Thomas Pierson - Resume and Biographical Summary

Thomas Pierson was raised and educated in the public schools of Norman, Oklahoma.  He attended the University of Oklahoma on a Lew Wentz Scholarship and scholarship support from the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps.  After undergraduate studies in aerospace engineering, he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with dual majors in management and accounting.  He received particular distinction as a student leader in the Reserve Officers Training Corps by leading the 675th detachment Arnold Air Society Honor Corps and serving as Deputy Commander of the 1700 member student corps in his senior year.  After graduation, a major football related knee injury (since corrected) prevented regular service as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force, and he accepted an appointment as a professional accountant with the University.  During his three year career at the University, he was responsible for the introduction of the first computerized accounting system for the auxiliary enterprises of the University, and was elected a member, and eventual Chairman, of the University of Oklahoma Employee Executive Council.

In 1974 he was recruited by then new Sonoma State University to lead the establishment of a University Foundation for faculty research.  This effort led to several leadership roles in the California State University system-wide Auxiliary Organizations Association, and eventually to an appointment as Associate Director of the much larger Foundation at San Francisco State University where, for almost nine years, he led the research development and administration programs of the campus.  In 1981 he received an MBA degree, writing a distinguished thesis on the effect of differing leadership styles in higher education management.  During this period he assisted an adjunct faculty member (Dr. Charles Seeger) in obtaining research funding for NASA’s fledgling SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) research program, and through this introduction met most of the early SETI researchers.

In 1984, at the encouragement of SETI leaders such as Drs. Barney Oliver, John Billingham, and Jill Tarter, Pierson formally developed a vision he had discussed at an informal social gathering of SETI scientists:  to develop a non-profit research organization that could serve as an institutional home for scientists and engineers interested in devoting their careers to the study of life in the universe.  After enthusiastic acceptance of this concept, Pierson incorporated the SETI Institute on November 20, 1984, and by February, 1985 the Institute received its first grant.  Pierson assumed the administrative lead for the Institute at its inception and, in addition to his responsibilities as Chief Executive Officer (originally Executive Director), he serves as Vice Chairman and Corporate Secretary for the Institute’s Board of Trustees.  The Institute, well known as one of the world’s largest and finest astrobiology research institutions, includes an extraordinary team of scientists, educators, administrators and Board of Trustees

Pierson is an elected Member of the International Academy of Astronautics and has received numerous recognitions, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Public Service Medal (one of NASA’s most prestigious honors to an individual not employed by the agency).  More than any individual recognition, Pierson considers his most prized award to be the NASA Public Service Group Award given to the SETI Institute and all of its staff  for excellence in carrying out research and education in the areas of life in the universe and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Pierson is married to the former Elyse Murray of San Francisco and has three children.  In addition to his role as CEO of the SETI Institute, he has served on the Boards of Directors of two other corporations:   Molecular Research Institute of Palo Alto, California (1991–2002), and Social Tech, Incorporated (aka Critical Reach) of Burlingame, California (1995–2006).  He has served as a consultant to research related organizations, and is often asked to advise on matters related to space research and science management.  He is a lifelong golfer and respected golf rules official, an avid cyclist, a former youth baseball coach, and enjoys racquetball and outdoor recreational activities with his family.   


Chief Executive Officer, SETI Institute (11/84–present)

Founder, Executive Director, and now Chief Executive Officer of the SETI Institute, a non-profit scientific research and educational corporation pursuing space research and education, with particular emphasis on disciplines investigating the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe.  The Institute conducts research in astrobiology, astronomy, exobiology, planetary science, astrophysics, electrical engineering, computer science, geochemistry, and evolutionary biology.  Institute science and mathematics teaching materials are in use worldwide.  Also serves as Vice Chairman of Board of Trustees and Corporate Secretary.

Assoc. Director, Research Administration, San Francisco State University Foundation (3/76–11/84)

Responsible for all pre-award and post-award research administration functions for the University.  In conjunction with Associate Provost, revised Foundation and University research policies and procedures which, in part, resulted in a doubling of University sponsored research volume.  During almost nine years in this position, assisted SFSU research faculty in becoming well known as the premier institution in the country in the fields of special education and infant/early childhood special education.  Assisted the School of Science in becoming part of NASA’s early SETI research effort.

General Manager, Sonoma State University Foundation, Inc. (3/74–3/76)

Responsible for initial incorporation of this Foundation as new non-profit auxiliary to the newly formed Sonoma State University.  Established research development and administration capabilities for the University, and assisted faculty in obtaining inaugural research grants.

Accountant III, University of Oklahoma (8/71–3/74)

Responsible for accounting and related financial services for Extension Center and related auxiliary programs.  Developed first computerized system for handling these accounts, totaling over $6 million and 55,000 transactions annually.


  • Elected Member, International Academy of Astronautics
  • NASA Public Service Medal – one of NASA's most prestigious honors to an individual not directly employed by the agency; awarded for outstanding individual contributions that made possible the successful inauguration of NASA's SETI High Resolution Microwave Survey (HRMS) Project
  • NASA Public Service Group Achievement Award – For leadership of the SETI Institute in furthering research and education in the fields of life in the universe and SETI
  • NASA Group Achievement Award – For leadership of the HRMS team
  • Strathmore’s Who's Who registry of research and business leaders
  • Marquis Who's Who in Finance and Industry
  • Marquis Who's Who in the West
  • Russell R. Meyers Award as the outstanding professional employee at the University of Oklahoma
  • Vice Commandant's Award, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps
  • Undergraduate School–Recipient of two scholarships based upon scholastic achievement


  • Founder, Board Member, and Secretary–SETI Institute  (1984–present)
  • Vice Chairman, SETIInstitute Board of Trustees (2012 to present)
  • Board of Directors–Critical Reach (Social Tech, Incorporated) (1995–2006)
  • Board of Directors–Molecular Research Institute (1991 – 2002)
  • International Advisory Board–SETI Australia Centre (1996–2002)


  • Co-Chair, SETI Permanent Study Group, International Academy of Astronautics (2002–2003)
  • Co-Chair, SETI Committee, International Academy of Astronautics (1999–2002)
  • SETI Permanent Study Group, International Academy of Astronautics (2002–present)
  • SETI Committee, International Academy of Astronautics (1994–2002)
  • Coordinating Board of Directors, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy [SOFIA]  (1997–2001)
  • Advisory Council, Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1991–1998)
  • California State University Auxiliary Organization Association (AOA) Executive Committee (1981–1984)
  • Biomedical Research Support Advisory Committee, SFSU (1978–1984)
  • Advisory Board, SFSU Sierra Nevada Field Research Campus (1978–1984)
  • California State University System-wide Task Force re. Auditor General review of state system (1982–1983)
  • Chairman (1981–1982), California State University System-wide Task Force on Effort Reporting and OMB Circular A-21 Compliance (1979–1982)
  • Auxiliary Organizations Association Personnel Committee (1979–1982)
  • San Francisco State University Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (1976–1981)
  • California State University System-wide Uniform Accounting and Fiscal Reporting Committee (1976–1977)
  • California State University System-wide Effort Reporting Committee (1976–1977)
  • California State University System-wide Cost Sharing Committee (1976)
  • Personnel Policy Committee, University of Oklahoma (1972–1974)
  • University of Oklahoma Professional Management Council (1971–1974)
  • Chairman, University of Oklahoma Employee Executive Council (1972–1973)


  • International Academy of Astronautics, Member (2004-present); Corresponding Member (1999–2004)
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science (1990–present)
  • California Academy of Sciences (1990–present)
  • National Space Society (1990–present)
  • American Management Association (1988–2006)
  • American Astronomical Society (1985–present)
  • Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1985–present)
  • The Planetary Society (1985–present)
  • International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life (1987–present)
  • Society of Research Administrators (1976–present)
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (1970-72; 1988–present)
  • Tournament Committee and Rules Official, Northern California Golf Association (1989–1999)
  • Board of Directors, Shoreline Golf Club (1987–1988; President 1988)
  • National Association of College and University Research Administrators (1976–1985)
  • Western Association of College and University Business Officers (1974–1977)
  • Southern Association of College and University Business Officers (1973–1974)


International Academy of Astronautics, IAF Congress

Appointed Rapporteur of the IAF Congress sessions for SETI II–Interdisciplinary Connections at the Congress meetings in Jerusalem (1994), Oslo (1995), Turin (1997), Houston (2002), Bremen (2003).  Session Chair, Amsterdam (1999).  Invited papers, Rio (2000), Bremen (2003).  

Bioastronomy Symposium, IAU Commission 51

Invited paper, 1993:  Pierson, T.  “SETI Institute: Summary of Projects in Support of SETI Research.”  Published in Progress in the Search for Extraterrestrial Life–1993 Bioastronomy Symposium, Santa Cruz, California, 16-20 August, 1993, G. Seth Shostak (ed.), Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series Volume 74, pp. 432-444 (1995).  Conference panel participant, 1999.

Media Appearances

Various appearances on radio, television, and film to discuss the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, astrobiology, and related topics.

Guest Lecturer/Panel Moderator/Speaker

Numerous panel appearances and guest lectures for various NASA and NSF entities and for professional organizations such as Society of Research Administrators, National Association of College and University Research Administrators, Western Association of College and University Business Officers, and the Auxiliary Organizations Association of the California State University System.

Instructor, National Council of University Research Administrators

Taught sessions on Research Administration, emphasizing the legal background of grants and contracts and the use of legal arguments in approaching research administration matters.

Guest Lecturer, Research Theory and Proposal Writing

Lectured for a variety of graduate and undergraduate classes, emphasizing research methodology and the systematic approach to developing requests for funding.


MBA - San Francisco State University, 1981.  Thesis:  The effect of differing leadership styles in higher education management.

BBA - University of Oklahoma, 1973.  Dual undergraduate majors in management and accounting.  Undergraduate studies in aerospace engineering.

Supplemental - Graduate (1975) of two year summer Senior University Officers' Management Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Thomas Pierson
Chief Executive Officer, SETI Institute
189 Bernardo, Suite 100
Mountain View, CA 9404
tel:  650-961-6633 
fax: 650-961-7099