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Dianne Van Hook said 95% of the fears in our heads never happen. 

Van Hook, chancellor of College of the Canyons, said historically, women wait to be asked, so it’s important for women to take initiative, face their phobias and strive for their goals with unflinching courage. 

“Every day, every one of us gets to decide which inner voice we choose to hear,” Van Hook said. “The one that says you can or the one that says you can’t. The one that says I will or the one that says I won’t. So today, I want you to focus on the one that says I will and I can.” 

Attendees listen to speakers during the 2022 College of the Canyons Women’s Conference held at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons on Saturday, 032622. Dan Watson/The Signal

Around 100 attendees gathered Saturday morning for the 2022 Women’s Conference at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center at COC to gain inspiration from trailblazing women figures in the Santa Clarita Valley community.  

The panel included accomplished women including Van Hook, Niamani Knight, founder of STREAM Global Innovations, Valerie Bradford, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Santa Clarita Valley Branch, Patsy Ayala, senior field representative for Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, and Deanna Austin, chief commercial officer of Princess Cruises. 

Each panel member provided informative direction to the women and men in attendance by going through the lessons they learned throughout their life journey. 

Van Hook was first to speak and emphasized how his year’s theme, “Reimagine a new you,” revolves around the idea of empowering women to pursue their passions and not conform to preconceived limits. 

“Reimagining gives yourself an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve become so far and focus on what you’ve learned, so that you can ask, ‘Where else do you need to go to create that best version of yourself?’” Van Hook said. 

Niamani Knight, S.T.R.E.A.M. Founder speaks during the 2022 College of the Canyons Women’s Conference held at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons on Saturday, 032622. Dan Watson/The Signal

Knight, 20, shared how getting her idea rejected during an entrepreneur bootcamp led her to creating S.T.R.E.A.M. Global Innovations, a nonprofit providing low-income youth in underserved communities access to career opportunities emphasizing science, technology, reading, engineering, arts and manufacturing with an underlying emphasis on entrepreneurship. 

“If we reimagined a world where access is a norm and diversity wasn’t just a box checked off of our educational and corporate industries, we would see that diversity isn’t something that you have to do, diversity just is,” said Knight regarding the importance of diversity. 

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, Knight said she feels honored to have shared the stage with inspirational women who have trailblazed a path for her to be successful.  

“I’m following the footprints of so many amazing people and these were just a few of them that I got to sit by today,” Knight said. 

Patsy Ayala, Latino Business Alliance Advisory Member speaks during the 2022 College of the Canyons Women’s Conference held at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons on Saturday, 032622. Dan Watson/The Signal

After speaking about her journey from flying out of Venezuela to Miami, Florida, Ayala emphasized the importance of being prepared and adapting to circumstances when decisions are already made for you. She then followed with an analogy comparing the procrastination of updating a smartphone with delaying completion of life goals. 

“What if your phone said, ‘Would you like to update you?” Ayala said. “Would you be waiting?” 

Austin, who has worked for Princess Cruises for 34 years, shared how working with a life coach helped steamroll her way to the top of a male-dominated industry and taking a virtual dance class kept her mind afloat during a global pandemic.  

“I hope you remember that life is a journey of learning about ourselves,” Austin said. “And just like Princess Cruises, you never know exactly what lies ahead of you, but it sure is a great adventure.” 

Valerie Bradford, NAACP Santa Clarita President speaks during the 2022 College of the Canyons Women’s Conference held at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons on Saturday, 032622. Dan Watson/The Signal

Bradford spoke about the importance of reinventing oneself without being fearful about change and used Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, as an example. Bradford said she reimagined herself in 2020 when she switched from running a successful, online business to running for a seat on the board of directors of the Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency.  

Although she did not win the seat, she said she won a huge support group in Santa Clarita, which led her to successfully winning the election as president of the NAACP SCV Branch. 

“Be open to any change and each change in direction that life or circumstance might present to you because I have been a mother, a secretary, an entrepreneur, a student, a cook, a career woman, a missionary and an activist,” Bradford said. “I am the definition of a reimagined woman.” 

Conference attendees were given “swag bags” with notebooks and pens, which gave them the opportunity to write down questions and to ask during the panel portion. 

Rian Medlin, the chair of the Women’s Conference, said the “Reimagine” theme this year is vital, especially as the community is trying to readjust to what life is like post-pandemic. After planning a virtual event last year, Medlin said it was a “big deal” for the conference to be back in person. 

“It feels great to be back in person,” Medlin said. “There’s a different kind of energy when you’re in the room with a bunch of people than being on Zoom.” 

Medlin said she hopes the event attendees are able to network with like-minded women to build connections and cultivate ideas for future careers, hobbies and businesses. The conference also featured multiple workshops, breakout sessions and shopping vendors.

Knight said there are a plethora of ways to empower women in their lives, including being an advocate for gender equality whether you are a man or woman. 

“Be a representative for women,” Knight said. “Just because you aren’t a woman doesn’t mean you can’t support women. There’s so many men who have helped my journey along the way just by giving me an opportunity to speak or share something that I was doing.” 

Niamani Knight, second from left, takes the microphone as she joins the panel of speakers on stage taking questions from the audience during the 2022 College of the Canyons Omen’s Conference held at the Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center on the Valencia campus of College of the Canyons on Saturday, 032622. Dan Watson/The Signal

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