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New president calls DWU community to ‘be opened’

Dakota Wesleyan University President Amy Novak delivers her inaugural during her inauguration as the 20th president of DWU Friday morning at the Sherman center in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from the inaugural address delivered Friday at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell by new DWU President Amy Novak.

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By Amy Novak

DWU President

In the Gospel, Saint Mark tells a powerful story of a deaf man brought to Jesus near the Sea of Galilee. The deaf man had a severe speech impediment and his friends begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. Jesus took the man aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears. Then, Jesus spat and touched his tongue. Looking up to Heaven, Jesus prayed and said to the deaf man, “Ephphatha” — that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly.

Ephphatha — be opened.

The power and spirit of Ephphatha inspired our early Methodists who recognized the powerful transformation possible through education. With boldness, they opened this university on the prairie to women, to American Indians, to the poor, the downtrodden, and arguably the deaf, not just those deaf in a sensory way, but those whose hearts were deaf to God’s call.

By taking the dirt of the earth and building a school of stone, these founders believed the ears, eyes and minds could be opened to Christ’s call for each of them. Through education, these future leaders could become Christ’s voice of love, Christ’s hands of compassion, and Christ’s feet of mercy to a wounded world.

“Be Opened” describes our aspiration for a DWU education today. At the intersection of our Christcentered, entrepreneurial university lays a passion for clarifying the relevancy and richness of the humanities, a discovery of the beauty and complexity of the sciences with an intentional integration of our Christian obligation to service and justice. A 21st century education at DWU goes beyond skills training and book learning. DWU is moving boldly forward to educate and develop bold, innovative, principle-centered, Christian leaders.

In the first letter of John, verse 38, the Lord asks, “What are you looking for?”

This is the fundamental question our students wrestle with in our Core humanities program and in our Center for Talent Development. Allow me to me share with you what our students have found inpondering this important question.

Stephen, a young Latino father of two, spent virtually his entire life in foster care before arriving at Dakota Wesleyan University. In his senior interview he shared the “opening” he experienced as a result of his DWU education. As a human services major, he talked about the conversion of heart that led him to move from the streets to serving the streets of Los Angeles, Calif. He is hoping to return to work with a nonprofit committed to helping young, Hispanic and black men find their way out of crime.

Sarah, an American Indian student, shared her “opening” experience as she learned about God through weekly worship and her service immersion experiences. From agnostic to active ministry leader, Sarah shares her vision for leading others in lives of service through service.

Brent came to DWU originally as a biochemistry major but soon became involved in our Kelley Center for Entrepreneurship. Brent became interested in how the university could serve the community and initiated a partnership with Mitchell’s Weekend Snack Pack program to serve more than 350 local students with food security issues. And by the way, Mitchell’s Weekend Snack Pack program was

launched and sustained with great vitality by a DWU graduate and Mitchell citizen, Cindy Novachich.

Brent partnered with Cindy and her efforts. Through his “opening” experience, Brent became aware of growing rates of local childhood poverty. He wrote grants and consulted with the university administration to redo a lab in Hughes Hall for managing the food collection and distribution of the Snack Pack program, and this fall we opened a center on campus designed to expand the outreach of the program in partnership with our community.

These are but a few examples of how our commitment to the spirit of Ephphatha has opened the world to our students. Our institutional values of learning, leadership, faith and service represent more than a slogan.

Those values recognize that “an education of the heart is the heart of education.” We know that we can get to the heart in many ways: intellectual engagement, robust dialogue, and service immersion experiences. But DWU is now asking bigger, bolder questions — how do we as leaders in undergraduate and graduate education prepare the next generation of leaders to teach, preach and heal a wounded world?

We have become highly intentional about creating experiences that immerse students into the heart of justice, compassion and service. Our goal is to intentionally foster experiences that help students develop a relationship with Christ (whether it is in the classroom, at chapel, on a mission trip, or in a small group), because in the end, being in a relationship with Christ means we are prepared to listen to God’s call to set the world ablaze with Christ’s love.