Kenneth Hooks is the sole student from CSUN to be selected for this year’s prestigious CSU Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. The award is given annually to students who demonstrate superior academic success, personal achievements, service to the community and financial need.
His path to CSUN wasn’t easy, but it has made him into the Matador he is today.
“For a person like me, I’m just one person and my story is my story — but a part of me feels like I still don’t deserve this,” Hooks said. “That there is somebody out there who deserves it more than I. I can’t even put into words how much [this scholarship] means.”
Hooks — a disabled Army Veteran — has faced numerous obstacles in life, including homelessness. But thanks to a few mentors and friends who pushed him, the junior criminology major has persevered and found his passion at CSUN for fighting social injustice.
“Kenny’s success in receiving the award is due to his success as a non-traditional student, as a veteran and as a person of color,” said Department of Criminology and Justice Studies assistant professor Nayan Ramirez. “Too often, students like Kenny are pushed to margins by society and institutions of higher education, but I hope through this recognition other students like Kenny at CSUN will see that they too are worthy of success in spite of any obstacles that they have faced or continue to face.”
From 2001-03, Pfc. Hooks was stationed at Fort Knox, Ky. After the Army, Hooks felt drawn to Los Angeles. After his first visit to L.A., Hooks said he fell in love with the ocean. He took the leap and made the 2,500-plus mile trek from New York to Los Angeles. He began his first semester at Santa Monica College in 2009, the start of what would be an incredibly rocky road to his bachelor’s degree. He became homeless in 2015 but found the support he needed to transfer to Pierce College then CSUN in 2016. Now a junior, Hooks is focusing on social justice and justice reform. He credits the people he met during his first semester at CSUN for giving him the confidence and direction he needed. Hooks thanks Ramirez for pushing him to apply for scholarships and creating a safe space for him to speak freely.
“One of the most distinctive features of Kenny is his level of engagement and how he thinks critically about issues in criminology and justice,” Ramirez said. “In spite of having a lot of life’s experience that typically would close off other people to new ideas, Kenny is always open to changing his perspective in class, and as an instructor, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Now living in Canoga Park — and armed with a valuable $6,000 scholarship — Hooks is considering law school and a doctorate program. He hopes to give back to the CSUN community and is keeping his options open.