COSTA MESA : New OCC Head Not Resting on His Oars

When David A. Grant was named interim president of Orange Coast College, one of the things he did was spend an evening cleaning buildings with the night janitors.

“I wanted to know what problems and concerns come up in their jobs, too,” he said.

For Grant, who this month was named president of Orange Coast, the largest single-campus community college in the nation, that sort of curiosity is not unusual.

When he wanted to learn about crew coaching, for example, he contacted the man many say is the best crew coach in the nation, Harvard’s Harry Parker.


“I could see that he was intensely curious and wanted to know everything there was to know about coaching, and he was dead set on doing everything right,” Parker said. He was impressed but not surprised when one of Grant’s teams eventually beat both Harvard and Yale.

Grant, who has been a teacher, administrator and coach at Orange Coast College for more than 25 years, is a local success story.

He grew up in Newport Beach and spent much of his childhood on the water. “I can remember my first dinghy better than my first tricycle,” he said.

He attended Orange Coast College from 1956 to 1958 and was coxswain of the school’s rowing team.

After earning degrees at UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, he returned to OCC in 1962 to coach sailing and rowing. In just a few years, Grant built the rowing team from an obscure recreational program into a nationally ranked squad. His oarsmen became known as “The Giant Killers” after routinely defeating larger universities such as Stanford, UC Berkeley and UCLA.

In addition to coaching, Grant has taught history and served as first assistant dean and then dean of students.

Even though his workload has increased since he was named interim president last fall, Grant, 52, still coaches varsity crew and never misses an early-morning workout, even after working late into the night.

Those who work with Grant say there is a great deal of overlap between his coaching and administrative roles.

“He does well in both arenas because coaching crew is the art of synchronizing everyone’s maximum effort. The ability to do that is helpful in any leadership role,” said Jim Jorgensen, who coaches the junior varsity team. “He provides an example by working harder than anyone else.”

“My role is to encourage, help, cajole and expect the best from everyone here,” said Grant. “I want to encourage risk-taking among the faculty and students, even if that means having to face up to a few failures now and then.”

One of the Grant’s first priorities is to achieve a better ethnic and gender balance among faculty and students.

“People need their own mentors and role models,” he said. “And the school should be a better reflection of the world as a whole.”

Grant also hopes that more minority students will eventually return to teach at OCC, as he did.

“We’re trying to reach them now. That way, maybe there will be a more diverse group of applicants for teaching positions in the future,” he said.

One of Grant’s former bosses, Robert B. Moore, who retired as president of OCC in 1982, said that anticipation and long-range planning are Grant’s forte. “He’s a futurist. He plans carefully and intensely,” said Moore. “His success with the crew team is an example of what he can accomplish by motivating other people.”