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January 2014

National Alumni Society Member

Debbie Jo SeverinName:  Debbie Jo Severin 
Degree(s) and Graduation Year(s):  MS in Mathematics, 1983; BS in Mathematics, 1981
Hometown:  Birmingham, AL (born in Atlanta but moved to Birmingham when I was 10 years old)
Current town:  Fremont, CA
Current employer and job: 8x8, Inc.  Vice-President, Marketing


What is your favorite UAB memory? I have so many great memories at UAB since I went to UAB for undergraduate and graduate school.  Then, I worked in the Mathematics Department for 3.5 years, so I spent almost a decade at UAB.  As an undergraduate, I remember just being a student and getting involved, trying to make my campus experience balanced with academics.  I think it has a lot to do with why I still want to be a part of UAB as an alumnus.

Key memories:  Being at the first Basketball game was a real highlight.  Giving tours at Woodward House as a UAB Ambassador where the President of UAB Richard Hill resided.  Simply sitting on the hill outside the library studying and visiting with friends.

How has UAB impacted your life? The opportunities I was given at UAB really shaped my confidence, leadership, and determination.  UAB let me express my social inclinations with academics.  Being a UAB Ambassador, a Teaching Assistant, and Miss UAB let me become acquainted with so many smart and wonderful people.  I had tremendous mentors and developed dear lifelong friends.  Each inspired me to want to be better in so many ways.

What made you choose your current profession? I wish I could answer that it was some long-term dream achieved through conscious & deliberate choice. But, it is simply not the case.  My counselor in college (Dr. Segal) once gave me some surprising statistics about the fact that most people don’t work in a profession directly related to the degree within a few years after graduation.  I think today, only 27% of workers work in a field related to their education.  His advice:  Find something you’re good at, make good grades, and you will grab the attention of potential employers and the jobs will come your way.  Employers will look for someone with an education, someone who excelled and finished what they started.  So, I majored in Mathematics.

My first corporate job was Marketing Research – doing research on emerging technologies and market adoption.  That just kept leading me to more traditional marketing jobs.   I still work in emerging technologies (IP communications), but as a VP – Marketing.  Because Marketing is more analytic and “big data” is becoming more and more a part of understanding purchase decisions and customer behaviors.  So, having a Mathematics background is a tremendous help.

My education still grabs attention.  Marketing and a MS degree in Mathematics don’t usually come together.

What lessons has your professional life taught you?  So many.  Here are a few:
1)     You are more likely to excel in your professional life if you love what you’re doing.
2)     Pressure doesn’t build character; it reveals character.
3)     People are who they are – with our biases, experiences, passions and fears.  These things manifest themselves in our work and personal lives.
4)     You are paid to do your job.  Your job is to do things that are good for your company.  Sometimes, that means doing more than just your job.  See it.  Own It.  Solve It.  Do it.  (The Oz Principle).
5)     The best teams are made of people who are not all alike, but all contribute.

What would you do if you were given more time in each day?  I wish I could say I would do something that could help the world.  I think it’s my age. I would spend more time with my husband, family, friends, and dogs.  They bring me great joy.  They make me feel alive and happy to live each moment of every day.

What invention have you seen in your lifetime that you believe has been the most important?  I think personal computing devices, the Internet, and mobile networks.  These three things have put power in the hands of all who have access to them.   These things have changed every facet of our lives.  Access to information creates change.  It’s almost like how the printed word began to change the face of the world.

If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?  Spiritual:  I wish everyone could open herself/himself up to tolerance and appreciate/value our differences. Social:  I’m having a hard time wording this.  I wish we could all receive the necessary ingredients to live happy, healthy, and enlightened lives so we all are better equipped to solve some of the world’s hardest problems. Selfish:  I wish I could stunt the effects of aging.  I’m enjoying myself.

If you could go back to any age…which age and why?  This is difficult.  Is there an age that I enjoyed more than any other?  Is there an age I think I could have made better decisions?  I feel like I’ve had a blessed life.  I’m not sure I want to go back.  I would just want the body and energy of someone 15 years younger than myself.

Which historical figure do you most identify with and why?  Mary Queen of Scots.  When I studied English History, I was “touched” by the struggle between Mary and Queen Elizabeth.  Mary followed her heart and passions.  I always thought I would have been Mary – even knowing the outcome. Elizabeth was driven to preserve the throne and England.  When I turned 40, one of my best friends in high school asked me if I would still choose Mary Queen of Scots.  My answer was “I’m not so sure.“   I think there are greater “causes” that deserve being protected.  But, they have to be balanced with being a “change agent” or innovator. 

If you had the power to solve one, and only one, problem in the world…what would it be and why?  I think I would want the world to have equal opportunity to education.  I think that people drive social change through their ability to problem solve.  Education opens the mind to possibilities. 

What natural gift would you most like to possess?  I really wish I could sing.  I love music and simply can’t sing.  But, I’ve always believed that God didn’t bestow that gift on me because I simply could not handle the attention.

What trait(s) do you most value in your friends?  My sister said to me once, “that to have good friends, you have to be a good friend”.  I truly have better friends than I am a friend.  You like yourself when you are with them.

Who would you want to portray you in a film about your life?  I would love Reese Witherspoon, but she’s young.  I think Meg Ryan is a better fit.

What is your motto?  There are so many sayings about this.  But, basically, I tend to believe that I have a great deal of power over my circumstances.  No one can make me mad or make me happy.  That is within myself.  “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?  At work:  Do favors for people.  When you need it, they will do a favor for you.  At home:  Live in the moment.  Truly, the journey starts today, not at the destination.

If you could start a charity or non-profit organization, what would it be and why?  I don’t think I would start a new charity.  I’d probably just invest more in a charity I believe in – Girls for a Change.  It’s a wonderful charity that teaches the power of social change among young women.   My second choice would be ASPCA.   I love dogs.  I am constantly amazed how an animal can make you feel more human.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?  I have been trying to visit places of my dreams.  I think I will be able to visit many of the places I’ve dreamed of.   The one place I feel will be difficult to reach --due to time and cost -- is Antarctica.  This is a place where you can see man’s affects untouched, and touched at the same time.  

What is something you are proud of and why?  I’m proud to have established an endowed scholarship at UAB in my parent’s name – James and Carol Warner.  They instilled in me a sense of curiosity.  They instilled in me the value of an education.  They helped me believe in myself.  I’m just glad to put their name on something that represents those values.

What is the last book you read?  Honestly, “Predictably Irrational:  The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Areily.  I heard him speak at a Google event.  Before that, “Hunger Games”.  In a strange way, they are related.

What things do you not like to do?  Vacuuming  (a chore I had when I was a child) and answering the phone.  The phone thing is strange, since I talked on the phone constantly as a teenager and had my own phone line when I was 13.  I also work in IP communications.  I have some theories, but it would take some explaining.


Where would you go in a time machine?  I would definitely go to the future.  No sense reliving the past.  As a friend of mine once said, “it’s ok to look back, but don’t stare.”  I’m not sure how far into the future I’d like to go.  Maybe 50 years.  It would be interesting to see what changes occur.

Maybe the only exception would be to go back to the last times I saw my Mom and my Dad.  But, that’s just to see them again.  I don’t feel I left things unsaid; I would just love the chance to see them again.

What 3 items would you take to a desert island other than food and water?  Ways to get off:  A sail boat, a flair, a radio. Ways to stay alive:  A knife, a hook, a pot.


Student Alumni Society Member

Karla KhodanianName: Karla Khodanian
Graduation Year: Spring 2014
Major: Communication Studies with a concentration in Public Relations
Hometown: Madison, AL


Why did you choose to attend UAB?  From the first day I stepped foot on UAB’s campus as a high school senior, I knew it was the school for me. I attended a small, private school my entire life, so I was more than ready to transition out of the suburbs and into the city life. For me, it was the urban landscape crossed with the amazing community that captured my heart. It truly was love at first sight!  

Who is the best professor that you have had at UAB so far and why?  Dr. John Wittig has been the greatest professor because he is constantly motivating me to be better.  He’s tough on students because he cares about them. Dr. Wittig taught me the benefits of having a thick skin and gave me a lot of laughs along the way.  I know he’s the one professor I will remain in touch with for a long time to come. 

What is your favorite UAB memory?  The summer before my junior year, I was chosen to lead Blaze Productions- Student Life’s concert and comedy show committee.  That summer I worked harder than ever with my advisor Jennifer Nix to plan UAB’s first-ever concert on the Green. Despite the stress and anxiety that comes with large-scale event planning, that day was one of the greatest days of my life.  Shouting “Go Blazers!” with over a thousand of my fellow friends and Blazers to kick-off an amazing green-and-gold fireworks show was a pretty spectacular way to end the day. 

How has UAB impacted your life?  I can say, with no hesitation at all, that UAB has made me a better person.  The experiences I’ve had here, both in and out of the classroom, have allowed me to grow and mature as an individual in ways most college students could never even imagine. And the people- boy oh boy, this is where I’ve made some of the greatest friendships of my life!  I will be ever faithful and ever loyal to my dear old UAB forever. 

What is your current state of mind?  My current state of mind is motivated. With only four months of school left, I’m ready to step out of role as a college student and into my career in Birmingham that UAB has prepared me for these past few years. 

What do you do for fun?  I like to think of myself as one of Birmingham’s proudest civic advocates, so when it comes to fun I want to take advantage of any exciting opportunity this city has to offer! Whether it’s brunching at a fantastic local restaurant or shopping at new pop-up shop, I’m all about supporting local businesses in any way I can! 

Who are your heroes in real life?  My parents have been the greatest influencers a girl could ever ask for. My mother is my cheerleader- whether it’s motivating me to never give up or listening to me when I’m feeling broken, she’s always been there for me.  And my father, he’s my rock. I lost my father very suddenly just two months ago- he was the friendliest, most optimistic person I’ve ever known. I live every day trying to honor him by asking “What would dad do?” I’m so lucky to have parents who worked hard to give my siblings and I the opportunities they never had.

If you were given more time in each day, what would you do?  I’d sleep! It’s definitely something I don’t give myself enough of these days. 

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?  Going into Public Relations, I think it’d be very beneficial to have the ability to read minds! Think about it- you’ll always know what your constituents are really thinking about your organization! 

What is the best invention of your lifetime and why?  Twitter has completely revolutionized the modern age.  It was influenced the way we communicate and digest information more than any other medium. 

What are your future goals?  I refuse to believe in planning too far ahead because you never know what surprises life can throw your way. For now, I'm focused on finding that perfect first job here in the city. 

What would be your ultimate dream job?  Running my own full-scale, ad agency would be the absolute best. If my entrepreneurial dreams don’t work out, I’d love to work for any brand or agency whose products/clients/causes I’m actually passionate about as well! 

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional. with whom would it be?  Beyonce. They call her Queen Bey for a reason, you know. 

What 3 items would you take to a desert island other than food and water?  My iphone, a wireless hotspot to get wifi, and a good book to keep me sane if all else fails. 

If you had a theme song, what would it be?  Hmm…that’s a tough one! Since I already gave one answer about here, why not another- “I Was Here” by Beyonce is a great personal anthem.

If you had the power to solve one, and only one, problem in the world…what would it be and why?  Access to education, especially for young girls all over the world. As the amazing young education advocate Malala Yousafzai said, “Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons." 

What’s the best advice you ever received? Smile and the world will smile back at you.  It’s something my mom tells the all the time, and it’s something I have to constantly remind myself.  The power of a positive attitude will really get one far in life.