Keeping the Magic Alive

Alumna Debbie Jo Severin remembers her days as a UAB undergraduate student as extraordinary. Her time here was instrumental in molding many traditions for future Blazers, and she continues to invest in the future of UAB students.
by Kayla Jenkins

Debbie Jo SeverinAlumna Debbie Jo Severin remembers her days as a UAB undergraduate student as extraordinary.

Her time here was instrumental in molding many traditions for future Blazers, and she continues to invest in the future of UAB students.

“My freshman year was the year that they decided to bring the basketball program. And that was a magical time because we were defining what student life would be at UAB,” Severin said. “I was in the second group of ambassadors. I was the second Miss UAB. I can walk around the campus and see my own fingerprints here and what we as a group of students started to build.”
Photos from Debbie Jo Severin's UAB experience

Having originally planned to complete her bachelor’s degree in just three years, Severin decided to spend four years on campus and fully enjoy the student experience she had helped create for herself and others. Severin earned her B.S. in 1981 and her M.S. in 1983, both in mathematics.

More photos from Debbie Jo Severin's UAB experience
Her accomplishments, and the opportunities UAB afforded her, were instrumental in her later decisions and successes. “I look back and see that was really the start of the way I built my career, what I do today and how I think about life in general,” Severin said.

The guidance of her professors and counselors during her time at UAB was instrumental in helping her build confidence, take risks, and orchestrate future decisions in her life, she said. 

Years later, after building a successful career, Severin thought about the important role that UAB played in her life, from faculty who guided her to the experiences she had as a student. “I started hearing the voices of the professors and all the opportunities UAB gave me,” said Severin. “And I thought to myself, ‘I owe UAB.’”

Severin was also motivated by her family’s own financial circumstances. When she was a student, Severin’s parents could have used help in getting her through UAB. She said her parents worked hard to instill the importance of an education and when they didn’t have much, they gave what they could to help her finish her degree.

“My mom and dad didn’t have a lot of money. They worked hard to send us to UAB. After they passed away, it occurred to me to fund an endowed scholarship in their name,” remembered Severin. “So I love when I get the [thank you] letter every year because I know that my parents would be so thrilled that they not only put me and my sister through school, but in name they are helping somebody else go to school.”

In honor of her parents and their passion for education, Severin and her husband Lars Gunnar created an endowed scholarship in her parents’ names in 2011. The James C. and Carol Warner Endowed Scholarship has allowed numerous students in the Department of Mathematics to set aside their financial burdens and focus on their academic and career goals.

Five years after creating the scholarship in honor of her parents, Severin and her husband had a strong desire to play a part in helping UAB attract the best students and build its own prestige in the undergraduate ranks. The couple decided to create another endowed scholarship in the Department of Mathematics, this time in their own names.

When asked what she hoped would be the outcome of creating the scholarship, Severin said, “A student who may not have selected UAB (or had the chance to go to UAB) will make that decision.”
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