Background Image

Tom '70 & Gayle Sette

In this Section

Quiet Philanthropy
January 2012

Imagine sitting down to lunch with your closest friends. The atmosphere becomes relaxed, the laughter begins to flow, and you know that you are about to spend some special time with caring people. That’s how it felt to sit down with Tom ’70 and Gayle Sette, except that I had never met them before. Their 30-year partnership has been honed to bring out the best in others by practicing the best in themselves. Tom and Gayle are a perfect example of quiet philanthropy in action.

Originally from Long Island, Tom had never heard of Clarkson, but when a Clarkson graduate who served in WWII with his father, suggested it, Tom added it to his list of schools. Tom loved Clarkson because of the small classes and the personal attention. “Clarkson was a supportive, competitive environment among good friends,” says Tom. “We knew our professors well and worked hard in and out of the classroom. I remember many visits to professors’ homes, especially Dr. Anderson and Dr. Arajs. Clarkson prepared me well for graduate school.” After graduating with a Physics degree in 1970, Tom went on to graduate study in Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona, Tucson. His career encompassed 30 years with IBM, where he assumed assignments in optical measurement instrumentation, quality assurance, new product introduction, critical customer situation management, optical storage development, material program management and procurement.

Gayle graduated in 1973 with a major in mathematics from The University of the Incarnate Word and earned her Masters in Computing Science degree from Texas A&M University in 1974. Her career included two years with the Boeing Corporation and 30 years with the IBM Corporation where she held assignments in systems engineering, product development, business practices, early support programs, critical customer situation management, and operations.

Tom and Gayle met at an IBM management training school in 1982. Their mutual love of tennis was the introduction to what has become a 30-year philanthropic journey. “It’s a lifestyle choice, and we focus on causes that are important to us,” says Gayle. “We have been very fortunate, and this is simply a way that we can help others and society as a whole.” Those causes include cancer, heart and arthritis societies, their church and Gayle’s alma mater. They donate a percentage of their income each year and volunteer their time.

Clarkson is included in their philanthropic plan as well. “The Clarkson experience provided a well-grounded technical, personal and ethical foundation which helped me succeed in the corporate sector,” says Tom. “We make annual gifts because that helps students access an education right now, and we recently included Clarkson in our estate plan.”

Tom and Gayle are modest about their role as philanthropists. “It’s one of our life’s objectives that compels us to give back,” says Tom. “Anyone can include philanthropy in their life by making a commitment to a worthy cause. We enjoy making a difference through charities that directly impact the lives of others, and Clarkson is a great example of a place where we can make that happen.”

The structure of Tom and Gayle’s philanthropy at Clarkson:

  • They make annual gifts to the Clarkson Fund
  • They submit their gifts to be matched by IBM
  • Their estate gift is a bequest through their retirement plan
  • Naming Clarkson in the retirement plan cost nothing and can be updated easily
  • The bequest will someday create an endowment to help needy students in the natural and life sciences
  • They have created scholarship endowment guidelines to keep on file at Clarkson
  • They are volunteers through the Annie Clarkson Society

 (Sal Cania, Director of Gift Planning, first met Tom and Gayle for lunch in 2010)