Erwins’ commitment makes a difference for Clemson University students, faculty and business community


CLEMSON — Upstate residents Joe and Gretchen Erwin of Greenville will improve the future of Clemson University students, faculty and staff and the business community with their $2.5 million gift, including $1 million for the new College of Business building and $1.5 million for a student scholarship and programming support for communication students and adjunct faculty.

Clemson President James P. Clements thanks Gretchen and Joe Erwin for their academic cornerstone gift at Thursday's announcement.
Clemson President James P. Clements thanks Gretchen and Joe Erwin for their academic cornerstone gift at Thursday’s announcement.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Cumulatively, the Erwins have given more than $5 million to Clemson to further the university’s mission and vision.

“The impact of Joe and Gretchen’s generosity is far-reaching and speaks to the innovative leadership they have displayed consistently on behalf of Clemson,” said Clemson President James P. Clements. “Their latest gift will support scholarships for some of our country’s most talented students, ensure the continued success of The Erwin Center for Brand Communications and help us create a world-class business education facility.”

With this gift, the Erwins become the second Cornerstone Partner for Academics at Clemson University. The Cornerstone program is made up of visionary individuals who commit transformational funding of $2.5 million or more to help set the course for Clemson’s future success as one of the nation’s top-ranked public universities. To date, there have been 10 Cornerstone Partners for Clemson Athletics.

Specifically, this Cornerstone Academic gift will establish:

  • an endowment to provide need-based scholarships for students working toward a minor in brand communications.
  • a faculty fund to encourage collaboration and engagement among faculty in the College of Business with The Erwin Center for Brand Communications. This fund will provide support for research projects in brand communications.
  • an unrestricted fund for The Erwin Center for Brand Communications to support and enhance the center and its impact on Clemson University. Expenditures may include research, supplies and travel.
  • an annual scholarship to provide funding for students working toward a minor in brand communications.
  • $1 million for the new College of Business building fund.

“As Clemson continues to elevate its national presence and rankings, it is even more important that future marketers graduating from Clemson and The Erwin Center for Brand Communications enter their chosen fields not merely prepared, but with a competitive advantage,” said Joe Erwin, president and founder of Erwin Creates.

“Gretchen and I are thrilled that this new investment will allow the Erwin Center to expand course offerings and faculty, and that Erwin Center funds will, for the first time, be available for research in the brand communications and marketing fields,” he said. “Programmatically and physically, this commitment helps establish the Erwin Center’s presence in the new College of Business, and we so appreciate President Jim Clements and Dean Bobby McCormick for helping make this possible.”

In 2012, the couple established The Erwin Center for Advertising and Communication (now the Erwin Center for Brand Communications) at the university. Its mission is to ensure that graduates are equipped to enter today’s global workforce as thoughtful, cutting-edge marketers prepared and excited to contribute their creativity and resourcefulness in a wide variety of communications fields. Professors build on their industry experience and apply communication theories to actual client challenges.

“Joe and Gretchen are two of Clemson’s most generous supporters who share their vision and creativity by their actions as well as their words. They have been demonstrating their commitment to Clemson and Clemson students for years, and by becoming the university’s second Cornerstone Partner for Academics, they are taking that commitment to an even higher level. They exemplify enlightened philanthropy at its best,” said Brian O’Rourke, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations.

Joe Erwin graduated from Clemson in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He has served the university in a variety of roles, including as a member of the Rutland Institute for Ethics Advisory Board and the President’s Advisory Board. Gretchen Erwin is a 1977 graduate of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, and in 2015 was named to the centennial class of Grady Fellows.

After working for several years in New York, they co-founded the Erwin Penland Advertising agency in 1986 with just three people and one client. Over the next 29 years, with Joe as its president and Gretchen leading the media group, the company became a national powerhouse in marketing and advertising. It grew to more than 400 employees based in Greenville and New York who served a client list that was a “Who’s Who” of corporate America.

After leaving Erwin Penland, Joe Erwin established Erwin Creates, a company that continues his legacy of cultivating, growing and influencing a creative community in South Carolina. The centerpieces of that effort are his support for The Erwin Center for Brand Communications at Clemson; development initiatives including a new professional soccer franchise for Upstate South Carolina; and his leadership of Endeavor, a creative, collaborative community in Greenville. Endeavor is a membership-based, co-working community for independent companies, corporate marketing teams and freelancers in the creative services fields.


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