Monday, December 9, 2019

Finding a second career and a passion for the arts at Grossmont College

Diane Cozzens 

Diane Cozzens never thought about returning to college until her triplet sons enrolled in a digital arts class at Grossmont College.

“I just enjoyed watching what they were doing and I wanted to learn how to do it myself,” Cozzens said. “So I signed up for Introduction to Digital Arts in the summer of 2017.”

She was hooked. “I loved it and I continued taking classes to keep learning more,” she said. “Along the way I took a required art history class, and I loved that, too. So I took another one, and then another one and another one until there weren’t any more to take.”

Cozzens, 60, already had a full life when she decided to begin taking classes. She had raised six children and home-schooled three of them, worked as a bookkeeper and owned a small craft business, and spent countless hours volunteering in Santee, where she lives.

Cozzens is on track to graduate this June with an associate degree in digital arts, an associate degree for transfer in art history, and an associate degree in university studies – humanities and fine arts. She’s planning to transfer to San Diego State University next fall and has her sights set on a second career restoring art at local museums.

“I’m really glad that I went back to school,” Cozzens said. “At one point, I didn’t know if I could do it, but I’m glad I did.”

In her time at Grossmont College, Cozzens has been an outstanding student. She has nothing but A’s on her transcripts, and received an Art History Student of Merit Award. In January, she will be honored with the Todd Longstreth Photographic Arts Scholarship from the Foundation for Grossmont & Community Colleges.

Cozzens has nothing but praise for the college that has provided her with a new calling.

“Grossmont College is a great place to explore your interests and try different stuff,” she said. “Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you can discover yourself and reach your full potential. Plus, the professors here are so wonderful and so helpful. I haven’t had one bad professor here yet.”

She’s also impressed her professors.

“She is a fantastic student with great creative talent who is always willing to mentor others,” said Marion De Koning, chair of the Visual Arts & Humanities Department. “She really exemplifies what we love about our students.”

Jennifer Bennett, a professor of art, drawing and painting, agrees.

“Diana is a joy to have in class because of her life experiences and fresh perspectives on art,” Bennett said. “She is super friendly and easy going, which works really well in an art studio environment. The students talk and bounce ideas off one another, and even help each other out when needed. Having a diverse student population in class enriches the atmosphere and students are exposed to more points of view and other ways to see things. Having Diana in class adds to this.”

Cozzens’ journey to Grossmont College was decades in the making.

Born in Abilene, Texas, Cozzens grew up in Florida, where her father worked as an engineer on NASA’s Saturn V rocket. She began taking accounting classes at Palm Beach Junior College after high school but left after a just one semester for San Diego after her first husband, a Navy corpsman, was stationed at Naval Base Point Loma. Cozzens sometimes contemplated going back to school, but working full-time as a bookkeeper while raising three daughters (the oldest is now 39), hardly left an opportunity to pursue a degree.

Even though she is 40 years older than many students at the college, Cozzens said age has not been an issue.

“I’ve had people walk into class a couple times and ask if I was the professor, but most people don’t give it a second thought. There are a lot of people in their late 20s, early 30s, even into their 40s here,” she said.

Attending Grossmont College with her three sons has provided moments of levity. She recalled a recent incident in the cafeteria when she heard a familiar voice, recognized it as her son’s, looked over and saw him talking to a friend – unbeknownst to him that she was nearby. “I can’t get messed up on this exam or my mom will kill me,” she overheard her son say. “Yes,” Cozzens chimed in as laughter soon filled the room, “she will.”

Cozzens will leave her mark on the Grossmont College campus after she graduates. Her murals class designed a modernistic, 20-by-40-foot Sunbrella Mural adorning the exterior of the campus’s new performing arts building, and Cozzens – who suggested a three-dimensional approach to the art – helped sew a geometric umbrella canvas to make the work stand out.

After completing her education, Cozzens hopes to put her knowledge of art history and digital art to use by focusing on digital restoration at an art museum. She’s already making headway. While still at Grossmont, Cozzens worked with the San Diego Museum of Art in digitally restoring a 12th century Asian piece.

“She has overcome so much to get to where she is at today, and we are all very proud of her,” De Koning said.