Rhodes to Success
Submitted by Villanova
Nnenna Lynch '93 LAS, senior policy adviser on economic development to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Villanova track star and the University's first Rhodes Scholarship recipient, speaks to Villanova Magazine.
Tell us about your job in New York City Hall.
I am a part of the team that sets and implements NYC's economic development strategy.
Our mission is to create jobs and increase the tax base toward the end of making sure that
the city is as strong as possible economically. Mission has been front and center in my
career and definitely connects back to my Villanova experience.
What positions preceded and led to your current post?
I left my position as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs to be a junior partner at a
small, mission-based, for-profit real estate development company focused on distressed
neighborhoods. At the time, it was my dream job. I loved working to transform buildings
and neighborhoods, as well as the combination of business acumen and creativity it
So "Ignite Change. Go Nova" must resonate with you.
I was happy to see this embracing of the Augustinian and Catholic tradition at Villanova.
This is something that resonated with me as a student and still does. A key part of life is
trying to make the world a better place.
How did you get into running, and what has it taught you?
Running was something I was good at from an early age. In first grade I could beat all
of the boys in my class. Also, I have an older sister who was fast, and she led the way in
terms of joining a team and taking it seriously.
The word that best describes what running has taught me is "doggedness." That captures
the perseverance and focus it cultivates. For example, I finished 182nd, 38th, 12th
and third in my four trips to the NCAA cross-country nationals. While part of that
progression was growing older and stronger, part of it was my insistence on continually
improving. Applying a similar mindset to my other pursuits is one of my strengths.
Another lesson that I only appreciated in retrospect is the importance of relying on others.
Middle- and long-distance runners are known as individualists, and there's some truth
to that stereotype, but to be successful, you have to rely on many other people: coaches,
training partners, physios, agents, friends and family.
What was the transition to Villanova like after growing up in Manhattan?
It was quite different, but I enjoyed the change of setting and pace. That said, sometimes
I craved an urban setting and would head down to Philly for a bit.
Is there anyone who particularly influenced you as an undergraduate?
There are a few teachers who stand out as particularly energizing and supportive: Dr.
Barbara Wall, Dr. Keita, Dr. Eckstein, Dr. Conn and Cathy Staples. I was also inspired by
the work at Campus Ministry.
What was it like to be Villanova's first Rhodes Scholar?
In college, I didn't know what a Rhodes Scholarship was! Someone at Villanova
appreciated my talent and capability and said, "Nnenna should apply for this." This
captures the best a university can do for its students-to see their potential and direct
them toward the best possible means of maximizing it. It was special to be the first and
put Villanova on the map in that regard.
What advice do you have for today's Villanova students?
Actively pursue your passions and interests every opportunity you get. If you have a
project to do for a class, think about how to tie it in to your interests instead of doing
what's convenient. Seek out internships and jobs that excite you, not simply those that
pay the most. It's as important to eliminate options as it is to find the things that are
meaningful. A fulfilling career will set you on a course of happiness, success and spiritual
Tell us about your overseas athletic experiences.
I represented the US in international competition four times. Competition took me to
Morocco, South Africa, and throughout Europe and the US. In addition to traveling
the world to compete, I participated in training camps in the French Alps, Kenya and
Are you still running races? Do you think your children will follow in your
What I do now is definitely not racing. It's more like participating. I have no athletic
aspirations anymore; I just want to stay fit. For a few years, I did triathlons, which I
loved. Now I just run two days a week (Saturday and Sunday) and occasionally enter
road races. In 2012, I ran two 5Ks and actually won one-the Chilmark 5K in Martha's
Vineyard, where we vacation in the summer. It was the slowest time in years, so I sort
of won by default. In 2011, I ran a couple of half-marathons, including the Philadelphia
half-marathon in 1:23. As for my kids, we'll see. I have a boy, 5, and a girl, 3. Both are
very athletic and love to run, my daughter in particular. At this age, I'd just like to expose
them to different sports. They'll get to choose what they focus on when they're older.
What awards or achievements are most meaningful to you and why?
The Rhodes Scholarship is the most meaningful because it was life-altering and not only
represented my accomplishments but also my potential.
Since graduating, Nnenna Lynch has forged an impressive career and dedicated herself,
along with her husband, to raising their two children.
5-time NCAA champion; USA cross-country trials winner, 1997, 1998; World University
Games gold medalist, 1997; 6th in the Goodwill Games, 1998
Villanova's first Rhodes Scholar; NCAA Woman of the Year, 1993; one of People
magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, 1994; Villanova University Varsity
Club Hall of Fame inductee, 2011; Association of American Rhodes Scholars director