When Lance Funston (’67) traveled from Philadelphia to New York to the annual Highlight Houston National Presidential Event (now called the UH Here, We Go Roadshow) in November 2016, he wasn’t necessarily expecting to be called to action.
But when the student speaker, broadcast journalism major Kaitlyn Palividas (’17) mentioned attending classes in the Lance T. Funston Communication Center at the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication—the building his gift built—he realized what an incredible impact giving to the University can make.
One part of her speech was particularly relevant, as building and improving campus facilities is one priority of UH’s Here, We Go billion-dollar campaign: “The University of Houston is not the same institution I stepped foot on three and a half years ago,” she said at the event. “And that’s the beauty of UH—we are always growing and improving.”
Funston had the chance to meet Kaitlyn Palividas later at the reception. “She was surprised to hear that I was alive,” he joked, noting that in many cases, a campus building is named in honor of someone by their family. That encounter illuminated the difference a gift can make, even thousands of miles away from campus.
Education is important to Funston and his wife, Christina. Together, they founded the Save A Mind Foundation in 2008, which focuses on raising high school graduation rates for low-income and minority students. “Public education is the key that unlocks opportunity,” Funston said. He believes that UH has a proven capacity to transform the lives of its students.
Although Funston majored in political science at UH, his business is communications, which is why his first major contribution to UH was to create the Lance T. Funston Communication Center. The building was completed in 2011 and features a state-of-the-art video production studio, the building’s first formal entrance, and renovated classroom and office space. It has been invaluable in increasing students’ capacities to tell their stories and advance their communications careers—precisely what Funston envisioned. “Communication is a vital skillset—it can be used as a major vehicle of change,” he remarked.
Temple Northup, director and associate professor at the Valenti School, confirms the difference the facility makes on the student and faculty experience. “Part of what attracted me to the Valenti School was the incredible Lance T. Funston Communication Center,” said Northup, who came to UH in 2011. “Knowing that we have state-of-the-art facilities and an engaged donor base made me confident that this is where I should work. It’s impossible to quantify the impact Lance Funston has had—his generosity has truly had a transformational impact on the lives of so many students.”
Another reason the Valenti School is important to Funston is his long friendship with the late Jack Valenti (’42) while he was serving as assistant to the director of the FDIC, William Sherrill (’50) in Washington D.C. after graduation. The communications department was named in Valenti’s honor in 2008. “I know he’s looking down with pride,” Funston mused. “He was always there for his friends—never too busy! From my visits to the Valenti School, I have witnessed the same supportive philosophy.”
That pride is part of the reason that Funston has committed to continuing to give to UH. “I want to finish the work I started with the first building,” he said. In 2014, he had the chance to witness the difference it made in the lives of students firsthand when he visited a class. “It was a wonderful opportunity,” he recalled. “By focusing on the marketing issues facing my companies, I may have learned more than the students did!”
"At UH, you have all the ingredients you need to break out of the traditional mold and into the future of communication."
As an alumnus and donor, Funston is very happy to see the direction that the Valenti School and UH as a whole have taken. “The communication program is exactly where I’d like to see it,” he added, noting the importance of quality journalism in today’s age and how the resources of a Tier One research university benefits communications students. “At UH, you have all the ingredients you need to break out of the traditional mold and into the future of communication,” he said.
Those ingredients include the facilities and improvements that Funston has contributed. New buildings and improvements translate into more opportunities for students, faculty and the communications department. Funston saw the impact when he heard Kaitlyn Palividas speak and he sees it whenever he visits. “UH has come a long way,” he said, “and I am very grateful to have a chance to be a part of it.”