After 18 years as part of the Dakota Wesleyan University family, Amy Novak is moving on to new adventures.
Come July, Novak will step down as president of the private four-year university to take a new position at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where she will take over as president at the 3,000-enrollment Catholic school. Novak, who previously served DWU as provost and vice president for enrollment management, became president of DWU in April of 2013.
“I’ve had 18 really exceptional years at DWU. I’m a stronger leader and have been grateful for the myriad friendships and relationships that have become like family,” Novak told the Mitchell Republic. “I leave with a sense of tremendous gratitude and tremendous excitement for a new opportunity. I strongly feel it is a good fit for me personally and professionally and I’m excited to embark on the next chapter.”
She said she had been approached about other openings and opportunities over the last 10 years, but there were a few factors that made the job at St. Ambrose University appealing to her at this time.
“I have often in the last 10 years had people reaching out about opportunities and I have always declined,” Novak said. “This was a little different. When I think about what the next decade looks like in higher education, it will require a degree of innovation that is markedly different than what we’ve experienced the last 30 to 40 years.”
Her new destination appears to be a perfect place to continue some of the initiatives that she has been a part of in Mitchell.
“St. Ambrose is in the process of trying some of the innovations we’ve been working on here at DWU. It sounds like I might be able to do this in a different location with a little bigger population base to work with,” Novak said.
That larger population base also provided some incentive. The size of the community will allow for more extensive business partnerships that will help increase access and affordability as well as relevance in curriculum in new and compelling ways. That was a piece that was critical,” Novak said.
She also noted that as a mother with two children of color, she looked forward to working with a larger, a more diverse population would allow her to help improve race, equality and inclusion among minorities. According to statistics from the United States Census Bureau, Davenport is 11.3% black and 81.4% white, while Mitchell is 1.4% black and 91.3% white.
“I’m deeply committed to opportunities for students to have robust discussions on race, equality and inclusion. Given the diversity of the Davenport area, I feel really called,” Novak said.
On moving to a Catholic university after spending many years in a school guided by the Methodist tradition, Novak said that the move also fits nicely with her own faith tradition.
“I’ve been blessed with tremendous support from the United Methodist Church. But as I go forward, I have a deep and abiding commitment to some of our Catholic social teachings, which I think encourages us and to look at how we create a more just, equitable and mercy-filled world,” Novak said. “To be able to do that while serving a large population of first generation, low-income students, students of color is really my passion point. This kind of work matters. I’ve been able to do that at DWU, and now I can look forward and say maybe i can try to do that at a university that is about three times the size.
While Novak said she has enjoyed several highlights during her tenure at DWU, she is particularly proud of the development of culture at the university. She was pleased to see the level of faculty and community pride in the school increase as various projects around campus, such as the construction of several new buildings, came to fruition.
“Today I can unequivocally say this is a university in and with and for the community, and collectively we are strong,” Novak said, citing a strong relationship with the local business community, support for co-curricular, athletics and the arts and various partnerships for academics as indicators for the boost in pride. “There is much more mutual benefit exchanged between the two entities than existed before. Those speak both to culture and vision. We’re proud to be in Mitchell, and we don’t apologize.”
Her presence was also felt in education and teacher programs while working with other educators, like those at the Mitchell School District, and will be missed, said Joe Graves, superintendent of the Mitchell School District.
Graves said Novak was an asset to the Mitchell educational community and wished her well during his monthly report to the Mitchell Board of Education at their most recent meeting Monday.
“Well wishes to president Novak over at Dakota Wesleyan University, who is moving to St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa come August,” Graves said. “President Novak has been a real joy to work with over the years through our student teaching experience and all the other relationships we have, especially through L.B. Williams Elementary. She will definitely be missed.”
Doug Powers, chair of the DWU board of trustees, said Novak had served the college well during her time at the helm.
“Through a variety of university initiatives and her own tireless work ethic, President Novak has raised the profile of the university throughout the region and across the nation,” Powers said in a statement. “Put simply, President Novak has left an indelible imprint on Dakota Wesleyan for the foreseeable future, and we are all grateful beneficiaries of that imprint.”
Powers said the search for a successor is just getting underway. But he said it is clear that Dakota Wesleyan University is in a better position having been led by Novak.
“We wish her well. She has done a great job and we have been blessed for the time we’ve had her,” Powers told the Mitchell Republic. “She has put us in a good position to hire a replacement for her.”
The board of trustees was expected to meet this week to begin the search process. That process will utilize a national search firm and will continue until a suitable candidate is found, he said.
“Our hope is to find the right person in whatever time frame it takes. We want to get the right person instead of being hasty,” Powers said.
During Novak’s tenure, Dakota Wesleyan University experienced record enrollment growth, surpassed all previous university fundraising records, made significant updates to the campus’ infrastructure, formed a variety of partnerships with businesses in the region, bolstered spiritual engagement on the campus and launched a variety of innovative academic programs and initiatives, according to a release from the school.
The success during Novak’s tenure led to the school being profiled, along with a handful of other United States colleges and universities, in the 2019 book Pivot: A Vision for the New University.
Novak was appointed DWU president after serving as provost from 2007 to 2013, and vice president for enrolment management from 2004 to 2007. She joined the university in November 2003 as a grant administrator in the TRIO Student Support Services program.
Prior to DWU, she worked in a variety of roles while traveling with her husband, Ken, as he actively served 13 years in the United States 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 in history from the University of Notre Dame in 1993.
As president, Novak led two capital campaigns raising over $50 million. Much of this fundraising supported building initiatives on DWU’s Mitchell campus, including a 50,000-square-foot science center in 2013, a 90,000-square-foot sport and wellness complex in 2016, an alumni welcome center and performing arts space in 2017, and a new residence hall in 2018. The new school of Business, Innovation and Leadership will open in fall of 2021. Novak’s efforts also helped grow endowed support for student scholarships and endowed faculty positions, according to a release.
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 United States.
“The DWU faculty are deeply appreciative of Dr. Novak’s visitation and leadership in her roles as both provost and - for the past eight years - as president of Dakota Wesleyan University,” said Joseph Roidt, provost of DWU, in a statement.
“Despite facing an exceedingly challenging demographic environment, President Novak succeeded in growing and sustaining overall enrollment at the university during her presidential tenure. This growth was achieved, in no small part, through Dr. Novak’s innovative vision for higher education,” Roidt said. “Dr. Novak consistently challenged academic affairs to think innovatively about how higher education could be delivered differently and with greater impact in order to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse group of learners. She will be sincerely missed, but we are exceedingly grateful for having been the beneficiaries of her extraordinary vision and leadership.”
Novak said she and her family will carry Dakota Wesleyan University with them when they move on to a new adventure.
“Ken and I remain grateful for your friendships, humbled by our collaborative work together, wiser for the tremendous learning we have experienced, and truly better human beings because of the interactions and experiences we have been so fortunate to share with each of you,” Novak said in a statement. “God’s guiding hand will continue to move Wesleyan forward. Its mission is too critical to not continue to serve as a guiding light for the region and beyond.”
St. Ambrose University is a Roman Catholic university in Davenport, Iowa established in 1882.