Dan Hocoy grew up watching Commander Tom. He remembers walking Main Street in downtown Buffalo before Metro Rail went in, and was a regular passenger on car rides across the Peace Bridge.
Hocoy built a 20-year career in higher education on the West Coast. But his roots are spread through the region that includes Buffalo, Rochester and Toronto.
And now Hocoy is returning home. The State University of New York trustees on Wednesday appointed Hocoy as the 11th president of Erie Community College.
"In joining Erie Community College I will be close to family and I will be serving a region I call home," said Hocoy. "And it will allow me to make the biggest impact on the greatest number of people, because few colleges have as significant an impact on its community and state as Erie Community College."
The appointment is effective July 1.
Hocoy, who will turn 50 Friday, signed a three-year contract and will make $225,000 annually in succeeding Jack F. Quinn Jr., who is retiring at the end of June after nine years as ECC president.
“Dr. Hocoy is a student of the world who brings to Erie Community College a deep appreciation and understanding of how academic programs can be advanced and customized to help more students from different backgrounds succeed,” said H. Carl McCall, chairman of the SUNY board.
In remarks in Albany to SUNY trustees, Hocoy issued a call for the college to work toward transforming itself so that it can transform the region and he pledged to work closely with faculty, staff and other groups to create change that best serves students and the community.
"In my mind, there's nothing more American than the spirit of innovation and I believe nothing more important for Erie Community College's and Western New York's evolution than our relentless commitment to … innovation and progressive change," he said. "Transformation requires that we go beyond, that we go beyond the answer that we have traditionally given, that we go beyond the connections that give us comfort and we go beyond the limits with which we are all too familiar."
Hocoy has spent the past three years with Antioch University Seattle and the Antioch University System, a private, nonprofit system that emphasizes progressive ideals such as social justice. ECC trustees had sought candidates who could envision and implement innovations to help the college navigate a continuing downturn in enrollment and increasingly challenging fiscal realities.
Further innovation will be a priority, but Hocoy said he did not yet know enough about the college to "make presumptions" about what those innovations will be.
Hocoy emphasized that he views the college as having a significant and critical impact on the entire state, not just Western New York.
"As Erie Community College goes, so does Buffalo. And as Buffalo goes, so does Western New York. And as Western New York goes so does the state," he said. "So I can't imagine a college today having as much impact, nor a college president making as much of a difference."
Hocoy was born in Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean island near Venezuela, into a multicultural family. His grandmother was Jamaican. His father is from China and his mother is from Malaysia. They fled the island in 1969, after their family home was burned down in the midst of race riots. Hocoy's grandmother nearly died in the blaze. Hocoy was just a toddler when his family resettled in Toronto. Hocoy's parents and sister still live in Canada's largest city.
As a youngster, he frequently traveled with family to Buffalo on shopping excursions. Commander Tom, the local TV show on WKBW featuring broadcaster Tom Jolls, was beamed into the living room of the Hocoy family home. Hocoy regularly went on retreats at St. John Fisher College, just outside Rochester, during his time at St. Michael's College School, an all-boys prep school renowned for being a hotbed of future professional hockey players, including Tim Horton, Gerry Cheevers and Hocoy's classmate, Sean Burke. The school was run by the Basilian Fathers, who also founded St. John Fisher.
"We spent a lot of time in Rochester," he said. "We did a lot of what they call discernment retreats – preparation to become a priest."
Hocoy considered the priesthood but ultimately enrolled at the University of Toronto, where he studied psychology. He continued on to Queen's University in Kingston for master's and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology.
Hocoy worked in a psychiatric hospital in Nova Scotia, and after suffering through nearly a year of miserable weather brought on by an El Nino season, he decided to move to California to become an assistant professor at John F. Kennedy University. He also had stints at Pacifica Graduate Institute and at Saybrook University prior to Antioch.
Antioch faculty members said Hocoy is highly regarded on campus. "Dan is a rare gem. He's a brilliant, brilliant person who has such humility," said Janice Hoshino, chairwoman of the creative arts therapy department. "He's easy going, hardworking, approachable. He's not one of these administrators in the tower. He would take time to listen."
Hoshino described Hocoy as being visionary, but in a collaborative way.
Hocoy was at the helm for Antioch Seattle's challenging logistical move from a large downtown building to a new, but smaller building a few blocks away.
Hocoy regularly kept faculty members in the loop on administrative matters, said Bobbi Kidder, co-coordinator of the drama therapy program.
"I thought he seemed very transparent. When we listened to him we knew were getting news, not filtered news," she said. He's also an effective communicator, speaking in a way that's "both accessible and inspiring" and sometimes using edgy humor to drive home a point, said Kidder.
Hocoy has a longtime partner, Martha C. Johnson, who teaches government at Mills College in Oakland. "We've always had a long-distance relationship," he said. They do not have children.
Hocoy said he was drawn to the ECC job in part by Buffalo's renaissance, including its growing new immigrant and refugee population.
"I see myself in these individuals and I believe that they help us see things differently," he said. The college, he added, is central to making sure that all parts of the community experience the rising economic tide in Western New York.