Amy C. Novak, president of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., will become the 14th president of St. Ambrose University, Davenport, this August.

Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021

Novak has led two major fundraising campaigns that brought in $60 million for the school of fewer than 1,000 students.

She was chosen earlier this month by the SAU Board of Trustees following a national search and will succeed Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD., who will retire after 14 years as SAU president.

A 49-year-old native South Dakotan, Novak has served as president of Dakota Wesleyan University since April 2013. She will become just the second female president in SAU’s 139-year-history.

The 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.

“I am deeply appreciative of Sr. Joan, Dr. Edward Rogalski, her predecessor, and, indeed, of all the previous leaders of St. Ambrose,” Novak said in a university release. “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 –

Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021

Sister Joan Lescinski will retire this August after leading SAU for 14 years.

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,” she said. “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 picked following a nationwide search initiated by the Most Rev. Thomas Zinkula, bishop of the Diocese of Davenport and chair of the St. Ambrose University Board of Trustees. SAU trustee alumni John Anderson (’87) and Renee Citera (’81) co-chaired the search committee.

Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021

St. Ambrose University, at 518 W. Locust St., Davenport, has about 3,000 students (including 698 graduate students).

The search was launched with the assistance of national search firm WittKieffer shortly after 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,” he said. “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.”

Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021

Novak will move from a Methodist school that has Tigers as the mascot, to a Catholic university represented by the Fighting Bees.

Novak has served in several 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.

St. Ambrose – at 518 W. Locust St., Davenport, a private Catholic institution founded in 1882 — has 3,003 students, including 698 graduate students.

For her progressive leadership and innovative steps toward partnerships, educational outreach and overall growth, Novak was awarded the 2019 Courageous Leadership Award by Credo — a comprehensive higher education consulting firm and publisher of “Pivot: A Vision for the New University,” in which Novak and DWU are spotlighted.

“As president, Dr. Novak set out to make DWU an active leader, community partner, and incubator for economic growth and entrepreneurial thinking in South Dakota with an explicit connection to serving rural communities and students,” Credo stated in its announcement. “DWU is now a leader in rural workforce development, contributing to the sustainable growth of communities, a healthier South Dakota and their graduates’ future job security. … DWU stands as a compelling model for other small, rural colleges to examine.”


Novak said of the honor: “The award truly recognizes the entire university’s efforts to be entrepreneurial and innovative in our rural region. Our staff and faculty have worked to strengthen the curriculum to enhance student outcomes and career readiness.”

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

She 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 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.

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., the Ambrose release said.

Leadership in technology

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.

Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021

Amy Novak, 49, has been president of Dakota Wesleyan University since 2013.

This effort 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 in the release. “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,” Novak said. “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, Lescinski will remain in Davenport for a year to serve as a resource for the new president. Under Lescinski’s leadership, SAU has experienced significant growth in its curriculum and a major expansion of its academic, residential, and athletics facilities, the release said.

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

Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021

St. Ambrose boasts a student to faculty ratio of 12:1, same as Dakota Wesleyan.

“Dr. Amy Novak is able and ready to become our 14th president at St. Ambrose University,” 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.”

Anderson (the search committee co-chair), president and CEO of Quad City Bank and Trust, took part in his third St. Ambrose presidential search. He served as a trustee on the committee that chose Lescinski in 2006 and as a student representative to the committee that selected 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,” Anderson said in the release.

Novak and her husband, Ken, are parents to eight children, ages 12 to 25, according to DWU.

Both Dakota Wesleyan and St. Ambrose boast a student to faculty ratio of 12:1. For 2021-22, DWU costs for tuition, room and board will total $36,800, while it will be $33,290 at SAU.

Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
Second Female President at St. Ambrose to Take Over in August 2021

Free Breaking News
Alerts & Daily Digest
In Your Inbox!