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Thursday, March 23, 2023

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Cynthia and Steven Hooker (2019 photo) Cynthia and Steven Hooker (2019 photo)

Endowed Scholarship Pays It Forward to Future Health Care Workforce

College of Health and Human Services Dean Steven Hooker established the memorial fund to honor his late wife and her caregivers.
By Jeff Ristine

On the day Steven Hooker and his wife, Cynthia, moved into their San Diego home, the new College of Health and Human Services dean got called to the emergency room at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. Cynthia had broken her hip after losing her footing, the latest in a tough series of falls and other physical challenges.

“When I got there, the very first nurse that I met was an alum of our program in my college,” Hooker said. It was the beginning of what he calls a “cascade” of encounters with others who had been through nursing, physical therapy and social work programs at San Diego State University, now putting their education to good use in the community.

“I was so thankful for the care that each of these individuals provided to not just my wife, but to me and my children really,” Hooker said as he explained the impetus for establishing a scholarship in her memory. Cynthia Hooker died unexpectedly in January.

“I just look at it as paying it forward, if you will, based on all the tremendous care, particularly from nurses in the San Diego area the last two years of her life,” he said. “A multitude of them were alumni of our program.”

The Cynthia J. Hooker Memorial Endowed Scholarship will support selected students in SDSU’s Bachelor of Nursing and Master of Public Health programs, providing $1,000 in support for one student in each field per year. Hooker, now in his second year as dean, established the fund with a starting gift of $50,000.

The couple met as undergraduates at Fresno State University and were married for 41 years. Hooker’s work, including research on activity levels and nutrition in middle-aged and older men, took them to the California Department of Health Services in Sacramento and Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions, among other positions in the Midwest, South and Rockies.

Working with children

Cynthia Hooker spent most of her own career in a different area of human services, child care. This included work both in commercial facilities and at the couple’s home, rearranged to serve as a day care location. Clients included America West Airlines in Phoenix, whose employees’ schedules sometimes required 24/7 child care over a period of days.

She also worked with children who had autistic spectrum disorder, helping parents learn how to communicate with them.

“Very human centered,” Hooker said in describing her work. “Really an advocate for the underdog, in many cases.”

Never fully explained, Cynthia’s medical issues first surfaced about 10 years ago in imbalance and cognitive impairments. Several falls led to hip replacements and crushed vertebrae. She endured multiple surgeries, chronic back pain, rehabilitation and outpatient physical therapy.

“So we were health care consumers,” Hooker said.

Cynthia Hooker died in her sleep in late January after a period of flu-like symptoms.

“I'm just grateful that I have the opportunity to create something like this and to help students in the future to relieve some of their financial pressures and to help them be successful,” Hooker said.

Contributions to the endowed scholarship fund can be made here.