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WSU and Alaska Airlines celebrate longstanding partnership

A crowd of students catching paper airplanes.
Students gathered in Terrell Library as part of Alaska Airlines Day events.

Alaska Airlines executives and WSU leaders gathered Wednesday on the Pullman campus for a series of events, including a prize-filled paper airplane toss, to celebrate the relationship between the two fixtures of the Pacific Northwest.

In honor of the university’s Alaska Airlines Day, representatives from one of the nation’s largest air travel companies spoke to classrooms of computer science, engineering and marketing students in addition. The Alaska Airlines envoy also hosted lectures on the company’s future, particularly as it relates to job opportunities and efforts to make air travel more sustainable.

“Alaska Airlines is WSU’s lifeline to the world,” WSU Provost, Executive Vice President and Pullman Chancellor Elizabeth Chilton told dozens of students assembled inside Bryan Hall Auditorium Wednesday morning. Alaska Airline’s Cougar passengers range from sports fans flying out for big athletic events to researchers heading out for or returning from conferences around the world.

Pullman is one of more than 115 cities served by Alaska Airlines, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Its workforce includes 23,000 employees who assisted 46 million guests in 2019 alone.

“The airline business continues to grow every year, and requires us to adapt and change at an incredible rate,” Diana Birkett Rakow, senior vice president, public affairs and sustainability, said. She noted that Alaska is on pace to hire 8,000 employees this year and is likely to keep on that pace in 2023.

Birkett Rakow was joined on stage by Joe Sprague president of Horizon Air, Charu Jain, senior vice president of merchandising and innovation, and Jennifer Keller, talent acquisition managing director.

Alaska Airlines executive giving lecture.
Jennifer Keller, manager director of talent acquisition for Alaska Airlines, addresses students inside Bryan Hall Auditorium.

WSU has a pivotal role in the company’s efforts to reach net zero emissions by 2040. The university has a longstanding history of working to develop more sustainable aviation fuels. Earlier this year, a team of WSU and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory research made significant discoveries related to using lignin, the most abundant plant material on earth, as an ingredient for aviation fuel.

Aside from lectures and talks, Alaska Airlines representatives gathered with WSU leaders in the Terrell Library to give away prizes to students. They did so by dropping paper airlines from above with prizes, including flight vouchers, to the waiting crowds below.

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