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New Dakota Wesleyan president Kittle has 'built a career serving students'

Ohio native to step into role in March 2022

Daniel Kittle was on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University on Tuesday morning, introducing himself to faculty, staff, alumni, students and members of the media. It was part of his first official duties as incoming president of the university — a role he will assume in March of 2022.

But it wasn’t his first time in Mitchell.

“Like many folks, I came through to see the Corn Palace. My family and I have, what I guess you could call, a vintage motorhome. It is not shiny and new. But it got us across the country and we stopped in Mitchell and visited the university at that time,” Kittle told the audience gathered at the Rollins Campus Center. “And I was impressed.”

Kittle serves as the vice president for student life and dean of students at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. He has worked for Wartburg in several capacities for over 16 years , but come March he will take on the position of top administrator for Dakota Wesleyan University, becoming its 21st president.

A presidential search committee at DWU has been actively seeking out qualified candidates for the position since March after the departure of former school president Amy Novak , evaluating their qualifications and experience and holding interviews with potential hires. The committee — made up of university faculty, staff, administrators and students, as well as members of the school board of trustees — ultimately found Kittle to be the choice to move DWU into its next chapter.

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Doug Powers, president of the DWU board of trustees and a member of the presidential search committee, said the committee knew it would be difficult to find a candidate who was just the right fit. But he was pleased when Kittle rose to the top of the potential candidates.

“Early last spring, we embarked on a search for somebody to lead the university into a new era,” said Powers. “Our search committee, along with input from the board, faculty, staff, students and community members developed a profile of desired qualities - an entrepreneurial leader committed to thinking about ways in which the university can serve as an engine for creative opportunities for building community in the region it serves.”

Powers said Kittle matched what the committee was looking for.

“I can tell you we found that person. He comes from another small private university in the Midwest, and he has built a career serving students, community and the greater good through academic instruction, creative leadership and a foundation in faith and service,” Powers said.

Kittle said there were several factors about DWU that appealed to him, including the strong commitment to student success and the school’s sense of community.

“One of the questions people have asked me is why I was drawn to this place at this time. I’m really drawn here because of the people and because of their deep commitment to the students,” Kittle said. “That became clear throughout all the processes that I’ve been a part of and that my wife has been a part of. It’s the deep commitment to students and the deep commitment to each other and the sense of community.”

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Kittle described his leadership style as being a bridge builder, with an emphasis on maintaining strong ties between the school and the community at large.

“I think leaders need to be those individuals who see opportunities and they see past the challenges. I think you’ll see me as someone who is persistent, someone who seeks to build bridges and be able to realize those opportunities and meet those challenges in a way that also builds community,” Kittle said. “I have come to appreciate that I have a deep responsibility to maintain that sense of family and community and I really embrace that responsibility.”

He doesn’t have specific goals in mind at this stage, he said. He prefers to come into a situation like this looking to maintain the family and community that is Dakota Wesleyan University and the Mitchell community at large. He said he would spend the next few months interacting with faculty, staff and students and getting a feel for them and their goals.

Maintaining the good of the school is more important than striding in looking to make wholesale changes, especially so early in his tenure.

“I do not have a particular strategy or tactic in mind. I don’t think that’s a good way to enter a community that is sustainable in terms of leadership. But I welcome the sense of responsibility to maintain this family and community that is DWU,” Kittle said. “That is the vision. How do you do that effectively?”

Kittle, 45, continues to be active in the classroom, teaching a first-year seminar each fall at Wartburg as well as regularly teaching a graduate class on the history of higher education in the United States. His recent work includes leading the development of Wartburg’s strategic plan focused on strategic enrollment growth, improving retention and curricular innovation.

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Kittle grew up in Bazetta, Ohio, and earned a bachelor's degree in public relations and political science from Heidelberg University in Ohio, an M.A. in political science and a Ph.D. in higher, adult, learning and education from Michigan State University. In 2009, Kittle completed the Foundations of Christian Leadership program through Duke University.

He is married to Ashley Kittle, a conservation professional with a special interest in ecosystems management, and most recently focused on soil and water conservation practices. They have a 7-year-old son, Grant, who enjoys soccer, Cub Scouts and being outside.

There are still plans to make and tasks to complete before he takes over his duties in March, including wrapping up his duties at Wartburg, something he said will be sad to do even as he looks forward to the next chapter in his professional career at Dakota Wesleyan.

“I came to that place thinking of ways in which I would contribute to the students and the community, and as I get ready to leave I reflect on the impact that it’s had on me and all the people and relationships as part of that,” Kittle said. “It will be hard to leave, but I feel pulled and called here, I don’t feel any push or urge to leave there.”

Now is the time to fully get a feel for his new campus, administrators and students as he gets ready to make the move to his new home. With the tight housing market, that is proving to be a challenge, but it's one he looks forward to embracing as a challenge, much like his new position as 21st president in the history of Dakota Wesleyan University.

GALLERY: DWU announces Daniel Kittle as the school's new president
“We’ve been looking (for a house) in town, but we have not started the move yet. We’re eager to do that, but as you can imagine, it’s an interesting market,” Kittle said. “But we want to make sure we find the right place because we plan on being here a long time.”

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