SAU president recognized for outstanding leadership


For The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, received the Distinguished Higher Education Leadership Award April 16 from the American Council on Education, Iowa Women’s Network (IOWAWHE).

Anne Marie Amacher
Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose University, was recognized for her leadership by the American Council on Education, Iowa Women’s Network. This file photo shows Sister Lescinski talking about the McMullen Awards that the university presents each December.

The award, presented during the organization’s 2021 virtual conference, recognized Sister Lescinski’s leadership and work on behalf of women in higher education. Following the presentation, she gave the keynote address.

IOWAWHE is dedicated to advancing the careers of women in higher education through networking, professional development, recognition and eliminating barriers to achievement. It established the award in 2016 to recognize higher education leaders who go beyond their job duties in helping other women and actively serve as mentors, advocates and role models.


Sister Lescinski will retire in August after a 50-year career in private, Catholic higher education. She has served as the 13th president of St. Ambrose University since 2007 and was the first female president in the university’s 138-year history.

From 1998 to 2007, she served as president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. Before assuming that role, she served as vice president for academic affairs and dean at Fontbonne University in St. Louis; associate dean of academic affairs at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri; and a professor of English at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. In addition to her administrative duties, she taught English at each of her career stops, including St. Ambrose.

Throughout her career, Sister Lescinski has mentored and encouraged women to grow as leaders and scholars.

“She has been an incredible and foundational person for my professional growth,” said Ellen Bluth, vice chancellor for Workforce and Economic Development, Eastern Iowa Community College District. “One of the things I really appreciate about Sister Joan is she is very honest in pointing out potential flaws, but very constructive. I know I can go to her and she won’t sugar-coat anything but will give me a very honest assessment,” Bluth said.

“She is a remarkable woman in many ways. Her intensity and passion to serve has been a real inspiration to me, and I am eternally grateful for her incredible generosity of time. She has made a real difference in how I view others, how I view my job and how I view myself,” Bluth added.

Sister Lescinski has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Louis since 1965.

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