$1 Million+ gift creates Erwin Center at Clemson University


GREENVILLE, S.C. — Clemson University President James F. Barker Wednesday announced a $1.05 million gift from Joe and Gretchen Erwin, co-founders of leading advertising and marketing firm Erwin Penland, to establish the Erwin Center for the Study of Advertising and Communication at the school. The gift creates a unique relationship between the Erwin family, Clemson University and Erwin Penland. 

“This unique program will emphasize new methods and techniques to further establish the value of creativity in driving commerce,” said Erwin, a 1979 Clemson graduate. “Top companies, including most of our clients, are extremely proficient at developing more innovative and reliable products and services by using cutting-edge technology and insight-driven ingenuity. The Erwin Center will help prepare future generations of marketers to similarly use information, technology and modeling methods to skillfully promote these products and services.” 

Initially, the Erwins’ gift will provide up to five new courses to support a new emphasis area in advertising and communication for communication studies majors at Clemson. The courses also will be offered as a minor to students in other majors. Many of the classes will be taught in collaboration with industry experts at Erwin Penland, a 400-person agency with offices in Greenville, New York and Detroit.

“We have a 10-year strategic plan that will make Clemson one of the nation’s top 20 public universities, and we have alumni and friends who share our vision and passion,” Barker said. “Joe Erwin has been a loyal alumnus, a valuable adviser on the President’s Advisory Board and Rutland Institute for Ethics Advisory Board, and a frequent guest lecturer in marketing and communications classes. Clemson gratefully accepts the Erwins’ gift, and we look forward to the success it will help create for our students.”

Housed within Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, the communication studies department currently offers emphasis areas as diverse as sports communication, communication and the law, and health communication. 

“This new program will offer a tremendous opportunity for Clemson students to engage with industry professionals in meaningful, creative and immersive ways,” said Richard E. Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “Education is not static; it evolves in response to the needs of our students and the needs of the professions they will enter. We are grateful to Joe and Gretchen for their vision and their initiative, for collaborating with us to answer a critical need for Clemson students at a critical time in the life of this university.” 

Erwin said that he and Clemson representatives will be meeting with major brands, marketing agencies and other industry leaders across the country to solicit input aimed at ensuring that the Erwin Center for the Study of Advertising and Communication develops students who are uniquely qualified to drive the future of marketing communications.

Nancy Hill, president-CEO of the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies), said the Erwin/Clemson partnership is the kind of proactive approach needed to ensure a steady flow of top talent to the advertising business in the face of increased competition from gaming and entertainment companies and tech startups.

“Advertising should be a top career choice for the best and brightest students seeking to work in a creative, entrepreneurial environment,” said Hill. “That’s why the 4A’s is a driving force behind such programs as OpenAdvertising, Brooklyn’s High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media, and the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, which are designed to promote excellence and diversity in our industry. We salute Joe and Gretchen, and Clemson University, for their commitment to helping develop future generations of advertising leaders.”

“We’re going to do this the right way,” said Erwin. “We have to build this program from collective insight and with an entrepreneurial perspective.  We have to understand what people in our business — whether they work in agencies or corporate marketing departments — need and where we can help.  If we listen, we can create the most relevant program in the country.”

The Erwin gift is the largest private donation to Clemson’s communication studies department. It is part of the university’s The Will to Lead capital campaign to raise $1 billion to support Clemson students and faculty with scholarships, professorships, facilities, technology and enhanced opportunities for learning and research.


Clemson University
Ranked No. 25 among national public universities, Clemson University is a major, land-grant, science- and engineering-oriented research university that maintains a strong commitment to teaching and student success. Clemson is an inclusive, student-centered community characterized by high academic standards, a culture of collaboration, school spirit, and a competitive drive to excel. 

Erwin Penland
Helping create success for the people we touch, Erwin Penland is one of the largest full-service advertising agencies based in the South. With offices in Greenville, S.C., New York and Detroit, the firm offers integrated advertising, strategic planning, media, digital, experiential, direct marketing, design and public relations services to a wide range of clients. Erwin Penland has received numerous awards for marketing effectiveness and creative excellence, and in 2011 was named one of the “Best Places to Work” by Advertising Age. In 2012, its internship program for college students was recognized by Internship King as 3rd Best in the U.S. among top advertising

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