In her inaugural address, Novak conveyed her vision for the university and a commitment to ensure it’s inclusive, innovative and adaptive to the needs of students and the greater community. In choosing her inauguration theme, “Come to the Table: Equipping Inclusive, Innovative, and Invitational Leaders for Our Future,” Novak invited collective action and creativity to ensure a St. Ambrose University education is attainable, affordable and accessible to all students., according to an SAU release.
“The table is a place that establishes a proof that we live, move, and invest our whole selves in something that is continually co-created with those who sit alongside us. Something greater than ourselves,” she said.
“One of the ways that I plan to work with the St. Ambrose community and our extended community is make room at our many tables for those who do not feel they can come because of cost, fear, or simply the unknown of the college process.
“In a time when access and affordability often represent insurmountable barriers to low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color, it is important that the St. Ambrose table be innovative in its approach to inviting and welcoming students of all backgrounds as we strive to pilot new business models of affordability and create new pathways to ensure all students, regardless of background and respectful of personal dreams, can access higher education,” Novak said.
“Similarly, we need to welcome business partners, religious leaders, non-profit strategists to inform the creation of a 21st century curriculum that develops leaders across their lifespan,” she added.
St. Ambrose is a private, Catholic university grounded in the liberal arts and affiliated with the Diocese of Davenport. Founded in 1882, it has a current enrollment of about 3,000 and offers more than 60 undergraduate degrees and 16 post-graduate degrees.
St. Ambrose faculty and staff, as well as representatives from colleges and academic societies across the country participated in the ceremony’s formal academic processional, demonstrating support of Novak’s vision.
“In a time when cognitive science informs us that our new generation of learners have awakened our need to meet their intellectual curiosity with fresh approaches to teaching, it is important that St. Ambrose demonstrate the courage to explore, experiment and implement more effective and relevant methods of teaching so as to bring out the very best in our students,” Novak said.
“In a time when the pandemic, income inequality, global political instability, or racism flood our news feeds, our education must inspire innovative, creative problem-solving inclusive of the voices most impacted by these global challenges. An Ambrose education must recognize failure as a critical learning tool. It must model approaches that transcend disciplinary silos and invite perspective from across the academic spectrum,” she said.
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 of Arts in History from the University of Notre Dame in 1993.
From South Dakota to Davenport
A native of South Dakota, Novak most recently served as president at Dakota Wesleyan University (DWU) for eight years during which the university experienced record enrollment, fundraising, and retention. In addition, under Novak’s leadership, significant improvements were made to the campus infrastructure including five new facilities.
Her efforts also expanded regional business partnerships, built innovative collaborations to deepen spiritual engagement and outreach, and facilitated the creation and launch of new academic programs intentionally responding to the region’s labor force needs.
Prior to her appointment as DWU president, she served as provost from 2007 to 2013 and vice president for enrollment management from 2004 to 2007. She previously worked in a variety of roles while traveling with her husband, Ken, while he served 10 years in the U.S. Air Force.
An independent institution of higher learning, SAU embodies the Catholic tradition of teaching, learning, scholarship, and service through openness to those of other faith traditions, and through the pursuit of justice and peace, according to its release.
“I believe the challenge before all of us is to make our encounters with each other rich with the possibility of growth,” Novak said. “Allowing others to dream and explore, allowing others to question and test answers, allowing others to create and start-over, allowing others to sit with us, to feed us with the riches of their minds and hearts. Whether we are on a phone call, an online meeting, a classroom, a study table, a studio, field, or stage – we are present.”
Novak invited everyone to enter into the meaningful work of setting a new table for the next decade of the 21st century.
“May the Light of truth, inclusion, healing, justice, and transcendent purpose be the nourishment that we offer to all who gather around our table. May we open our minds and hearts to the undiscovered possibilities that lie ahead. May we welcome all whom we encounter to the Ambrose table, a place where inclusive, innovative, and invitational leaders are intentionally formed for the work of Christ in our world,” she said.