From Undergrad to University President


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By Cat Caracci ’14
Hannah Storm Journalism Intern

A trip to India sparked a career for Amy Novak ’93.

Through a Saint Mary’s College program there while a Notre Dame undergraduate, Novak had the opportunity to study the role of women in the developing world and how to empower them to be successful.

“I came back from India compelled to find a career in which I could be part of a larger change and instrumental in helping people improve their livelihoods,” Novak said.

Since graduation, Novak has worked with mentally ill women, immigrants, and in corporate America. Now, as president of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota, Novak still sees her job as one that improves the lives and futures of others.

“One of the joys of working at Dakota Wesleyan is that we serve a lot of first-generation, low-income students. Every day, I encounter students who didn’t think higher education was possible and are now going on to graduate, get jobs, and increase the overall economic mobility of themselves and of their families,” Novak said. “It’s a real privilege to be part of that process.”

I had the chance to talk recently with Novak about her new job—she was officially sworn in on Sept. 27—and her hopes for the future.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It’s different every day, and I appreciate the diversity. My responsibilities are split across four major areas.

I’m involved in the strategic direction of the university, so I spend time exploring our vision and how we’re executing on that vision. I’m also involved in community relations—looking at the role of the small private university in rural America and asking, “How can Dakota Wesleyan better support the economic development of our region?”

Fundraising for the university is another area. I spend quite a bit of time meeting with alumni and donors and friends of the university, getting to know them and learn how Dakota Wesleyan changed their lives.

The fourth area is my commitment to staying connected with our students, whether it’s meeting them for lunch, sitting in on Student Senate meetings, or gathering a small group of scholars to talk about how we might improve the university. For me, that is a pivotal part of my job—it is something I’m committed to and I’m able to be committed to at a small private institution.

How did Notre Dame prepare you for this position?

Notre Dame helped me develop strong communication skills and provided me with the ability to solve problems, innovate, research, and analyze. I’m a passionate advocate of the liberal arts, and those were skills I honed in philosophy, theology, and history classes. They were at the heart of my education and I certainly see their value in what I do today.

What are some of your goals for Dakota Wesleyan University?

We are working toward growing our enrollment. We are also striving to identify how we live out our faith commitment. We’re an institution of the United Methodist Church, but open to people of all denominations, so we want to develop our curriculum in a way that helps students appreciate their faith. We hope that Dakota Wesleyan students leave with a better sense of their spiritual selves and how that calls them to look at ways to live more justly and act with greater levels of compassion and mercy in the world. Finally, we have some projects related to capital infrastructure on our campus and we are seeking ways to strengthen our overall endowment so we can continue to support our mission of educating low-income, first-generation students.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I happen to be the mom of eight children. There’s a lot of discussion in our world today about balancing career and life, particularly for women, and I just think that there are new models of doing that. One of my greatest experiences, as I look back at Notre Dame, was that I learned to value family, and I learned how to balance my time.