When Adelaida Severson was a child growing up in Hawaii, her mom had her own radio show for the Filipino community working on the plantations. Severson decided to follow in her mom’s footsteps, so she majored in journalism and international relations at the University of Southern California.
Severson worked as a reporter until she had what she calls an “epiphany” when she was covering a fire and felt that some colleagues were more concerned about getting B-roll than the fact that people might be dying. When she ran into a friend starting a satellite communications business — which in the 80s was a new, burgeoning field — she jumped at the chance to work “behind the scenes instead of in front of them.”
At the firm, Adelaida met her future husband, Barry, who graduated with a B.A. in mass communication from the University of South Dakota and started his career operating transportable uplinks for major events in the United States. Barry eventually became a freelance satellite engineer/journalist, covering high conflict areas around the world for U.S. and European broadcast networks.
In 1994, the Seversons branched out on their own and founded Bushtex, a satellite communications firm specializing in remote broadcast transmissions worldwide. The company, which is based in Gilbert, Ariz., is involved in the news, entertainment, and sports industries, covering a range of events, including political conventions, Super Bowls, and every Olympics since 1990. They also support the U.S. government with high-level surveillance.
Journalism is at the heart of what Adelaida is passionate about, she said. “We need our craft to be able to tell stories. And if you can have the tools to make that story even better and to disseminate it farther, [Barry and I] are all for it.”
To provide upcoming journalists with the tools they need to train, the Seversons donated funds to create the Severson Family Broadcasting/Podcasting Studio and Lab at the University of Arizona. The space will include state-of-the-art technology, green screens, in-room acoustics, and sound and light proofing on the third floor of the Marshall Building on campus.
“The video and podcasting studio will have an immediate and long-term impact on students and faculty in the School of Journalism,” said Michael McKisson, interim director of the School of Journalism. “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. This gift will result in students being better prepared for jobs when they graduate.
Dedicated to Community
The gift might surprise those who adhere to a strict University of Arizona vs. Arizona State University policy. Adelaida received her master’s in mass communication and her Ph.D. in public administration from ASU. She and Barry donate generously to its Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, including funding the Adelaida and Barry Severson Family Cronkite Global Initiatives Suite. In 2017, Adelaida was inducted into the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School Hall of Fame.
But Adelaida is more concerned about higher education across the state than school rivalries. She’s also a Wildcat parent — her son, Lars, graduated from the Eller College of Management in 2020.
“I feel like the UA tends to be a hidden gem and that their academics has a superior feel to it,” Adelaida said. “We’re just really excited and proud to be a part of this endeavor. We see it as more of an investment, rather than a gift.”
Barry concurs. “Growing up in the Midwest, all you ever really heard about was the University of Arizona in Tucson. Our eldest son received a wonderful education here and even landed a great job upon graduation because of it and the networks he made. Our hope is to keep the UA competitive in the journalism and digital world, which is upon us, but ever changing.”
The Seversons are committed to contributing to the community, especially higher education and global initiatives. “We have this mantra that if you’re blessed to be able to bless others then it’s a blessing in return,” Adelaida said.
Adelaida’s community involvement includes serving as an Arizona State University trustee, former Gilbert Public Schools governing board member, and Gilbert Chamber of Commerce board member. She also mentors other women who want to create businesses.
Both Barry and Adelaida co-chaired the Diocese of Phoenix Bishop’s Charity Development Appeal for two years, and Barry has been involved with wildlife organizations in Arizona.
“We enjoy being involved,” Adelaida said. “It gives us a pulse of what’s happening in our community instead of being in this cocoon of our business.”
Providing Students with Real-World Experience
Nationally accredited since 1964, the School of Journalism prepares students to face the complex challenges confronting journalists. The school has specializations in global, digital and broadcast, and science and environmental journalism and offers students a variety of real-world experiences from hands-on classes to internships. But accessing broadcasting and podcasting space and equipment was a challenge.
When Adelaida toured the School of Journalism, she recognized the need for the school to have a dedicated studio.
“You can learn about broadcasting all day long, but if you don’t have that practical experience – touch the buttons and all that – then you don’t have the full experience of being a broadcaster,” Adelaida said.
“The new podcast and broadcast studio will be a dream come true for everyone,” said Ruxandra Guidi, journalism assistant professor of practice. “It’s going to make such a difference in the quality of our students’ stories and in their confidence as young journalists.”
The gift will impact thousands of students, including the 400 students studying journalism, broadcasting, and podcasting, as well as students working for UATV-3 student television and elsewhere in student media.
“Having a dedicated space for us to sharpen broadcasting skills will make a huge difference,” said Karl Yares, a journalism student pursuing a career in sports broadcasting. “A controlled studio will make production a more streamlined and polished process, for raw beginners and more practiced students alike. I look forward to further expanding my broadcast repertoire in the Marshall building when the studio is complete.”
This story was included in the Fall 2021 Developments newsletter.