Sandi Meehan could not believe what she was hearing when New York Auburn Club President Nicole Klein ’05 told her the reason for her call. Surely, this was a joke. Klein was inviting Meehan and her husband, John, to fly to Auburn for a football weekend as guests of the Auburn Alumni Association, Auburn Sports Properties and Delta Air Lines.
Just two months earlier, the Meehans, first-time college parents, had driven their only daughter, Hannah, 1,000 miles from New Jersey to Auburn. They moved her in a dorm room and left her on a college campus where she knew no one. The trip back up the East Coast had been hard, with lots of tears from parents who had no connection to Auburn prior to their daughter’s decision to attend.
“We were blown away by the hospitality of Auburn and Delta; they thought of absolutely everything,” Sandi Meehan said. “We loved every minute of it. But I think our greatest memory was being on the field before the game–standing next to the players, watching the marching band, cheerleaders, twirlers and dancers fly by in a sea of orange and blue, seeing the eagle land on the field and having our picture taken with her. And being there for kickoff. I was beaming ear-to-ear, and will never forget that day.”
A large corporation—paired with a large university—found a way to make a personal, one-on-one connection that does not feel large at all.
“This program fits very, very well with the Delta philosophy that ‘No one better connects the world than we do,’” said Paul Jacobson ’94, executive vice president and CFO of Delta Air Lines. “Regardless of why people are coming together, whether it’s for business, pleasure, a tragedy, a sporting event or a reunion, we want to be a part of that significant time in the lives of our customers. There was a time when people thought fax machines and videoconferencing would hurt the travel industry, but there is no substitute for the human touch. Delta strives to establish — and keep — those personal, meaningful relationships.”
The alumni association works with the Auburn Club program to select the couples to fly from the hubs designated by Delta and handles the travel arrangements. Auburn Sports Properties takes care of the logistics of the gameday experience, including apparel, tailgating, Tiger Walk, the Pregame VIP Experience, passes and tickets.
“Delta and Auburn [University] share similarities in our brands, in that we both focus on family, on connection points and on personal engagement — all things that intertwine us in a unique way,” said Chris Davis, vice president and general manager of Auburn Sports Properties. “Our parallel philosophies set up a very natural and authentic synergy that brings athletics, Delta, family and alumni all together.”
In October 2018, Tonya and Chris Guinn ’95 of Snoqualmie, Wash., were selected by the North Pacific Auburn Club to fly from Seattle, Wash. for the football game against the University of Tennessee, and Lt. Brian Kasztelan ’00 and his wife, Jessica of Ventura Calif., came home for Military Appreciation Day at the Auburn—Texas A&M football game in November 2018.
In February 2019, Joe Toles ’82 and one of his seven adopted sons traveled from New York for the Auburn-Mississippi State basketball game. Toles had considered a move to Auburn for years, and the surprise weekend sealed the deal.
“Thanks to the Delta-Auburn partnership, our trip back ‘home’ to Auburn was just enough to tip the scales to get us to make a permanent move, which we did in July,” Toles said.
Weston Burt ’11 and Megan Burt ’12 completed the first year of the three-year partnership when they flew from Nashville to see Auburn take on Tennessee in the final home game of the basketball season.
“The whole experience was first class,” Weston said. “The flight with Delta was super easy and trouble-free, and so many members of the Delta and Auburn families cared for us and made us feel at home. All that, in addition to the win against Tennessee, made the weekend truly incomparable. It was such an amazing time being at home on the Plains!”
Before the “Bringing Them Home” campaign began, Auburn was selected as one of only eight colleges to launch the Delta Propel Pilot Career Path Program (propel.delta.com) to identify, select and develop the next generation of pilots. In addition to Propel, Delta Air Lines, the Delta Air Lines Foundation and the Jacobson Family Foundation made a $6.2 million gift to support aviation programs, advanced research and a student leadership initiative at Auburn.
This gift followed the construction of the new Delta Air Lines Aviation Education Building, which opened in January 2019 at the Auburn University Regional Airport in Auburn. The 23,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art building features classrooms enhanced with advanced technology, debriefing rooms for student pilots and flight simulators. The airline also sponsors the Emerge leadership program through the Office of Student Affairs.
The holistic, cross-campus partnership enhances programs at Auburn that include diversity and inclusion, academia, leadership and, of course, aviation, making it beneficial for both partners. From enhancing the curriculum, simulator capabilities, facilities and other aspects of the aviation program to identifying and nurturing future leaders, Delta offers a unique relationship that ultimately creates a pipeline of leaders and pilots for the airline and beyond.
Bob Somers, senior vice president of global sales for Delta, said the company looked for opportunities to become integrally involved in a university and Auburn was the perfect fit.
“Auburn is 90 minutes from Delta’s home office, has a well-established and successful aviation program and is a place Paul [Jacobson] loves dearly. He wanted to do something personal that would support Auburn students, faculty, staff, alumni and families in a personal way.”
Jacobson arrived on campus in 1990, flying in from Minnesota with two suitcases, a carry-on bag, $500 and a heart full of dreams to be a pilot, but a childhood medical condition disqualified him from flying. Undeterred, he stayed the course and switched gears, earning an engineering degree in aviation management.“I am a big believer in destiny, in fate,” Jacobson said. “Things worked out okay for me. Auburn fully prepared me for my career and I love that the company I love so much is playing such a large part in the university I cherish.”