Dr. John C. Hernandez officially became the fifth president of Santiago Canyon College in July 2017. Prior to his appointment, he served as interim president of SCC. Dr. Hernandez started his tenure at SCC in 2005 as the vice president for student services. In addition to that role, in 2009, he was appointed executive director of the SCC Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks private donations on behalf of the college. Prior to his tenure at Santiago Canyon College, Dr. Hernandez served in high-level administrative positions Cal Poly Pomona, Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton. Additionally, he has served as an adjunct instructor in the Student Development in Higher Education graduate program at Cal State Long Beach, and taught counseling and student development courses at various other colleges. Dr. Hernandez has been included in a number of academic publications and has also been a regular presenter at higher education conferences. He holds an associate degree in arts from Fullerton College; a B.A. in sociology from Cal State Fullerton; an M.S. in counseling with an emphasis in student development in higher education from Cal State Long Beach; and a Ph.D. in college student personnel administration from the University of Maryland/College Park.
Your editor sat down with Dr. Hernandez to discuss his new leadership role.
How does it personally feel to be the president of Santiago Canyon College?
I am honored to have this opportunity. I was drawn to higher education because I wanted to make a difference. Serving as interim president, I realized I was ready to assume this leadership role, and really look forward to leading this incredible college in continuing to make a difference in the lives of our students, our community, and in our region.
What do you see as your primary role as president of SCC?
I see my role as being the public face for the college. I also see my role as a leader in building partnerships with K-12 schools, other colleges and universities, businesses and the community. And given the reality that current state funding is leaving us with too many unfunded priorities, I also increasing need to take a direct fundraising role on behalf of SCC.
Prospective students have a lot of options in higher education. What makes SCC stand out as a choice?
The SCC college community believes that what we do here makes a difference to our students. Our college’s tagline – WHAT HAPPENS HERE MATTERS – reflects that belief and is much more than a marketing ploy. Faculty, staff, and administrators take pride in redefining the student-focused experience and share a sense of responsibility for creating a welcoming and supportive campus environment with excellent student services and support. There’s a reason we were ranked #13 among the 50 Best Community Colleges for 2016-17 by College Choice, a leading authority in college and university rankings. SCC was selected out of over 1600 community colleges nationally and is the only college in Orange County to garner top 50 status. We really do provide our students a unique, student-focused experience.
You’ve served at SCC for 12 years: as vice president for student service, executive director of the foundation, and as interim president. What do you see as the college’s biggest strengths? Biggest challenges?
We have a lot of challenges. One of the biggest is an aging local population and a decline in K-12 enrollment, meaning our student pipeline might shrink. On the other hand, an aging population is also an opportunity to expand our adult education programs for older adults and meet the needs of other underserved communities, like adults with disabilities. Another challenge is that we’ve had to close the Orange Education Center on Batavia for renovations. These upgrades are necessary, but in the short term are having an effect on the quality of service we can offer our noncredit students. In addition, SCC may not be offering the instructional programs that many students want, particularly in the career technical education area. When SCC became an independently accredited college, it was decided not to duplicate many of the programs that Santa Ana College offers, programs like nursing, fire academy, criminal justice academy and most vocational programs (auto repair, occupational therapy, welding, pharmacy technology). Many of these programs, especially in health care fields, are among those most likely to grow in the future. So we need to figure what new programs we can develop that are relevant to the community. Finally, we are coming to the conclusion that we can’t any longer rely only on state financial support. This realization requires us to start doing some of the things that four-year colleges –public and private – have long done, like cultivating alumni and other potential affinity groups and developing financial partnerships with community partners.
On the “strengths” side, we have a long list. We have modern, beautiful state-of-the-art facilities that positively shape the learning environment. We’re a young college with a less entrenched bureaucracy – a place where we’re still defining traditions and have staff and faculty who are highly motivated to explore new ideas, partnerships or initiatives. We offer an ethnically, culturally and generationally diverse and vibrant student community. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been nationally recognized as one of the best community colleges. Some of our programs, like our online Real Estate and Surveying programs, have received national accolades. Most people don’t know this, but SCC also directs California’s largest apprenticeship program, providing skilled workers in the fields of carpentry, electricity, power lineman and surveying, to name a few. We also offer the only comprehensive surveying/mapping sciences program and the most comprehensive water utility in the county. We also offer one of the state’s largest continuing education program (adult education). And that’s just the tip of the ice berg.
What do you see as SCC’s primary role in our local community?
Community colleges are distinct from other institutions of public higher education in that we primarily serve our local community. We are charged with educating tomorrow’s workforce and meeting the educational needs of our local communities. We want to continue our partnership with Orange Unified School District to make an affordable college education possible for all who want one. We want to continue to expand our business and industry partnerships, to ensure we are offering relevant career and technical education training for tomorrow’s workforce. We also want to make it easier for students to transfer to four-year institutions, both public and private, in a way that prepares them fully and keeps down the costs of their degrees. Through our Continuing Education Division (adult education), we can meet the needs of adult learners for high school diplomas, English language training, business and computer skills development and personal enrichment program for older adults. All of these roles enrich the community, economically, socially and culturally.
Any new program initiatives you like to share?
Yes, we do have some exciting new programs. We just opened a First-Year Support Center to provide a one-stop service center for new students. We also just established the Hawk’s Nest Food Pantry, a free resource developed to address growing food insecurity among credit and noncredit students. Last year, we opened an Art Gallery that provides a dedicated space for the art department to show exhibits, including works of our talented alumni. We now offer 22 associate degrees for transfer that provides guaranteed admissions to a California State University. Two years ago we added a biotechnology degree and certificate program to meet the local workforce needs of the biomedical industry. We are continuing to develop several Career Technical Education (CTE) certificate programs in 2017-2018 including: Business Information Worker and Information Communication Technology. We’re also enhancing several existing programs by incorporating drone technology into the curriculum.
The physical plant of the college has come a long way since 2000, with Bond Measure E funds adding a new library, athletics complex, science center and humanities building. What’s the next building priority or priorities and the timetable for completion? Challenges to completion?
We are grateful to local taxpayers for approving Measure E, which allowed this campus to build the first-class facilities we have today. However, we still have several projects we hope to complete, including a Fine and Performing Arts Center and a one-stop Student Services Center. We also have the two older buildings (A and B) that will need renovations and other infrastructure needs as the college facilities age. The major challenge is making a case to our community that we have the need for a new building bond measure. In order to fully build-out the college we will need community support and bonds are not easy to pass.
The college has begun to engage alumni more actively in recent years, in ways very similar to the way four-year colleges do. What role or roles would you like to see SCC alumni playing at SCC?
It is my hope that alumni stay in touch and find meaningful ways to reconnect with their alma mater. For some, that might involve participating in the alumni network, for others it may be returning to campus to participate in activities or events, or becoming an ambassador for the college by telling your story of how SCC made a difference in your educational experience. It’s really frustrating for me to see how many alumni hide SCC in their LinkedIn profiles. Feel a sense of pride in having attended SCC—you made a financially smart, educationally strategic choice. Include us on your resume, in your LinkedIn profile and other places that highlight your educational experience. At some point when you are financially able to do so, “pay it forward” to future students by donating to the SCC Foundation. If there was a program that changed your life, be it Model UN, Forensics, Athletics, ASG, support it, even with a small donation. Stay in touch with faculty and staff whom you connected with while a student, and continue to share with them what you have done since leaving SCC—we want to know about and share your accomplishments.
Putting your futurist hat on, what do you project SCC will look like in 2050, when it celebrates its 50th anniversary as an accredited community college?
Seems really tough to predict the future, but I’m confident that 33 years from now, when I come back for the 50th anniversary, I’ll find a student population that is larger and more richly diverse – in age and background – than ever, and a college that has become an important educational, cultural and social hub for the surrounding community. Go Hawks!
Recently, SCC student Solomon Jones sat down with Professor William Lennertz, Professor of English, to learn more about his path to SCC, his thoughts on education and his motivation for teaching.
Professor Lennertz comes from a family of teachers – his mother and a number of other family members also teach. Professor Lennertz grew up in Huntington Beach and went to college at Cal State Long Beach, where he was taught by people who were talented, idealistic and hard working. He credits both his family members who teach and his former teachers as his role models in deciding to become a college professor.
Professor Lennertz’s path to becoming a successful English professor was far from usual. In college he was a math major who saw himself in a career working on math and engineering problems in a university lab. However, during grad school he paid the bills by being a teaching assistant, and found that he really enjoyed helping undergraduates succeed within the classroom. He also decided that he could make the biggest difference in students’ lives by teaching English.
In his approach to teaching, Professor Lennertz focuses not only on providing his students with information, but also on mentoring. He sees a student as a complete individual and determines how he can best provide that student with the tools for his or her academic success.
“My goal is to help the student understand what he or she needs to get out of this class. The rest will take care of itself.”
Professor Lennertz started working at SCC in 1996, when the college was still known as the Orange Campus of Santa Ana College. There are many reasons he decided to stay. In the beginning, the campus was small, and professors and staff all knew on another. The camaraderie everyone shared helped create the sense of this being a real learning community. This was important, since the (then) remote location and its proximity to the Santa Ana Mountains made the campus something more akin to a wildlife preserve than a college campus, with fauna of all size making occasional appearances!
Although SCC has grown and the campus is much more developed now, Professor Lennertz still enjoys meeting new teachers and students, and has lost none of his excitement for teaching.
In his spare time, he enjoys painting, running with SCC English professor Rick Adams, and long walks on the beach with his wife.
What advice does Professor Lennertz have for SCC students? “Discover what you’re good at by the time you’re 24 and do that for the next 27 years.”
Solomon Jones, Santiago Canyon College Foundation Assistant
Dr. John Weispfenning was confirmed as the fourth president of Santiago Canyon College in August 2014. Just prior to his appointment, he was vice president of instruction at Orange Coast College and before that dean of instruction for the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences and library at Santiago Canyon College. He started his career in 1992 as an assistant professor at the University of Maine, and subsequently joined the faculty of Otterbein University in Ohio before moving to California.
A native of North Dakota, Dr. Weispfenning holds a BA in mass communication from Minnesota State University (Moorhead), an M.A. in communication from North Dakota State and a Ph.D. in communications from Purdue. Before pursuing a career in academia, he worked as a journalist and radio broadcaster for stations throughout the Midwest. He is the author of more than a dozen scholarly publications on various media and mass communication topics.
How does it feel to be back at Santiago Canyon College as president? It feels great to be back. I always knew this was a special campus. There’s a spirit of cooperation here that’s rare in higher education. That spirit helps build a sense of shared ownership of the college and it’s a great organization.
What do you see as your primary role as president of SCC?
A president’s primary role is to make sure that the campus continues to have the resources it needs to thrive. He or she also needs to be able to look to the future and ensure that the college continues to build a following and remain relevant to the community it serves.
Prospective students have a lot of options in higher education. What makes SCC stand out as a choice?
SCC was just named one of the top 10 community colleges in the LA area, based on graduation rates. Our location is also a major factor. SCC is located in a beautiful area, convenient to freeways, toll roads and Jamboree Road. There’s also our amazing facilities, which include new science and humanities buildings, an athletics complex and library. We also offer an interesting range of course work, including popular transfer degrees, technical degrees and one of the largest trade apprenticeship programs in California.
After a year in the office and a chance to observe and evaluate, what do you see as the college’s strengths? Remaining challenges?
Hands down, the people who work here are our number one strength. Nothing happens unless faculty and staff make it happen. Our physical campus is in a beautiful location and we have the facilities to meet today’s and future needs. The addition of our science and humanities buildings has helped define a real center to campus and created a vibrant hub for student life.
As far as challenges, Santiago Canyon College needs to become a major player in Orange County. As the newest community college in the county, SCC has gone through some growing pains; the student body hasn’t actually grown as fast as the amazing facilities we have to accommodate them. We think the need and demand are there, but if we’re going to attract more students, we can’t be a local secret; we have to be one of the first community colleges that comes to mind for a student starting a college search, whether for a transfer degree, professional development or retooling for a new career.
What do you see as SCC’s primary role in the local community?
Our primary role is to provide affordable and clear pathways to a college degree or additional training to people who want to improve their economic standing or their understanding of the world (or both!) We offer a wide range of programs that allow people in our diverse district do just that. Beyond this mission, we are also a major employer for the City of Orange. We also want to be a good partner with surrounding communities we serve and with other non-profits. We have active partnerships with organizations like Orange County CoastKeepers, local Rotary Clubs, the Community Foundation of Orange and local K-12 school districts. We also are increasingly partnering with local universities, including Chapman University and Cal State Fullerton.
In addition, we want to be a vibrant resource and hub for the surrounding neighborhoods and are actively trying to develop ways to bring more people to campus by making our neighbors more aware of programs and events we host that would be of interest to them.
Any new program initiatives you like to share?
The State of California is engaged in a large number of initiatives that we are implementing, including programs that make transitioning to college easier (especially for traditionally under-represented populations), make transferring to four-year colleges easier and more transparent, provide better access to technical career education, and expand non-credit adult education that is designed to teach people necessary life and professional skills. We have recently started an innovative bio-technology certificate program to meet growing demand for people with practical skills in that area.
The physical plant of the college has come a long way since 2000, with Bond Measure E funds adding several new buildings. What’s the next building priority or priorities and the timetable for completion? Challenges to completion?
We’ll never be done; facilities development is an on-going process. But funding under Measure E is nearly finished; the current rehabilitation of the Orange Education Center on Batavia in Orange is the last Measure E project. The next two priority projects in the Facilities Master Plan are a new Student Center and a Performing Arts Center, but funding for these will likely require another local bond measure, in addition to state funding. I’d estimate that it’ll be at least 2020 before we can move forward on these projects.
The college has begun to engage alumni more actively in recent years, in ways very similar to the way four-year colleges do. What roles would you like to see SCC alumni playing at the college?
I hope our alumni will feel a strong connection to Santiago Canyon College. Many times alumni leave here and transfer their loyalty to their four-year transfer college. My hope is that they will proudly broadcast their decision to attend SCC as a smart decision, as well as the place where they got their start, found their passion or got their second chance. We want to be remembered and valued as having played an important role in their lives.
There are lots of roles our alumni can play at SCC. Whether alumni just come back to campus for an athletic event, keep a faculty member up-to-date or get involved by mentoring a student, accepting phone calls from students or joining the alumni network, every contribution matters. Students should keep SCC on their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles once they get into USC, Cal State Fullerton or UCLA. Once a Hawk, always a Hawk. To me, starting out at a high-quality community college like SCC is a smart economic decision. Why rack up loan debt taking two years of breadth requirements at a four-year, when you can achieve the same thing for much less money at SCC?
Where do you see the College in 2030, when it celebrates its 30th anniversary?
Looking into the crystal ball, I see the campus built out as planned, with a student center that will become the hub for student life and a performing arts center that will enrich the local cultural scene. We’ll be surrounded by new neighborhoods to the east that will become part of our community. We’ll continue to serve the diverse student body that we serve now. Our goal is to keep preparing students for an ever-evolving workforce, always with an eye on preparing them smarter and better. If we continue to do that, we can ensure that other local colleges will look to Santiago Canyon College as a role model, and that prospective students will think of SCC first when they start their college search.
Solomon Jones needed a second chance and he thinks he’s getting it at SCC. Growing up in a difficult home environment, he’s dealt with the kind of disruption kids in SCC’s Guardian Scholars support program for emancipated foster youth know all too well. And he responded to his circumstances in a way so many kids do – with a negative attitude and less-than-stellar academic performance.
But buried beneath the bad attitude and low grades was a smart, big thinker with vast potential. This is, after all, the kid who at 13 started his own record label –RaceDeep Records, the goal of which remains to put positive lyrics to Hip Hop music.
“As a child, I went to an Angel’s baseball game where I ended up in the dugout and got a Polaroid photo with one of the players. He must have seen something in me, because he signed the photo “Solomon, go to college!”
Eventually, Solomon started to imagine that he could alter his life’s course. He credits his El Modena High School English teacher, Jason Moeller, for helping him see his potential and planting the idea that a boyhood dream of attending UCLA was not out of reach, despite an underwhelming academic track record.
After coming to SCC to finish his high school diploma, Solomon transitioned into an Associate Arts for Transfer (AAT) program in 2007. There have been a lot of new challenges since then, including a 3-year hiatus working dead-end retail jobs that eventually only bolstered his resolve to go back to SCC. He speaks very highly of all of the dedicated staff and faculty who have offered counseling support, but is especially grateful to Associate Dean of Student Development Loretta Jordan for suggesting he apply for SCC’s Guardian Scholars program and to Diana Casares for introducing him to Associated Student Government (ASG), where he currently serves as Athletics Commissioner. He’s majoring in English in the hopes of following someday in the footsteps of El Modena’s Mr. Moeller: becoming a high school or college English teacher who really cares about students, even the rebellious ones.
Asked about what being an SCC Hawk has meant to him, Solomon expresses a worldly wisdom that would one sooner expect from someone years older: “SCC has given me the chance to change course and work toward my goal of obtaining a 4-year college degree. Building a life – in the long run – is more important than short-term goals like earning money from dead-end jobs to buy a cool car. The sacrifice is worth it. The future is in education.”
When counselor Phil Crabill began working for Santiago Canyon College in 2007, he felt as if he were coming home as he was a member of the college’s first graduating class in 2000.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college so my graduation was a big deal,” he recalls.
From SCC, he transferred to Cal State Fullerton where he earned a B.A. in psychology and an M.S. in counseling. Later, he completed an Ed.D. in counseling psychology at Argosy University.
“I always knew I wanted to teach and counsel at the college level, but didn’t know it would be so rewarding,” he says.
In 2007, Crabill was hired as a part-time counselor for SCC Career Technical Education (CTE) for the grant-funded program, “CTE Teach.” In 2009, he became a part-time program coordinator and assisted with the Middle School Exploration Program. His primary role was to design and deliver career exploration curricula to students in six middle schools in the Orange Unified School District.
In 2011, he turned his attention to counseling STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students through the Title V-Hispanic Serving Institutions grant program. His mission was to increase student retention and success in core major courses as well as prerequisite courses within the biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics disciplines. He also continued to grow partnerships with local feeder high schools and help high school seniors in the application and matriculation process. In addition, he facilitated STEM-related workshops, including the Pre-Medical Workshop, Education Planning 101 and Careers in Engineering.
In 2013, Crabill was selected as a full-time general counselor/instructor. He is excited to have this opportunity.
“I was a student here; it has always felt like my college home. It is where my own education turned around and got on track. I want to help students not make the same mistakes I did,” he says.
He is enthusiastic about helping all students plan their future. In particular, he has risen to the challenge of serving as a student veteran counselor. It is work that he says he is proud to do to help those who have served and sacrificed for their country. He says he has a lot to learn about veteran benefits and mental health issues that veterans face.
“I am dedicated to student success. You never really know who that shining star student is going to be so you give your very best to every student and hope for the best outcome. I am grateful to my colleagues and am happy to work in this great community college environment,” he says.
Let’s get the story out about Santiago Canyon College. Send in your student, alumni, and faculty success stories, so that we can post them on the blog!