WSU’s corporate partners strengthen relations

Beyond making donations, they are more involved


ZACH RUBIO | Daily Evergreen File

WSU’s first licensed Starbucks opened this fall in the new SPARK building.

FORREST HOLT, Evergreen news editor

While universities seek investors and employment pipelines for their students, corporations seek access to pools of young and educated potential employees.

Partnerships between universities and corporations are becoming more commonplace, according to a study published in the academic journal Research in the Sociology of Organizations.

WSU President Kirk Schulz wants to follow this pattern. WSU should aim to establish five new “strategic corporate partnerships,” he said at last month’s Board of Regents meeting.

There are different forms of corporate partnerships. Some focus on investing in research, some open up employment opportunities for students and some secure exclusive opportunities to sell products on campus.

Among the university’s most prominent corporate partners are Alaska Airlines, Boeing and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

Alaska Airlines rewards students who win sponsored innovation competitions. The Seattle-based company also transports WSU sports teams and offers discounts of up to 20 percent for WSU fans traveling to athletic events. Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport also lands charter flights of Boeing 737s and is paving a new runway equipped to handle larger Boeing planes and more frequent flights.

In return, Alaska Airlines finds potential employees in competition winners and a consistent consumer base among Cougar fans and traveling students.

Alex Pietsch, WSU’s associate vice president for corporate relations, said Boeing is likely the university’s most significant partnership. The company funds scholarships, sponsors student projects and actively recruits graduates, Pietsch said.

WSU Regent Scott Carson is also a former president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, the company’s marketing, maintenance and training division.

While both Boeing and WSU have philanthropic goals to improve Washington’s economy, Pietsch said, corporate relationships are less about no-strings-attached donations than they used to be.

Boeing’s programs exemplify this, he said, as does the first fully licensed, on-campus Starbucks, located in the Spark: Academic Innovation Hub, which opened this year.

While Schulz did not list his five preferred corporate partners, Pietsch said WSU is interested in creating a more extensive relationship with Starbucks.

He said the university could find more opportunities for collaborative innovation and research projects in the Seattle-based coffee company. Starbucks Chief Technology Officer and WSU alum Gerri Martin-Flickinger has shown interest in bringing in more graduates, Pietsch said.

The university’s partnership with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, or SEL, illustrates the influence of a strong corporate partnership.

According to a WSU news release, SEL, which was founded by WSU graduate Edmund O. Schweitzer III, has hired over 10 percent of students graduating from the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.

The Pullman-based electronics manufacturer has 71 WSU students working as paid interns and over 225 employees from WSU, said Kate Wilhite, SEL’s communications manager.

Like other corporate partners, SEL sponsors research projects and hires out of the university’s talent pool, Wilhite said, but its location means it can get more personally involved.

SEL sponsors the Crimson Code 48-hour hackathon, where its chief operating officer made a keynote speech, she said.

Additionally, electrical engineering professor and WSU First Lady Noel Schulz has worked to strengthen the university’s relationship with the SEL, Wilhite said.

Schweitzer and his wife Beatriz gifted the Voiland College $750,000 to match three donations of $250,000 from SEL over the next three years.


This story has been updated from it’s original version to more accurately reflect the type of flights that go through the Pullman Regional Airport and the relationship First Lady Noel Schulz has with SEL. Both Boeing 737s Bombardier Q400s use the airport.