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Home » Santa Clarita News » Van Hook Celebrates 20 Years Of COC History

Van Hook Celebrates 20 Years Of COC History

School President took office July 1st 1988.Today, College of the Canyons has been ranked as the 10th fastest growing community college in the nation, and it is widely regarded as one of the most advanced educational institutions of its kind.


At the head of COC, sits Dr. Dianne Van Hook, who celebrates 20 years as the school’s president today.


Dr. Dianne Van Hook in 1988



In honor of the guidance Dr. Van Hook has provided to the college, we put together a list of the some of most notable accomplishments College of the Canyons has enjoyed since Dr. Van Hook took office two decades ago.


  • The school’s budget has grown from $8 million to $169 million.


  • The physical space of the school grew from 200,000 square feet to 560,000 square feet.


  • COC serves over 21,000 students.


  • COC opened their Canyon Country Campus in 2007.


  • The University Center is under construction now. When completed the program will offer credential programs and undergraduate and graduate degrees from a variety of universities right on the COC campus. (note: the program is already active, but will be expanded when the Center is completed).


  • The College opened their 900+ seat Performing Arts Center, which now hosts our City’s biggest entertainment events.


  • Business in Santa Clarita has benefited from programs generated at COC, including the Employee Training Institute, Center for Advanced Competitive Technologies, and the Small Business Development Center.


Below is a much more detailed history of Dr. Van Hook’s legacy. The following was drafted by several admiring employees of College of the Canyons, and KHTS is proud to recognize the history of Dr. Dianne Van Hook. 


A New Era of Leadership

Celebrated as a new leader for a new era, on July 1, 1988 Dr. Dianne Gracia Van Hook, a 37-year-old college administrator from the Lake Tahoe Community College District, was chosen from a field of 23 finalists to succeed former COC Superintendent-President Dr. Ramon F. LaGrandeur.


When she accepted the position, Van Hook — COC’s fourth Superintendent–President — became the youngest serving Superintendent-President in California, and one of only five women to serve as a district-level CEO. Currently, she is the longest serving CEO in the entire California Community College system.


It’s fair to say that no one at COC fully comprehended the scope of changes that were in store for the college with Van Hook at the helm — no one, that is, except Van Hook.


Since arriving at COC, Dr. Van Hook has utilized her energy, commitment, flexibility and leadership style to work with talented faculty and staff to develop plans to expand instructional programs, to secure a significant increase in funding for the college, and to add much-needed buildings to the college.


Under her 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. 


Now operating on two campuses, which serve an ever-increasing and diverse population numbering more than 250,000 people, College of the Canyons ranks as the tenth fastest-growing community college in the nation — due largely in part to Van Hook’s creation of a campus atmosphere filled with innovation, positive change and passionate willingness to blaze new trails.


Dr. Van Hook is resourceful and a strong and consistent advocate for community colleges at the state and national levels. She has served as president of the Community College League of California (CCLC) Board of Directors, the Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges (CEOCCC), and the Association of California Community College Administrators.  Her leadership has garnered wide recognition, including the Five Star Leader Award from the Community College League of California, the Harry Buttimer Distinguished Administrator Award from the Association of California Community Colleges Administrators, and the Presidential Leadership Award from the Network of California Community College Foundations.


Passionately committed to higher education and its integral role in economic development, Van Hook has 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.  She serves on the Economic Development Program Advisory Committee.


Under her leadership, the College has established Academy of the Canyons, the University Center, and opened its doors to high school students through concurrent enrollment.  The business community has benefited from the Employee Training Institute, Center for Advanced Competitive Technologies, and the Small Business Development Center.


In the community, Dr. Van Hook has been actively involved with many of the groups and organizations that make Santa Clarita a great place to live.  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.  She sits on the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Governance Committee and the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer Board of Directors.


Herself a graduate of a community college (Long Beach City College), she is committed to creating outstanding educational opportunities for the benefit of everyone served by College of the Canyons.


COC and DVH: The Early Years

Within a year of Van Hook’s arrival, College of the Canyons earned the distinction of being the fastest-growing community college in California — prompting the new Superintendent-President to initiate an ambitious facilities master plan that would reshape the campus.


By 1990, with some 6,500 students attending classes on a campus designed for 5,000, the college was beginning to experience the effects of overcrowding. It would be up to Van Hook to meet the challenge of accommodating the needs of a student population that was growing faster than anyone had imagined — with a goal to meet the demands of a projected 20,000 students at COC by the year 2010.


But there were obstacles, the most significant being the state funding formula for fast-growing community colleges like COC. At the time, California’s funding system did not account for such high rates of growth. It was then that Van Hook and fellow college leaders crafted a strategy to lobby the legislators in Sacramento to correct the out-dated funding system — and set off on the college’s destiny.


Eventually, with the help of state Sen. Ed Davis, legislation to correct the funding formula and boost revenue was enacted. State officials were persuaded to award millions of construction dollars the college needed to embark on a long-delayed expansion of facilities.


Following the success of Proposition 153, a statewide school construction bond issue that earmarked $15 million to the college in 1992, COC began a much needed and long-overdue $56-million construction effort that produced a string of new buildings and expanded facilities. First out of the gate was the new 5,960-square-foot Family Studies & EarlyChildhood Education Center, which opened in 1995.


Van Hook also played an instrumental role in winning the reinstatement of construction projects valued at $70 million to be included in the 1992-93 state budget, affecting 13 community college districts across the state.


The Construction of a College Continues

In 1995, College of the Canyons kicked off its 25th Anniversary while Van Hook continued to pursue construction projects that would enhance the college’s facilities and increase student access to education.


In addition, the college completed roughly $3.4 million in campus repairs and $1.5 million in preemptive structural improvements as a result of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Later in 1995 the college broke ground on two new facilities: the Library and Media and Fine Arts Building, which both opened in 1997.


As enrollment continued to climb in 1997, the two new buildings symbolized a revitalized campus and helped alleviate campus crowding while ushering in a corresponding expansion of 139 new classes and programs. Later that year, the college’s Employee Training Institute opened its Valencia Learning Center to help augment educational training opportunities with local business and industry.


Campus expansion continued throughout the 90s under Van Hook’s leadership, both in and out of the classroom, and especially on the athletic field. In 1998 College of the Canyons fielded a football program for the first time in 17 years — in addition to introducing women’s golf and soccer programs that same year.


Significant strides were also made in the educational arena with the addition of multimedia and fire-technology programs, and expanded curriculum in the areas of theater, physical education, library science, media studies, photography and radio-television and the new PACE (Progressive Adult College Education) program which caters to working adults.


By 1998, after only 10 years at College of the Canyons, Van Hook had emerged as a powerful, results-orientated advocate for every community college in the state. Aside from her success in persuading lawmakers to change the state funding criteria in the college’s favor, from 1988-1998 Van Hook generated $56 million in additional revenue that the college would not have otherwise received — and helped secure a $75 million commitment from the Chancellor’s Office for campus expansion over a 10-year period.


“The upcoming years present an opportunity to do things at College of the Canyons that many colleges just dream about,” said Van Hook at the start of the fall 1998 semester. “Will it be easy? Probably not. But to maximize our legacy to the future, meet the demands of our students and return value to our community, we must face challenges with optimism and action. And, we must all be accountable for what we do.”


Heading into the New Millennium

In 1999 COC’s enrollment surpassed the 10,000 mark, achieving a quadruple-digit growth rate for the second year in a row — making for an increasingly crowded campus.


Facilities expansion continued unabated in 1999, with the most visible project coming in the form of the renovated Student Center. Other projects included the addition of 10,000 square feet of new classroom space in seven modular buildings, collectively called the Modular Classroom Village.This complex housed 14 much-needed new classrooms for college instruction.


At the same time, an additional modular structure was added in order to house the first bachelor’s degree programs offered on campus, made possible through an innovative partnership with Cal State Bakersfield and the University of La Verne. Those partnerships would serve as a precursor to the more ambitious University Center project for which Van Hook had already begun planning.


In 2001, a $10 million capital campaign to build a permanent facility for this endeavor was started. However the ability to enroll in upper-division programs locally at COC become so popular that an interim facility to house the University Center’s programs was opened to meet the community’s demands in early 2002.


But the University Center wasn’t the only educational partnership Van Hook had in mind for COC. The college and the William S. Hart Union High School District together took a bold step forward as Van Hook pursued state funding to add a high school campus to the college’s property.


Named Academy of the Canyons, this “middle college” concept would allow high-potential high school students to attend both high school and college courses concurrently, giving them a significant jump on their future academic or work careers.


With the help of grant funds, the college would soon launch its MESA (Math, Engineering, Science Advancement) program to encourage more students to consider majors and careers in science, engineering and other math-based fields, and to continue developing programs in manufacturing, engineering and computer networking.


Later in 1999, plans for the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center moved forward. Though included in the college’s original master plan in 1969, and scheduled to be built within the first decade of the college’s existence, state funding for the facility never materialized.


Nevertheless Van Hook kept the dream alive by identifying the Performing Arts Center as an essential part of the campus, while continuing to lobby for state funding to build the facility. Finally state officials agreed to fund the project, but only if the college could submit revised plans for the theater and accompanying music-dance instruction areas — in just 36 hours.  College officials and the center’s architects quickly revised their plans and submitted them before deadline, ensuring the PAC’s eventual construction.


However the PAC would be even grander than anyone originally envisioned, thanks to a $2.4 million commitment from the City of Santa Clarita in March 2000 to dramatically expand the center’s capacity — from 400 to roughly 900 seats.


Educational additions to the college that year included new programs in biotechnology, fire technology, laser and orbital welding, advanced manufacturing, hotel and restaurant management, graphic arts, multimedia technology, broadcast technology, cinema, radio-television-film, electronic music and computer networking.


A New Millennium Dawns

As the new millennium dawned, College of the Canyons experienced some pivotal events as the pace of progress actually quickened and gained added significance through the first half of the new decade.


The Modular Classroom Village opened for its first classes in 2000, relieving some of the pressure caused by crowding more than 10,000 students into a campus originally designed for half that number.


The first COC Summer Intensive Spanish Institute was held, and soon developed a loyal following. The Spanish Institute provides courses for students wanting to develop a specialized skill set within the language — for specific use in the teaching, healthcare, business or law enforcement fields.


The remodeled and expanded Student Center opened in the summer of 2000, featuring a dramatic new entry, a larger dining room and more space for programs such as health services and student development.


With such unprecedented growth the campus’ parking lots soon revealed their limitations, and the decision was made to build the South Parking Lot. Construction began in early 2001 with most of the $8 million project completed in time for the start of the fall semester. In all, the project added 1,600 additional parking spaces to the campus.


Also in 2000, the very first classes began at Academy of the Canyons — with more than 130 students opting to attend both high school and college classes concurrently on the COC campus. History would be made in June 2001, when the first class of 55 students graduated.


That summer, history was also made in the college’s boardroom when the trustees supported Van Hook’s request to present an $82.1 million bond measure to voters that would address the college’s limitations in the face of unprecedented enrollment growth. The bond measure, to be called Measure C on the November 2001 ballot, would help finance a variety of new buildings, expansion projects and facility improvements.


Student enrollment grew yet again in the fall of 2001, rising 18 percent over the previous year, as 12,851 students registered for classes. That year, COC also created a more significant presence in the eastern Santa Clarita Valley, opening its ACCESS center – featuring several classrooms and a computer lab – inside the new Jo Anne Darcy Canyon Country Library.


The move represented one of the first tangible inroads into an area of the valley that was home to some 32 percent of the college’s students. Van Hook and other college leaders understood that this area would require even more attention in the future. It was here that the college was laying the groundwork to acquire property and build a full-service campus.


When the November elections rolled around, local voters decided that College of the Canyons should move forward in a bold and dramatic way. An overwhelming 68 percent of local voters approved Measure C, the $82.1 million general-obligation bond measure to renovate facilities and build new ones.


And in December, the year came to a close with groundbreaking ceremonies for the highly anticipated Performing Arts Center.


In early 2002 The Signal newspaper honored Van Hook as its 2001 Newsmaker of the Year — recognizing her efforts to move the college forward in significant and dramatic ways, culminating with the community’s overwhelming approval of Measure C.


Facilities expansion continued in 2002 as work began in the fall on the Vocational Technology Center — adding 3,500 square feet of space to accommodate new manufacturing technology classes and nearly $200,000 worth of new equipment.


In a state experiencing an acute shortage of nurses, College of the Canyons soon emerged as an educational leader in nursing education. In September of 2002 the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital / College of the Canyons ClinicalEducation Center opened its doors on the hospital campus. The center represented a unique cooperative effort between the college and the hospital to help alleviate the nurse shortage. Then, in early 2003, the college took the lead with the new Associate Degree Nursing Regional Collaborative, an innovative partnership among the region’s hospitals and community colleges to produce even more qualified nurses. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges was so impressed with College of the Canyons that it granted unconditional re-accreditation for the maximum-allowable six-year term in early 2003.


Athletic accomplishments figured prominently in 2003. In May, the men’s golf team won its third state championship and in June, a $1 million renovation of Cougar Stadium was unveiled to the public, revealing a state-of-the-art synthetic-grass playing field, a new running track and remodeled restrooms. Also that summer, men’s soccer was added to the college’s roster of intercollegiate sports.


For most students, it just wouldn’t be College of the Canyons without the constant clatter of construction activity — and 2004 was punctuated by more of the same.


Construction began on the 20,000-square-foot Music-Dance Building, a $7 million Measure C-funded project adjacent to the Performing Arts Center, which itself was still under construction.  The college warehouse was expanded from 10,000 square feet to 18,500 square feet, and the road that serves as the main entrance off Rockwell Canyon Road was reconfigured to incorporate a circular pattern for pick-ups and drop-offs.


As a sign of the inevitable construction still to come, the University Center’s $10 million capital campaign hit the $7 million fundraising mark in 2004, and the state gave the college the green light to move forward with plans to acquire land in Canyon Country on which to build a second campus.


But the big news of 2004 was the opening of the magnificent $18.3 million Performing Arts Center, representing years of persistent effort by Van Hook and other college officials. The community welcomed the long awaited center, which would now fulfill the dual role of serving as both a performance venue for the college’s arts programs and the valley’s independent arts groups.


As an encore to the completion of the PAC, the college took another major step forward in 2004 when the California Community Colleges Board of Governors and California Postsecondary Education Commission gave COC the go-ahead to build its Canyon Country Campus.


COC Continues to Lead the Way

The college and its leadership continued blazing new trails in 2005. The year began on a promising note, as the first class of 103 nursing students began instruction under the auspices of the Southern California Associate Degree Nursing Regional Collaborative.


Construction continued its hectic pace, as ground was broken in May on the new High Technology Building — a 34,000-square-foot complex of classrooms, labs and offices nestled between the StudentCenter and Physical Education Center. In addition, site preparation work began on a Science Building expansion project.


Later that year a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education revealed the rate of transfer of students from COC to University of California and California State University schools was the highest of all 21 colleges in Los Angeles County — and in the top 14.5 percent of the 109 California community colleges.


In September of 2005, the college welcomed a class of more than 120 regular and reserve Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who would begin their training at the new Sheriff’s North Academy housed on the COC campus. The next month COC would put the finishing touches on a new biotechnology center containing state-of-the-art laboratory space and a 2,000 square foot clean room — to be utilized by the college’s life sciences and engineering programs and housed at the Mann Biomedical Park.


From 2005 to 2006 the college also made a number of curriculum expansions, adding programs in paralegal studies, construction management, land surveying and culinary arts, while enhancing course offerings in the subjects of geography, anthropology and welding.


January of 2006 brought with it the college’s first full-fledged comprehensive winter intersession, allowing students to enroll in classes over a five-week period during the winter break.


However as the college continued to experience rapid growth and a surge in the student population, in August Van Hook convinced the board of trustees to place a $160 million general obligation bond to fund badly needed classroom space, lab areas and other campus facility needs, called Measure M, on the upcoming November ballet.


But that didn’t stop the college from moving forward with its previous construction plans. Just a few weeks later, COC broke ground on a roughly 21,000 square foot $6.4 million Physical Education Building expansion project — using a combination of state funding and local Measure C funds. The project, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2008, will add badly needed office space, new locker rooms, and additional instruction space for the college’s physical education department and intercollegiate athletics programs.


Joy filled the college in November 2006 as SCV residents overwhelmingly approved the college’s $160 million Measure M, earning 62.3 percent of the vote — the highest approval rate among the nine California community college bonds presented to voters that year. The bond’s passing also put the college in a position to leverage an additional $80 million in state matched funds to contribute to future construction projects.


In late 2006 a study by Community College Week revealed that between the fall 2004 and fall 2005 semesters COC was the fastest growing community college in the nation with enrollments of 10,000 or more.


In March of 2007 Van Hook and other COC officials were joined by sizeable collection of SCV community leaders as the college broke ground on the $36 million University Center building project.  Cited by COC President-Superintendent Dianne Van Hook as the college's solution to the lack of upper division, graduate school and continuing education programs in the valley, the University Center concept was designed to improve student access to advanced degrees by forging partnerships with four-year colleges and universities, which will then offer their academic programs to COC students via on-campus extension courses.


"Our goal was to create an educational center based on partnerships," said Van Hook about the college's interim University Center, which opened in January 2002 and has since served more than 13,000 students. "Today is a symbol of what persistence, dedication and never giving up can achieve.”


Located near the south parking lot and overlooking the existing campus, the 110,000-square-foot facility is scheduled for completion in the fall 2009 semester. Upon completion, the University Center will house at least 10 partnering colleges and universities and offer more than 70 different degree and credential programs.


In May of 2007 the COC board of trustees decided to honor Van Hook’s efforts in leading the move toward establishing the University Center by voting unanimously to name the facility the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center.


In doing so, board members specifically cited Van Hook’s “tireless commitment to enhancing access to education, her belief in the power of dreaming big and never giving up, and her premise that we, as individuals and institutions, become what we give ourselves the power to be."


"This is an incredible honor," said Van Hook at the time the decision was announced. “It represents to me what public education is all about, which is, if you can dream it, you can do it. But you can't ever give up. You have to explore all your options, and you always have to be willing to learn."


During the summer of 2007 the college also opened two new buildings on the Valencia campus: the recently completed Aliso Lab and accompanying Aliso Lecture Hall.


The new three-story science classroom building, Aliso Lab, provided the space for an expansion of the biology, chemistry, biotechnology, allied health, chemistry, engineering, math and physical science departments — and is linked by a bridge to the pre-existing science building.  The new lecture hall, Aliso Hall, a one-story freestanding general-use facility, houses three 100-seat, sloped-floor lecture rooms. Each lecture room has full audio-visual and laboratory demonstration capabilities. 


Combined, the two new $15.4 million Measure C funded structures provided an additional 43,000 square feet of sophisticated, state-of-the-art, and extremely functional areas to the College of the Canyons' already-impressive learning environment.


Under Van Hook’s leadership COC would soon become “one college on two campuses” with the opening of the $51.6 million COC Canyon Country Campus (CCC) on the first day of the 2007 fall semester — just two years after the land for the campus was initially purchased.


With the opening of the CCC also came the beginning of the William S. Hart Union High School District's Early College High School (ECHS), housed on the new campus. The design of the ECHS allows students to enroll in both high school and college level classes, with a goal to graduate with both a high school diploma and associate's degree. The ECHS opened with 85 students in 2007, and will add a new freshman class each year.


In September of 2007, College of the Canyons, Van Hook and the college’s professional development program were honored by the National Council for Staff, Program and Organizational Development (NCSPOD) for their determined efforts in the advancement of employees. Specifically the award honored Van Hook’s efforts to help create and implement various professional development programs at COC — which have served as models for other colleges to adopt.


In November 2007 COC officially opened the $17.5 million Hasley Hall, a high technology classroom building funded by Measure C bonds. The campus’ largest building at 49,505 square feet, Hasley Hall houses the college’s business, cinema, computer information technology, computer science, communications studies, economics and journalism programs.

Van Hook Celebrates 20 Years Of COC History

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