A photo of Leslie Sherwin and Ronald Sherwin
USC Dornsife alumnus and third-generation Trojan Ronald Sherwin, right, and Leslie Sherwin establish an eponymous environmental initiative with their transformative gift. (Photo: Michael Blum.)

$50 million gift commitment establishes The Ronald and Leslie Sherwin Initiative for environmental protection at USC Dornsife

Pioneering initiative aims to unite diverse academic disciplines for ecosystem conservation.
ByJim Key

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences today announced a landmark $50 million gift commitment by Ronald and Leslie Sherwin. When funded, the gift will establish the Ronald and Leslie Sherwin Initiative, which will focus on protecting the environment through research, education, and practice. It’s the largest single commitment to date to support USC’s environmental initiatives, a top priority for USC President Carol L. Folt.

“We’re grateful to Ron and Leslie Sherwin for their commitment to environmental sustainability efforts at USC,” Folt said. “Our Assignment Earth initiatives are having tangible results, including eliminating single-use plastic bottles and moving 25% of our electricity to renewable energy sources. This transformative gift ensures USC Dornsife will attract innovative leaders dedicated to creating a sustainable future.”

Ron and Leslie Sherwin, native Angelenos, are nature lovers who believe in the promise of research across academic disciplines to help protect the planet. Their previous gifts to USC Dornsife include a $1 million student research support fund.

“What’s important to me is that this gift will promote interdisciplinary research tied to environmental issues,” said Ron Sherwin, president of Sherwin Inc. “It’s going to take many academic disciplines working together to help protect our environment, including psychology, spatial sciences, political science … even philosophy. So, giving to USC Dornsife, which includes all of those as well as the Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability, just makes sense.”

When fully funded, the Sherwin Initiative will be the second largest gift to USC Dornsife after the naming gift from Dana and David Dornsife in 2011. It will fund 10 USC Dornsife faculty chairs focused on ecosystem conservation, half of whom will have research expertise related to ecosystem diversity and species preservation, including everything from coral reef restoration to the development of alternative fuels. The other half will have expertise in the many human factors associated with environmental protection, including environmental economics, behavorial science and political science.

This initiative will also fund research, educational programs, graduate fellowships, conferences and related activities.

“This generous gift will have a profound and lasting impact on USC Dornsife’s ability to address the critical challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss,” said USC Dornsife Dean Amber D. Miller. “By supporting endowed faculty chairs, research, and educational programming, the Sherwin Initiative will not only establish Dornsife as a leader in ecosystem conservation, but also inspire the next generation of environmental champions who will shape a sustainable future for our planet.”

USC Dornsife, home to USC’s renowned environmental studies program, has longstanding strengths in materials chemistry, biophysics and microbiology with researchers who are at the cutting edge of developing renewable sources of energy. It’s also home to the Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability and its marine science center on Catalina Island. Nestled in a pristine natural environment yet connected to one of the world’s largest and busiest urban areas, it’s a coastal campus that’s ideal for testing sustainable solutions and renowned for its environmental research. Wrigley Institute scholars are working on research ranging from solutions for plastic waste to saving pollinators.

Additionally, because the future of the planet depends not just on innovation but on the choices that humans make, Dean Miller launched USC Dornsife’s Human Factors Initiative five years ago. Experts in economics, politics, and human behavior collaborate with scholars of history, culture, writing and more to learn how society can implement available technology more quickly, equitably, and at scale. Together with USC Dornsife’s Center for the Political Future and Public Exchange, they’re also learning how to overcome mindsets that inhibit environmental progress.

The Sherwin Initiative will not only add significant faculty expertise to USC Dornsife’s environmental conservation efforts, it will also provide meaningful support for research and student programming — all of which are particularly important to Leslie Sherwin, who serves on the board of directors of the Shelter Art Foundation.

“I want to see some positive science and research come out of this donation,” she said. “I want to see people get excited about the changes we can make to improve the environment and avoid climate catastrophes.”

Ron Sherwin, a third-generation USC Trojan, earned a master’s and PhD from USC Dornsife in international relations. “It will take more than money for these initiatives to be successful and self-perpetuating,” he said. “But we’re confident the USC Dornsife faculty, staff and students have what it takes.”

The Sherwins’ personal connection to the environment and to USC also plays a role in their decision to give. “While in high school I spent a lot of time surfing, sailing and playing beach volleyball,” Ron Sherwin said. “So, preserving and restoring nature is very personal for me. I’m glad society has largely awakened to the fact that we need to take big action to protect our environment. We hope our gift will inspire others to say, ‘Hey, I want to make a difference, too!’”

The gift is personally meaningful in other ways. “When I wanted to go to grad school, USC helped me with financial aid,” Ron Sherwin said. “I’m happy to be able to give back now.”