University-Industry Engagement Week

St. Ambrose looks to industry in developing strategic plan for engagement


By David Schwartz
Published: August 2nd, 2022

A detailed article on the St. Ambrose effort to deepen its connections with industry leaders appears in the July issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

Building on her experience at previous universities, Amy Novak, EdD, president of St. Ambrose University, was the driving force behind “St. Ambrose University Innovation Summit: Building the Next-Generation Workforce,” at which about 120 representatives from the corporate world gave the university feedback it will use as the foundation for its strategic plan to work with industry and build a future workforce that meets its needs.

“I have a background in economic development,” Novak says, “and I’ve learned it’s important for us to ask ourselves how higher education and business and industry can communicate better and build a bridge between the two of us. I’ve listened in economic development agency conversations and Chamber of Commerce meetings, and one-on-one with executives, who’ve told me ‘You’re not quite producing what we need.’”

This disconnect, she continues, was magnified in a report Forbes published early this year. “Gallup asked CEOs of Fortune 500 companies if college graduates were prepared, and something like 86% said they were not really meeting their expectations,” she notes. “They then followed up with Provosts and asked them if their students were prepared with the critical thinking skills needed in the workplace, and 96% said ‘absolutely.’ There, for me, is the fundamental point — the critical thinking demanded by the workplace and by the university are not the same.”

Her goal in her first year as president was to do “what I had done at previous positions — bring CEOs around the table alongside faculty and staff and allow those leaders of business and industry to tell us more specifically what those skills were and, more important, how to demonstrate them in the workplace. As we refresh our curriculum … there will be a much clearer linkage.”

Novak began laying the foundation for the industry-facing innovation summit almost immediately. “When I originally arrived in Davenport (IA), I made a substantive effort to meet key business leaders in the region, including cities like St. Louis and Chicago,” she shares. “During those meetings I pitched this idea: ‘I hear your concerns. Would you be open to sitting around a table with faculty so they can hear you and build a bridge?’ They were generally very amenable.”

After those initial meetings, she assembled a team at the university to make the idea a reality. Called the Corporate Engagement Committee, it is headed by Anne Gannaway, acting vice president for advancement.

They must have done something right, because there were 120 industry leaders present at the in-person event held in April. “For a number of others who could not attend, we did a modified virtual engagement to get input from them,” says Novak. The attendance, she says, “absolutely exceeded” her expectations.

As for industry response to the summit, “it has been overwhelmingly positive,” Novak reports. “Of the initial 120 who attended, we’ve had 70 who’ve reached out for a follow-up meeting or a request for some additional information. We’ve already begun to see very strong paths and raised visibility with industry.”

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week