New director right at home — literally — in University Housing

Aug. 28, 2014

by Greg Bump

Jeff Novak

Jeff Novak, director of University Housing, talks with staff members and student workers at a meeting in Carson Gulley Center. “Everyone has been very welcoming, and there is a great team here,” he says.

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The mission statement of University Housing really resonated with Jeff Novak: “Be the place where everyone wants to live” — to the point where “everyone” includes Novak himself.

Novak has been on campus for just a few weeks, but he is already feeling at home in his newly adopted quarters in the Eagle Heights apartments and his new position as director of University Housing for UW-Madison.

“Everyone has been very welcoming, and there is a great team here,” says Novak.

“You can definitely tell that the people who work (at University Housing) are committed to the students, to our mission and to the institution,” Novak says. “And their willingness to partner with other departments and divisions is truly outstanding.”

The mission statement of University Housing really resonated with Jeff Novak: ‘Be the place where everyone wants to live.’

Novak, a 42-year-old Maine native who attended the University of Florida in Gainesville for his undergraduate and graduate degrees, comes to the UW from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, where he also received his doctorate. He and his wife, Kelley, have three children, sons Braden and Cole, ages 10 and 8, and daughter Dylan, 3.

UW–Madison’s reputation for having excellent facilities and programming is even more impressive when you understand that the UW’s housing and dining rates are the lowest among Big Ten schools, Novak says.

“Through the years, I’d heard many wonderful things about this institution,” Novak says.

Novak started at the University of Central Florida’s housing division in 2001, working his way up to the position of director of housing operations and residence life. He takes over at the UW for Paul Evans, who retired earlier this year after 16 years as director and 36 years at the housing division.

Paul Evans

Paul Evans, who led University Housing through an era of renewal and growth, retired as director in May after 36 years at the UW.

Photo: Joel Ninmann

“Paul really set us up for success for anyone who would follow in his footsteps,” Novak says.

When Novak first arrived in Gainesville, he had thoughts of seeking a business degree and becoming an entrepreneur. He decided after a few business-related courses, however, that he wasn’t interested in becoming the next Donald Trump.

“Then as a sophomore I became an RA (residential assistant) and I absolutely loved it,” Novak says. “I really enjoyed building relationships with the guys on my floor and being the person they went to for help.”

Novak majored in psychology and ended up staying at UF for his master’s. He also received a graduate assistantship in the housing department while pursuing certification in mental health counseling. In the end, Novak opted to pursue a career in housing rather than as a therapist, but he said the skill set he developed in his training as a counselor has helped him tremendously.

“Nobody goes to college thinking they want to be an RA for life,” Novak says. “But if a student is interested in helping people and working in a collegiate environment, I want them to know you can make a really great career in this field.”

One of the factors that drew Novak to UW–Madison is the residential learning communities incorporated in campus housing, and the partnerships that have been formed between the academic community and housing.

“You can definitely tell that the people who work (at University Housing) are committed to the students, to our mission and to the institution.”

Jeff Novak

“The commitment to enhancing the student experience beyond housing definitely attracted me here,” Novak says.

Some of Novak’s goals include having University Housing play a major role in alcohol education efforts, continuing to strengthen campus partnerships, expanding the number of residential learning communities, and maintaining high-quality facilities.

“We know that students who live in university housing their first year are more successful academically and graduate faster than those who don’t, and that success is even greater for students who live in campus housing two years,” Novak says. “I look forward to building on the many great successes and continuing the excellence that University Housing is known for.”