Advancement; College of Education; Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Mark and Kathryn Richardson: Academic Cornerstone Partners for Clemson University


Every year, a new group of young people with new dreams arrives on the Clemson campus looking for their next home — the place that will build the momentum for their journey forward. To bring these top students to Clemson University, scholarships are crucial, as is support from the Clemson Family.

Mark ’83 and Kathryn Richardson understand and appreciate the significant role supporters like them can play. They are passionate about the power of education. And they are particularly passionate about paving a path for future generations to have access to educational opportunities at Clemson University.

As they continue to fill in the missing pieces for students who may lack access to Clemson, the Richardsons are making a transformational gift of $10 million to support scholarships for Clemson students. With this gift, they become Clemson University’s newest Academic Cornerstone Partner.  

Mark Richardson, a 1983 Clemson graduate, former 1981 National Championship Football team athlete, University trustee and a successful businessman, and Kathryn Richardson, an Elon University graduate who loves being an honorary member of the Clemson Family, know how a college degree can forever impact a student’s life. They have seen it firsthand through their support of scholarships and programs that pave a path to Clemson and help alleviate students’ uncertainty and stress throughout their four years.  

“Mark and Kathryn Richardson’s transformational $10 million dollar gift to Clemson University will increase access to education for generations of future Tigers,” Clemson University President Jim Clements said. “The Richardson’s believe in the power of an education and know the impact a college degree has on students, families and entire communities. Through their gift, the Richardsons are also challenging the Clemson Nation to contribute to the success of our students through the Champions 4 Access to Education challenge, and we know our community will step up in a big way. We are incredibly grateful for Mark and Kathryn Richardson’s generosity and for all they have done and continue to do for Clemson University.”

Their $10 million gift — the largest gift to Clemson University from a former student-athlete—will support general scholarships, the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business, projects and programs within the College of Education that strengthen teacher retention, and several crucial programs across Clemson that increase access to education and enhance students’ Clemson Experience: Emerging Scholars, Call Me MiSTER® and ClemsonLIFE. The couple is also providing significant support to general scholarships and have created a challenge for the Clemson Family to expand their impact.

The Champions 4 Access to Education challenge

Unrestricted scholarships remove the obstacles standing between future Clemson students and a Clemson education; they are crucial to providing a pathway to education. The most effective way to create an impactful scholarship endowment is through the strength of general scholarship funds.

As champions for Clemson University, the Richardsons are challenging the Clemson Family to join them in transforming students’ lives by supporting scholarships to provide an access to education for all.

Through the Champions 4 Access to Education challenge, the Richardsons will be matching gifts dollar-for-dollar up to $4 million to the following unrestricted scholarship endowments:

  • Clemson University General Scholarship Endowment
  • College-level General Scholarship Endowments

This will create a total impact of $8 million in scholarships for Clemson students. 

“Mark and Kathryn Richardson are among our University’s most dedicated supporters — giving graciously of their time, talent and treasure. They are supporting these specific programs and scholarships because they realize and appreciate the doors that a college education can open. They know that there are many students who have the passion but lack the access,” says Vice President of Advancement Brian O’Rourke. “The Richardsons created this scholarship challenge because they know the Clemson Family will rise to the occasion and join them in support of our students. This gift is going to impact generations of Clemson students, and for that, we are forever grateful to the Richardson family.”

Clemson was built on a foundation of philanthropy and the premise that those who had been given a quality education should pass that opportunity on to others. Clemson’s greatest supporters, like Mark and Kathryn Richardson, ensure the University is filling in the missing pieces for students so they can reach their greatest potential — whether highly recruited with merit-based scholarships or those who need financial assistance through needs-based scholarships.

The Richardsons are committed to scholarship support that will create resources — the financial resources that pave a path to education and provide the access.

“For every student we are helping today, there are many more who need our financial support.  We are committed to making those resources available and recruiting others to join us in an effort to provide access to education for all,” says Mark Richardson. “There are many intelligent and hardworking students who aspire to attend Clemson, and the only obstacles that are holding them back are opportunity and financial resources. We believe we can remove those obstacles and open the door to a future they may not have believed was possible.”

The Champions 4 Access to Education challenge will give future generations access to an exceptional education — a Clemson education. You can make a gift directly to one of these scholarship endowments or establish your own endowment that supports general scholarships — universitywide or college specific.

Learn more about the how to join the Champions 4 Access to Education challenge here. Accept the Richardsons’ challenge and make your gift to scholarships today.

Mark and Kathryn Richardson

Mark Richardson came to Clemson from Spartanburg, S.C., in 1979. A defensive end for Clemson Football, he was a three-year letterman and played on the National Championship team in 1981 and ACC Championship teams in 1981 and 1982. Richardson earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from Clemson in 1983 and an MBA from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 1987.

Through his entrepreneurial vision and work ethic, Mark Richardson has built a diverse portfolio of successful business ventures. He is the co-founder and former co-owner and President of the Carolina Panthers. Richardson was the Panthers’ first employee and spent the franchise’s initial 17 years as Director of Business Operations and President. 

Starting at his kitchen table in May 1987 as the sole employee, Richardson led and directed a team throughout a 6 ½ year NFL expansion campaign that culminated with the unanimous selection of the Carolina Panthers, the 29th franchise of the NFL, on October 26, 1993.

Since 2009, Mark has been the managing partner of MAR Real Estate and RAM Investments, private equity and real estate development and investment firms with single-tenant, multi-tenant, industrial, retail, hospitality, residential and office properties in Alabama, Texas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, New York, Illinois and Ohio. He holds private equity investment positions in 52 Bojangles, 98 Sonic Drive-Ins, Ascension, Wheels Up, Sure Can, Christensen Arms, Spacious Skies Campgrounds, Red Rock Industrial Fund, Encore Bank, Cantoni Furniture, Savannah Aloft Hotel and BOA Nutrition. 

Mark and Kathryn Richardson split their time between residences in Charleston, Charlotte and Chicago. They have four children. He currently serves on the Clemson University Board of Trustees, Encore Bank Board of Directors, MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital Advisory Board in Charleston and SC Teach For America Advisory Board. He has previously served as a board member for Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte Regional Partnership and Classroom Central.

Through the years, Mark Richardson’s engagement as a Clemson alumnus has advanced numerous academic and athletic programs across the University. Richardson was a founding member of the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business’ Trevillian Cabinet and was named to the Clemson University Board of Trustees in 2013. Being appointed to the Board was a full-circle moment for Richardson — with his journey beginning as a student-athlete at the University and later returning to serve the Institution as a trustee. He is committed to the future of Clemson and by working alongside his fellow trustees, he is honoring the intent of Thomas Green Clemson’s Will while following the University’s values of integrity, respect, diversity, patriotism, excellence and self-reliance. Richardson’s service to the University has exposed him to the programs that align with his and Kathryn’s passions.

Through their generous Academic Cornerstone Partner gift, Mark and Kathryn Richardson are creating pathways to Clemson that wouldn’t exist for students otherwise. And even more, through their scholarship challenge, they are creating a ripple effect of inspiring others to join them as fill in the missing pieces for future Tigers, shape their lives and provide them an access to education — a Clemson education.

 Learn more about the areas being supported through Mark and Kathryn Richardson’s Academic Cornerstone gift:

The mission of the Emerging Scholars Program at Clemson University is to establish a college-going culture among students and families from the state’s most economically disadvantaged areas through academic enrichment, developing leadership skills and increasing college preparedness.

During the academic school year, these students participate in college-access workshops and exercises at a local community college. They also visit colleges and universities in South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina. The pinnacle of the program is the summer experience — when selected rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors attend a residential program on the Clemson campus in three separate summer experiences.

Emerging Scholars recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Since its founding in 2002, Emerging Scholars has become a flagship program for Clemson as it fulfills its land-grant mission of serving the underserved in South Carolina.

Through their early support of the program, the Richardsons laid the foundation for pathways to education for students in South Carolina. This support, in partnership with Clemson’s commitment to these students, has created a ripple effect for students, families and communities. And the results for the program’s success are significant: 100 percent of the Emerging Scholars students (more than 1,000) have graduated from high school, with 82 percent going on to attend college. That more than doubles the overall college enrollment rate for 18- to 24-year-olds, which is 40 percent.

The Richardsons’ Cornerstone gift to support Emerging Scholars is designated to help the students who are accepted into and decide to attend Clemson University.

“Emerging Scholars not only laid the foundation for me to attend Clemson, but it fueled my confidence to push myself to get my master’s degree and to explore opportunities outside of what I’ve always known,” says Josue Figueroa ’19, Emerging Scholars graduate and current UX Researcher in Seattle, WA. He adds, “The Richardsons have believed in me, and they have believed in the Emerging Scholars program. They have allowed me to be an example for others who look like me and for those who grew up in an underserved community. I am eternally grateful to the Richardsons for their generosity and continued support of the Emerging Scholars program.”

The College of Education equips Clemson students for careers and lives that make a difference, particularly focusing on the development of initiatives that respond to today’s educational landscape — including teacher recruitment and retention, online teaching and leadership development. The College participates in these innovative efforts as part of Clemson’s land-grant mission to serve the state of South Carolina and beyond. With their latest gift, Mark and Kathryn Richardson are supporting the College of Education by providing funding for the projects and programs that strengthen teacher recruitment and retention.

Their gift will also support the Call Me MISTER® and ClemsonLIFE programs.

The mission of the Call Me MISTER® (acronym for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) program is to increase the pool of available teachers from a broader and more diverse background — particularly among the South Carolina’s lowest performing elementary schools. Student participants are largely selected from among underserved, socio-economically disadvantaged and educationally at-risk communities.

By providing MISTERs with a pathway to education, the program is empowering them to be the ripple effect within their communities, expanding access to education in an exponential way.

The program provides tuition assistance, an academic support system, a cohort system for social and cultural support, assistance with job placement, mentoring and tutoring programs, social and academic support activities, and mentoring and support from dedicated Call Me MISTER program staff.

ClemsonLIFE (Learning is for Everyone) allows students with special needs the opportunity to attend Clemson and receive the full college experience while learning the skills to lead independent lives. ClemsonLIFE supports the concept that enhancing academic, social, employment and life skills will better prepare students with disabilities to lead full and productive lives.

The program started in 2009 and has grown from a handful of students to an annual enrollment of 40 students on average.

The Richardsons’ Cornerstone gift also supports the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business. Named to recognize their support, the Richardson Atrium occupies a central and welcoming location in the new Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business building. This is an especially fitting location because of the central role Mark Richardson has played in the building and in business education at Clemson.

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