The Severson Family Broadcasting/Podcasting Studio and Lab in the Marshall Building will allow aspiring journalists to gain experience using industry-standard equipment
As someone who believes in people coming in and out of one’s life at the right time, business owner Adelaida Severson has helped change the trajectory of the School of Journalism with a simple visit to the University of Arizona campus.
After touring the school, she was shocked to find that the school did not have a dedicated studio for broadcasting. The University of Southern California alum had recently visited her alma matter and saw what she jokingly called their “broadcast arena.”
“It looks like a CNN news studio, basically,” said Severson, who also has a master’s and Ph.D. from Arizona State University. “I thought, ‘too bad we can’t do that here.’”
That is when she and Jonelle Vold, the vice president for development for the University of Arizona Foundation, started talking about the possibility of a studio.
“We just wanted to help, in some way, further not just broadcasting, but students learning about it and using the tools,” Severson said.
Thus began a lengthy process, starting in August 2020, resulting in Adelaida and her husband, Barry Severson, donating the capital to the school to fund the Severson Family Broadcasting/Podcasting Studio and Lab on the Marshall Building’s third floor. The Seversons are owners of Bushtex, a global satellite communications company that works with both the government and private industry.
As the plans for the space grew, so did the budget.
“During the process, the vision and budget had grown so much that I assumed the Seversons might want to carve out a portion of the project to fund and we would need to raise the rest,” Vold said. “However, I think the impact was so clear that Adelaida and Barry were as excited as the rest of us.”
The Seversons met with faculty members and slowly the plan for the space unfolded. The studio will be in the space previously known as the undergraduate reading room. The control booth, lab editing bays and podcast recording area will be in the connecting room which previously housed the graduate lounge.
The undergraduate reading room will relocate to a comparable nearby space, which previously held offices for staff and faculty members. The graduate lounge will move across the hall to a nearby former classroom. Both new spaces will be renovated and include new furniture.
“I have worked on campus since 2006, I have never seen such a well-organized and thoughtful process,” said Vold. Many people with the project have noted the Seversons’ concern about the students continuing to have a lounge for relaxing, socializing and working.
“Things are happening (in the space),” said Adelaida, whose mother was a radio journalist in Hawaii. “We’re excited and honored to do this for the University of Arizona, and to help elevate the journalism school and its abilities to recruit, to have teaching tools, to turn out even better students than they have now.”
The Seversons have long been supporters of education in both K-12 and at the university level. Adelaida previously served on the school board in Gilbert, Arizona, where they live. She is also a trustee at both ASU and Park University.
She and Barry have a “passion” for education. Adelaida worked in the president’s office at ASU in the early years of Bushtex.
“(Working at ASU) made me look at how we’re teaching students, how we need to have equity across the board,” Adelaida said. “People talk about equality. It’s not all about equality for me right now. It's also about equity. It’s insuring everybody has a chance.”
The Severson's new UA Journalism studio will include dedicated broadcast/podcast spaces, a control booth and an outdoor patio that can be used for live shots with the campus as a backdrop.
“It’s a game changer to be able to walk from the classroom to the studio and put the skills being taught into immediate practice,” said Prof. Michael McKisson, interim director of the J-school.
Adelaida was a broadcast journalist in California, Ohio, and Hawaii early in her career before leaving the profession to join a then-fledgling satellite startup.
“Students really need to learn to edit and put packages together,” she said.
Professor Liliana Soto, who recently joined the J-school after working as a bilingual broadcast journalist in Phoenix, is excited for the new studio's possibilities.
“Our students will experience all aspects of television news production,” Soto said. “Our TV studio will have a virtual background, so they can experience working with graphics. We will have a control room where students can experience working as producers, broadcast studio directors, video editors, audio operators, and production assistants. Our students will also experience anchoring a newscast with a teleprompter and reporting live from the studio or from our newly outdoor terrace showcasing the beautiful UA campus or downtown Tucson as background.”
Severson hopes to see students prepared for the constantly changing world of journalism. She says the industry needs journalists who know the fundamentals, such as the five W’s and H.
“As broadcasters, we don’t have that above-the-fold space to write like print does,” Severson said. “You have to do it concisely and learn how to put packages together. It is something we will continually need.”
Severson, herself the daughter of a successful local radio host, grew up watching her mother mentor young women who hoped to go into broadcasting. Severson’s parents both came from the Philippines but met in Hawaii, where her mother would give the news in the Ilocano dialect and sing folk songs on the air.
“She had her equipment at home and did her broadcast live from our house,” said Severson, who wanted to be the next Connie Chung when she was younger. “It was kind of interesting to know that she did that in the ‘60s and here we are now, doing the same thing- podcasting from our homes.”
Through their generous donation, the Seversons are continuing the legacy of mentoring and teaching the next generation of broadcasters.
“I have many dreams with the studio,” Soto said. “I envision a legacy and I hope many students get to experience this opportunity. We are a tight-knit community. Every student will receive personalized instruction and care from award-winning journalists from diverse backgrounds.”