Championing Communication Through Generosity: Leading by Example

Nov. 7, 2023
Nancy and Steve Lynn sitting in front of the pyramids

Nancy and Steve Lynn during a 2019 trip to the Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Steve Lynn has a calm, direct manner and is generous with his words — not surprising, considering his career has centered around communication and interacting with people. 

His community service and university engagement accomplishments reflect that commitment to the public: 10 years as chair of the SBS Advisory Board and co-chair of the Innovation Circle (formerly known as the Magellan Circle). He is a member and former chair of First Things First, an organization addressing early childhood development. Additionally, he serves as a member of the College of Medicine Advisory Board and holds the position of immediate past chairman of the University of Arizona Foundation. 

This kind of commitment and involvement comes intuitively to Steve and his wife Nancy, whose gift of the Steve and Nancy Lynn Endowed Professorship in the Department of Communication is a natural manifestation of the value they place on communication and the university that equipped them both for success. They established the professorship in 2015 and recently extended their giving, in part, to help the college launch the public phase of the Fuel Wonder campaign. 

Nancy, a retired high school guidance counselor, studied elementary education at UArizona. Steve has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in communication. As an undergraduate, he enjoyed group discussion, debate and deductive reasoning so much that he went on to earn his master’s in communication. 

One of Steve’s first jobs was with the City of Tucson, working in Housing and Community Development on a program designed to use federal funding to ameliorate the root causes of inner-city poverty. This role, coupled with his ability to speak Spanish, afforded him the opportunity to communicate on a deeper level with the community he was serving, and he realized then that good communication is multi-faceted. 

“It’s not just the language. It’s about being respectful — saying and doing things consistent with cultural standards,” Steve said. 

Steve’s communication savvy didn’t start with that job. It started during his time at UArizona and he says these skills are part of his professional toolbox to this day. 

“One of the things I’ve done for probably 50 years now is independent consulting on communications,” Steve said. “I still use some of the communication models we studied in graduate school to show people visually what happens when they try to communicate with each other.” 

Steve understands that good communication bears fruit and makes an impact. Little wonder Regents Professor Chris Segrin, head of the Department of Communication, was chosen as the first Steve and Nancy Lynn Professor. 

“Chris is such a good guy, and the students love him,” Steve said. 

The endowed professorship has helped Chris continue a series of studies on neighborhood disadvantage, problem drinking and mental health. His team found that people have the greatest influence over their mental health based on where they live and how they engage with others — essentially, through interpersonal communication. 

Chris’ research shows what Steve has known about people and business for a long time: communication is everything.

Chris Segrin standing outside

Department Head of Communication, Chris Segrin. Photo by Molly Condit, Great Bear Media.

Chris also investigates loneliness, social anxiety, depression, marital struggles and family communication. The endowment also allows him to provide his graduate students with crucial research opportunities such as co-authoring research papers and projects he calls, “learning laboratories.” 

He says preparing the next generation of scholars is critical. 

“The training and mentoring of graduate students are a super important thing to me, especially at this point in my career,” Chris said. “It’s great to see how enthused they get over having resources to support the projects they are interested in.” 

Chris puts in significant effort to champion and collaborate with his department, composed of dedicated and capable faculty and graduate students. 

The Department of Communication is small relative to the output of published research and the number of students in its degree programs. With 15 core faculty members, the department serves more than 1,000 communication majors, over 700 communication and public relations minors, and graduate students. It is ranked in the top 25 and as one of the most productive communication departments in the country, with four faculty among the top 2% most influential communication scholars of the last 60 years. 

“They are very good at what they do,” Steve said. “A lot of that is because Chris is a really good department head.” 

The admiration is mutual. 

“I think Steve is an innately sharp, brilliant man,” Chris said. “The training in communication helped channel that brilliance into the fun, fantastic career he’s had.” 

“I feel very strongly that the preparation I received at the University of Arizona is critical to whatever success I’ve enjoyed in my career,” Steve said. “Giving back has never been about the amount as it was about the ability to connect back to the university.” 

No doubt the Lynns will continue their legacy of generosity and community engagement — impacting the university, the City of Tucson and perhaps even further. 

“I can’t imagine how many people Steve and Nancy have touched with their philanthropy,” Chris said. “It’s a great thing they’re doing for us, showing what real generosity looks like and what effects it can have.” 



This story was included in the fall 2023 Developments newsletter.