President Amy Novak walks on the St. Ambrose University campus every day with a contagious positive energy that enlightens everyone she passes, and a welcoming smile that never wavers. Being president, she is fortunate to have many opportunities to create success for the university and everyone a part of it. President Novak reflects on her first year of being an Ambrosian as she marks her first anniversary on August 7, 2022.
St. Ambrose University’s students, faculty, and staff have made President Novak’s first year memorable and rewarding. “It’s been a really good year. I feel called to be here and just really appreciate the opportunity that we’d have to meet a lot of students and connect with their lives, their cultural backgrounds, and their experiences here on campus. I’ve also been appreciative of how welcoming the faculty and staff have been on campus. It is a sense of family here and I feel that spirit about the place in a positive way,” President Novak exclaims.
Hitting the one-year milestone, President Novak cherishes the role she pursues impacting the students, faculty, and staff throughout the entire campus. “I think one of my favorite parts of the job is that it’s kind of different every day. I get energized by working alongside people who are committed. I spent a lot of time outside of higher education before I started working in higher education, so I don’t take this work for granted. And, to be part of making a student’s experience, something that transforms them and leads them down a new path, it’s kind of a privilege to be part of that,” she describes.
President Novak further explains her enlightenment to be working with people with such dedication to each other as well as the success of the university. She exclaims, “For me, I wake up every morning and sort of say, ‘How did I get this lucky?’ to be able to work alongside intellectually curious faculty and staff who are committed to students, and students who just are hopeful and inspiring.”
St. Ambrose’s students impress the president, staff, and faculty with their ideas and ambitions. ”Many times when I listen to the rhetoric in our world, whether it’s about issues of culture, economy, or politics, there’s a lot of anxiety and despair and hopelessness in that rhetoric. And, I always say to people, ‘You just need to come work on a college campus because there is so much positive energy around students and a real commitment. I think it is a part of our students to create a better world and to address the complexities of our time, and they are not fearful about doing it.”
Featuring some of the highlights that were popular throughout Novak’s first year, like the groundbreaking of Higgins Hall and experimenting with augmented virtual reality in classrooms, the president of St. Ambrose thoroughly enjoys being active within the student community.
“I would say some of my highlights are just being able to participate alongside students! The mass at the grotto has been a highlight. Also, when I go to some of the student activities whether it’s a choir concert, a theater production, or being at a pep rally, I mean there is just energy in some of those activities that have been very meaningful to me. And certainly, Ken and I, and our family have enjoyed having lots of student groups over to our house and just getting to know people on a more personal level.”
After settling into being president of a private institution, President Novak begins to start thinking about new plans to improve St. Ambrose remarkably. “We are in the process of starting a strategic plan. There is a part of that which involves a campus master plan, so looking at our current facilities and understanding what we need in terms of new facilities, or what the key aspects of renovation would be important. And of course, we solicited student feedback on housing, trying to get a lot of listening happening and then understand what do we make as priorities based on what we heard from our different constituents. So, do we renovate the cafeteria? How do we address ongoing issues with Davis and housing? Are there better ways that we could be using our classrooms? There are lots of spaces on this campus and so, strategically what would be most impactful to student learning,” she states.
President Novak did not always dream about being a crucial member of a college university, but she is thankful for the path that has led her to this. “Sometimes doors open for us and you’d say ‘Wow, that’s a neat new opportunity.’ “I’ve spent almost 20 years in other jobs outside of higher education. Then through a variety of circumstances, my husband being in the military and then medically retired, we moved back from Germany. There was an opening at a college in my hometown in South Dakota. I thought well, I’ll try to do this for a little while until I get my feet back on the ground in the United States, connect to my network, and I’ll go back to doing some of the work that I’ve been previously doing. So, I started working in writing grants and working with first-generation low-income students and fell in love with it. I was privileged then to eventually serve as the president of that institution for eight years and now here at St. Ambrose. It’s just been graced and gratifying trajectory.”
President Amy Novak reflects on her first year of being president of St. Ambrose University with great hope for the future. She concludes, “When I think about a year at St. Ambrose, I am excited not just about what we need this year, but I think about what our future holds. Many times I think St. Ambrose is kind of a secret like it’s not as well known. And what I’m excited about is being able to help tell the story of St. Ambrose so that it continues to attract and build and grow as we go forward.”
Makenna Verdon is a staff writer for The Buzz.