DAVENPORT, Iowa – Amy C. Novak, EdD, became the 14th president of St. Ambrose University on Saturday, August 7.
She assumed leadership of the 138-year-old Catholic Diocesan University at the conclusion of the final day of the 14-year term of Sister Joan Lescinski '21 (Hon.), CSJ, PhD.
Although Sister Joan will remain in Davenport throughout the next year to provide counsel and support to her successor, Friday marked the official final day of a 50-year career dedicated to Catholic higher education.
Since Sister Joan became president in 2007, St. Ambrose has added dozens of new academic programs, seven new or renovated academic buildings, two additional residence halls, and 11 varsity sports with new and enhanced facilities. Also during her tenure, the University endowment has grown by more than $100 million and academic scholarships have more than doubled.
"I look forward to calling upon Sister Joan's deep understanding of Ambrosian culture, of our institutional commitment to service and faith-based learning, and of our University's mission of enriching the lives of our students so that they may enrich the lives of others," Novak said. "I am grateful for the strong foundation Sister Joan and her predecessor, Dr. Ed Rogalski, along with the 11 St. Ambrose presidents who preceded them, have built with the help and dedication of so many others at this great institution."
President Amy C. Novak
Dr. Novak was introduced in February as the University's next president following a national search. She was previously president at Dakota Wesleyan University in South Dakota.
Novak was introduced as the University's next president in February, following a national search. She comes to St. Ambrose after having served as president of Dakota Wesleyan University from April of 2013 through May of this year.
An Inauguration Installation Ceremony will take place on Friday, October 1.
As she begins her St. Ambrose presidency, Novak will prioritize innovation in the face of a fast-changing higher education landscape, as well as expanding community and business partnerships, and creating a more diverse and inclusive campus while making a St. Ambrose education both attainable and affordable for students of all demographic and economic backgrounds.
Unprecedented success during Novak's tenure led to Dakota Wesleyan being profiled-along with three other U.S. colleges and universities-in the 2019 book "Pivot: A Vision for the New University."
She intends to bring that forward-looking vision to St. Ambrose, working with faculty and staff who are eager to reimagine higher education for the next generation. "Higher education needs to innovatively address the issues of cost, inclusivity and attainment," she said. "Moreover, as technology's influence on learning grows, our university will need to adapt teaching methods and practices to serve a variety of learning styles and students with various learning backgrounds."
At St. Ambrose, Novak also will seek to partner with Quad Cities businesses and business leaders to shape and provide the educational opportunities employers and employees want and need as they do business across a global economy in a digital age.
Innovation Summits will be a means for bringing employers, workers, and educators to the table to foster progressive thinking, teaching and learning practices. Microcredential programs and stackable course credits that can help members of the modern workforce expediently "upskill and reskill" will be among the creative ways St. Ambrose will fulfill the need for continuing education in the Novak era.
"The nature of the knowledge economy is so rapidly changing," Novak said. "How well we equip students to be lifelong learners is probably more important than it has ever been."
"I am grateful for the strong foundation Sister Joan and her predecessor, Dr. Ed Rogalski, along with the 11 St. Ambrose presidents who preceded them, have built with the help and dedication of so many others at this great institution."
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.
Following her graduation from Notre Dame, Novak held a variety of jobs while traveling with her husband, Ken, throughout his years of service in the U.S. Air Force, when he taught at the. Air Force Academy - and won the honor of teacher of the year - and served as chief speech writer for the U.S. Air Force Command in Europe.
A leadership career in higher education was not a thought for the daughter of entrepreneurial parents when the Novaks returned to her native Mitchell, South Dakota, following Ken's retirement from service. Yet, she quickly discovered her passion for the opportunities higher education offers to "help raise people up" after accepting a part-time job as a grant administrator for Dakota Wesleyan's TRIO Student Services Program in November of 2003.
Novak was appointed DWU's vice president for enrollment management in 2004, was named provost in 2007, and became president of the private university of 950 students in 2013.
During her tenure as president, Novak led two capital campaigns raising nearly $60 million dollars. Much of this fundraising supported building initiatives on DWU's Mitchell campus, including a 50,000-square-foot science center, a 90,000-square-foot sport and wellness complex, an alumni welcome center and performing arts space, and a new residence hall. A School of Business, Innovation, and Leadership will open in a modern new building this fall.
A devout Catholic, Novak will enlist St. Ambrose University's long-standing commitment to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition as a foundation for seeking solutions to the social and interpersonal challenges of the 21st Century.
She 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.
As a mother of eight children, two adopted from Africa, Novak will bring an enlightened passion for diversity, equity and inclusion to St. Ambrose. Events of the past year only have served to heighten her sensitivity to the pain prejudice inflicts upon every child viewed as different, she said.
"I haven't had the experience my children have had, but I saw that (hurt) in their eyes," she said. "It motivates me to work even harder in the space of equity and inclusion."
As she leads the campus community in celebrating and embracing her inaugural theme of "Come to the Table: Equipping Inclusive, Innovative and Invitational Leaders for Our Future," Novak plans to make St. Ambrose University a primary community asset in fostering conversations that can dissect root causes of racism and divisiveness and put into action real potential solutions.
"Higher Education can bring people around the table in a non-threatening space," she said. "We want to listen to what is happening in this community. Listen to people of various backgrounds. There are lessons to be learned from rural America. There is a lot of fear around diversity.
"To simply talk about it is not sufficient," she stressed. "We need to start piloting programs that can serve as a starting point for genuine inclusiveness."
The 2021-2022 academic year at St. Ambrose will begin on August 23.