for the training they needed, so when they relocated from other areas or
states, they could have a turnkey operation and we could place our students
in real jobs that had a future. That was a challenge in those days because
we didn't have "free flow," so you had to go to the community college where
you lived. The only way you could go anywhere else was if the major you
wanted wasn't available at your local college. We came up with a model
and interacted in the establishment of the Technology Exchange Center in
Garden Grove. It served all four community college districts in Orange
County. All four of the community college districts agreed to let people and
employees of companies that wanted to locate in their areas go to the college
where their training needs could best be met. That was 1981, and it
got a lot of press in Southern California.
When did College of the Canyons first appear on your radar?
When this job (Superintendent-President of College of the Canyons) opened
in 1983, there were several CEOs who nominated me because of my efforts
in establishing the Technology Exchange Center. I applied to College of
the Canyons for the President's position and was invited for an interview.
And despite the directions of the interviewer to not introduce myself and
shake hands, I did so anyway. I went around and tried to memorize the
names of the people around the room. I knew I wouldn't get forwarded
(as a finalist) because I broke the rules.
It sounds like your strategy changed a bit. Can you elaborate?
I decided that I needed to apply for some other jobs, so I applied and
became a finalist for positions as Dean of Student Services. At the same
time, I realized that if I really wanted to be a college president, I needed
institutional experience. That was the path to the presidency in those
days. About that time, the Dean of Instruction/Student Service (Dean of
the College) opened up at Feather River College and I applied. I got to
Quincy for the interview and thought, "What have I done?" When I went
to the interview the next day on the beautiful little campus, I caught my
high heel on a railroad tie sidewalk that ran along the forest and tripped
on the way to the interview. But I did my best and was honest in the
interview. I considered it was a little too rural. I was offered the job.
After I turned it down three times because it was "very out there", I finally
decided to take it. Two years later, the Vice President position opened at
College of the Canyons and I applied. I was the No. 2 candidate.
You worked in Lake Tahoe for a while. How did that come about?
About the time I did not get the Vice President position at College of the
Canyons, I was speaking at a conference in Lake Tahoe. My husband and I
always thought it'd be fun to work in Lake Tahoe. So, when I drove by the
temporary campus of Lake Tahoe Community College, I picked up the
paperwork and applied. Two months later I was hired as Dean of the Lake
Tahoe Community College District. I started July 1, 1986. By now, I had
become very involved in the state, had a bunch of leadership roles and met
a lot of people, including Linda Cubbage, who was a board member at
College of the Canyons. When the Superintendent-President's position at
College of the Canyons opened again in 1988, I applied. It was the only
presidency I had applied for. I wanted to work at College of the Canyons. It
took me three times of applying to be hired here, but I knew it was a great
fit for me. When I saw the Valencia/Santa Clarita area, I thought, "There are
a lot of houses to be built here and a lot of businesses to be started. It's not
landlocked like some colleges that have 25,000 students on 60-acre campuses."
I thought, "There's a lot of potential here." That's why I kept trying.
2007: The Western Los Angeles County Council of the Boy Scouts of America honors Dr. Dianne Van Hook
and her husband, Roger, with the Leaders of Character Award.
So, you had your eye on College of the Canyons since 1983 and
were determined to come here.
Yes. I don't give up. For me, coming to College of the Canyons was something
I wanted to do, and I was going to get there. I thought I would
become a college president in a multi-college district by the time I was 40,
and within another five or six years my goal was to be in charge of a district.
I was a contender to become a district-level CEO directly and eliminate
a large step. I was able to cut out 12 to 16 years of sitting in various jobs to
get where I wanted to be — here at College of the Canyons. If one is a quick
learner, is flexible, and is willing to just do it (and if you don't do it right the
first time, don't give up), you can get where you dream to be. Instead, I
went from being a faculty member to a superintendent-president in four
years. I cut out all kinds of time, which was good for me — because I am
In a sense, you and College of the Canyons found each other.
You've spent the bulk of your career here, and the college has been
under your leadership for most of its existence. Looking back at
the last 25 years here, what are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of being able to really open the doors to access. When I
came here, we had about 4,800 students, and we've had as many as 26,000
students in recent years. That is a significant change. That means that at
any given time, one of every six adults in our community has a connection
to College of the Canyons. As a CEO of a California Community College
District, you don't get to expand access like that very often. Whether it was
getting growth formulas changed so we can get more funding to educate
more people, obtaining the funding for developing new buildings so we
could create and add new programs, developing training partnerships with
industry, building the University Center, or creating Career Technical
Education and the Economic Development Division, we've touched people's
lives, their companies, their relatives and their neighbors. We really have an
impact on this community. Not every college can say that. Every community
college certainly does a great job of providing people chances to get a
jump-start on their college education, to pursue transfer education and to
get trained to be able to make a meaningful living for themselves in some
fields. But what I care about is that we don't just stick to that traditional
mission. We were doing Economic Development before it was formally
added to the mission of community colleges. We began doing contract
training in 1989, and we started growing our Foundation when a lot of colleges
didn't have foundations. We've been writing grants and developing
partnerships, and we haven't stopped doing any of that during any of the
five economic downturns that I've lived through here at College of the
Canyons. We have kept our doors open, and we have expanded our programs.
Now we have a campus in Canyon Country, where 2,400 of our students
take classes exclusively and 3,000 take some of their course load.
When we get the state to pass a bond measure, we can leverage our local
money and bring on another three buildings at the Canyon Country
Campus. It's going to be huge for this community. Because of the amazing
team of people, College of the Canyons has earned the regard of this community
in ways that most colleges can only dream about. The team of people
and what we have done is what I am most proud of.
What does the future hold for College of the Canyons?
Soon we'll be done with the build-out of the Valencia campus in accordance
with the Educational & Facilities Master Plan that we started in 1989. The
existing facilities — whether the original four or five buildings, or the subsequent
ones — will continually require upgrades to accommodate emerging
progress and technology, but the physical structures themselves will be
done. Our next frontier is Canyon Country. We're already there, and we have
the money set aside for three permanent classroom buildings. The first
building is the science classroom and laboratory building. The University
Center and what we offer here will continue to expand. It's becoming even
more popular than it already is. We've had about 26,000 people take classes
in the University Center, and we're adding more programs so that people
with busy lives can be lifelong learners. People will always need to learn
new things all the time. We're streamlining our process to transfer students
to the Cal State University system. We're expanding our role in working
with business and industry to make a high-quality workforce. We're going
to our high schools to help students jump-start their college careers. It's all
about expanding access with the quality that College of the Canyons has
been known for. It's about opportunity.
It's about having the courage to imagine it, to dream it, to achieve
it and to do it for the benefit of our community. It is a bright