“It’s What We Do.” Alumni Helping Business Students Overcoming Obstacles Through Scholarship

The Sextons graduated from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Thomas R. Sexton ’79, PhD has been working in the College of Business since 1977.

Thomas and Margherita (Terry) Sexton share a long history with Stony Brook University: Both obtained degrees from Stony Brook, their children attended the university and Tom helped shape the College of Business into what it is today. It seemed only natural that they wanted to link their legacy to their home away from home by establishing an endowed scholarship to help College of Business students who identify as first-generation students or those who are overcoming obstacles.

Tom's office in Harriman Hall with Terry and their children in 1979.
Tom’s office in Harriman Hall with Terry and their children in 1979.

Tom ’79, PhD and Terry ’85, MS ’88 met while attending St. John’s University as undergraduates. While Tom was working at Grumman Aerospace, an opportunity opened up at Stony Brook for a research associate position in the W. Averell Harriman College for Urban and Policy Sciences. “I was hired in 1977 to research what the transportation energy demand would be in the tri-state region in 1990,” said Tom. “It was a risky move, since it was only a one-year contract, but it got extended.” While working on the research and working toward his PhD, Tom convinced the dean of the Harriman College to let him teach a class. “I had taught at Hofstra University for a few years as an adjunct professor and really enjoyed it,” he said.

After the contract expired and Tom finished his PhD, he was offered a position as an assistant professor teaching business statistics and decision making/management science. “It was still a risky move because it was only a three-year position,” he said, “but I’ve been teaching at Stony Brook for 47 years now, and they can’t get rid of me!”

Terry's MS graduation from Stony Brook in May 1989.
Terry’s MS graduation from Stony Brook in May 1989.

Terry, who left St. John’s after two years to get married and start a family with Tom, obtained her associate degree from Suffolk County Community College before continuing her studies at Stony Brook’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “I got my bachelor’s and my master’s in applied mathematics and statistics,” Terry said. “My goal was to graduate before my daughter started classes at Stony Brook in September 1989 — and I achieved that goal!” After graduation, she worked as an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University, Suffolk County Community College and St. Joseph’s College, teaching decision sciences and statistics for 21 years.

The College of Business has undergone many changes. In 1975, the urban and policy program became the W. Averell Harriman College for Urban and Policy Sciences, after the former New York Governor W. Averell Harriman. “In the ’80s, we realized that most of our students pursued jobs in business, so we phased out the public policy analysis portion and we started an undergraduate business major,” said Tom. In 2004, the Harriman School became the College of Business, and an MBA program was established. Tom later worked with former Dean Manny London for over 10 years to earn international accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in 2021. According to Tom, with that accreditation, Stony Brook has joined the ranks of renowned institutions like Harvard and Yale and over 800 other institutions around the world.

2023 College of Business Homecoming Social and MBA class of 2008 Reunion. From left to right: Dean Haresh Gurnani, Terry and Tom Sexton. (Photo by Tyler Mooney)
2023 College of Business Homecoming Social and MBA class of 2008 Reunion. From left to right: Dean Haresh Gurnani, Terry and Tom Sexton. (Photo by Tyler Mooney)

In 2000, one of Tom’s former students founded an award in Tom’s name for business graduate students. “It was quite an honor to have her create that award,” he said. “We wanted to keep helping students, so we started contributing to that award each year.” However, the Sextons wanted to do more. “We wanted to establish some sort of scholarship or award at Stony Brook that would last in perpetuity,” explained Terry. As the couple discussed how they would do this, Terry remembered a retirement account she had set up years earlier when she first started teaching. “When I checked the account, it had $100,000 in it — the exact amount we needed to establish this scholarship,” said Terry. “I couldn’t believe it!” And they are even more excited that its value could be tripled with the New York State endowment match program and the Simons Infinity Investment.

As the Sextons taught year after year, they witnessed students struggling to make ends meet. They said some students would miss class because they were working to support their families. “These students work so hard and do so well in their classes, we wanted to do something to help them,” said Tom. Their hope is that the Thomas R. and Margherita T. Sexton Endowed Scholarship for Academic Excellence While Facing Significant Obstacles will help College of Business students continue their college career with a little less financial burden. And, eventually, they hope that they will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

“This is what Tom and I do. Stony Brook was such a big part of our lives, and we want to pay it forward to help students in their studies.” – Terry Sexton

The Sextons’ commitment to helping students extends far beyond scholarships and awards. Years ago, they started a tradition of inviting international students to their home during the holidays. “Some of these students can’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” explained Terry. “We want to create a warm and welcoming environment for them so they don’t feel lonely on an empty campus.” This past year, Terry said that 11 students joined them for their Thanksgiving celebration. “Every time I think of how wonderful that day was, bringing together these strangers, it puts a smile on my face,” she said. Then, nine students joined them for Christmas Eve brunch.

Around the Thanksgiving dinner table with students.
Around the Thanksgiving dinner table with students in 2023.

In addition to supporting students, the Sextons have made generous gifts to the Staller Center. “We love it there. The symphony orchestra concerts are our favorite,” said Terry. “And, of course, we always get four tickets so we can bring students with us. It’s what we do.”

-Christine McGrath

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