St. Ambrose University announces next president

Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 11:11 AM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - St. Ambrose University has announced its next president. Dakota Wesleyan University President Amy C. Novak, in Mitchell, South Dakota, will be St. Ambrose’s 14th president.

Officials in a release say she was chosen by the SAU Board of Trustees following a national search and will take office in August 2021, succeeding Sister Joan Lescinski. She will retire after 14 years as the current president.

You can read more from the university’s announcement below.

“A native South Dakotan, Novak has served as president of DWU since April of 2013. During her tenure, Dakota Wesleyan experienced record enrollment growth, surpassed all university fundraising records, made significant updates to campus infrastructure, formed a variety of regional business partnerships, bolstered spiritual engagement on the campus, and launched a variety of innovative academic programs and initiatives.

The unprecedented success during Novak’s tenure led to DWU being profiled—along with a handful of other U.S. colleges and universities—in the 2019 book Pivot: A Vision for the New University.

Novak was introduced on Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, at a morning news conference in the Gottlieb Conference Room of the university’s Rogalski Center.

“I am deeply appreciative of Sr. Joan, Dr. Edward Rogalski, her predecessor, and, indeed, of all the previous leaders of St. Ambrose,” Novak said. “St. Ambrose is a strong and vital institution because of their tireless work, and we are all fortunate to be the beneficiaries of their leadership and vision. I am also grateful to all of the members of the St. Ambrose community—students, faculty, staff, coaches, and leadership team members—who took the time to answer my many questions during the search process.

“I am honored and humbled by this choice, and very excited to be part of the Ambrose community. I look forward to continuing to find ways to co-develop a strong future for the university and the many communities it serves.

Novak was selected following a nationwide search initiated by the Most Rev. Thomas Zinkula, JCL, JD, bishop of the Diocese of Davenport and chair of the St. Ambrose Board of Trustees. SAU trustee alumni John Anderson ’87 and Renee Citera ’81 co-chaired the search committee.

The search was launched with the assistance of national search firm WittKieffer shortly after Sr. Lescinski’s August 2020 announcement of her intention to retire from a nearly 50-year career in service to Catholic higher education.

“Dr. Amy Novak brings proven presidential leadership to St. Ambrose University,” Bishop Zinkula said. “Innovative, articulate, energetic, and compassionate, Amy clearly has the requisite personal gifts and professional experience to shape the future of the university in a substantial manner. She has a passion for supporting students and actively engaging with the community, including business leaders. Her respect for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and Catholic Social Teachings will be a tremendous asset. Amy will be an outstanding leader and she and her family will be a wonderful addition to the Quad Cities community.”

Novak has served in numerous roles at Dakota Wesleyan, a private university of 948 students founded in 1885 and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. She was appointed president after serving as provost from 2007 to 2013, and vice president for enrollment management from 2004 to 2007. She joined the university in November 2003 as a grant administrator in the TRIO Student Services Program.

Prior to joining DWU she worked in a variety of roles while traveling with her husband, Ken, as he served 13 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Novak earned a Doctor of Education degree in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University in 2014, a Master of Science in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University in 1997, and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Notre Dame in 1993.

During her tenure as Dakota Wesleyan president, Novak led two comprehensive campaigns raising nearly $60 million dollars to support new physical infrastructure, endowed chairs, and endowed scholarships. Much of this fundraising supported building initiatives on DWU’s Mitchell campus, including a 50,000-square-foot science center (2013); a 90,000-square-foot sport and wellness complex (2016); an alumni welcome center and performing arts space (2017); and a new residence hall (2018). A new School of Business, Innovation, and Leadership will open in fall 2021.

In her leadership role, Novak has consistently sought to make higher education more responsive to the needs of students—particularly students from underserved populations such as first-generation students, students of color, and students from low-income backgrounds—as well as to the needs of the communities and regions that colleges and universities serve, particularly in rural regions of the U.S.

At DWU, Novak has been a consistent leader in exploring how technology can enhance the educational experience. In 2018, the university implemented Digital DWU – a digital initiative to enhance the student learning experience by providing iPads to all full-time, residential students. This initiative has changed the way that students collaborate in and outside of the classroom and the nature of student assignments, with video and podcast assignments regularly replacing more traditional academic assessment measures.

“The rapidly changing world we live in demands that we begin to adapt our learning models,” she said. “Together we must move from a focus on the philosophy of teaching to a learner-centric approach, a philosophy of learning that acknowledges how learning happens best. This might invite us to consider how learning happens, when learning happens, and where learning happens.”

“Similarly, we are entering an era in which one’s engagement of education may span a lifetime. Like a subscription service, we need to consider how the education of St. Ambrose may be accessed across a worker’s lifespan by offering degrees, certificates, thought leadership, personal and professional coaching, and other educational services at any point in someone’s career.”

Following her retirement in August, Sr. Lescinski will remain in Davenport for a year to serve as a resource for the new president. Under Sr. Lescinski’s leadership, St. Ambrose has experienced significant growth in its curriculum and a major expansion of its academic, residential, and athletics facilities. Since 2007, the university has added numerous new academic programs, seven new or renovated academic buildings, two residence halls, and 11 varsity sports. During her tenure, the endowment has grown by more than $100 million and academic scholarships have more than doubled.

In Novak, Sr. Lescinski sees an experienced leader well prepared to build on St. Ambrose’s 139-year history of empowering students and enriching lives.

“Dr. Amy Novak is able and ready to become our 14th president at St. Ambrose University,” Sr. Lescinski said. “She brings an innovative mind, a compassionate heart, and an innate understanding of this university’s character, capacity, and potential. I believe the campus community and the Quad Cities community will be pleased and impressed with the next leader of this great university.”

Search committee co-chair Anderson, the president and CEO of Quad City Bank and Trust, was participating in his third St. Ambrose presidential search. He served as a trustee on the committee that chose Sr. Lescinski in 2006 and as a student representative to the committee that selected Dr. Rogalski in 1987. “We are pleased and excited to welcome Amy as our 14th president. Her background and expertise will guide SAU into the future and will continue to position us to navigate successfully,” he said.

Citera, the founder of RGC Consulting in Chicago, said Novak’s selection culminates the good work of a committee that included members of the Board of Trustees and representatives from faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

“It has been a pleasure to work alongside co-chair John Anderson and the talented committee members who devoted countless hours and energy to the search process resulting in Amy’s joining our institution,” she said.

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