Event attendees eat dinner at the Vallen Dinner of Distinction
May. 23, 2022

The long-anticipated return of the college’s annual dinner brings recognition to industry leaders while generating scholarships for Hospitality students

On May 20, 2022, the Las Vegas hospitality community gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas for the long-awaited 15th Vallen Dinner of Distinction to celebrate an accomplished group of alumni and friends of the UNLV Harrah College of Hospitality.

The college organized the super-sized Vallen Dinner 2022 celebration – welcoming all 2019, 2020, and 2021 honorees, after the pandemic forced the postponement of the 2020 and 2021 Vallen events. The college’s seven honorees were recognized for the following college-level or UNLV-wide awards:

  • Colleen Birch ’99, senior vice president of revenue optimization at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, was honored as the 2019 Hospitality College Alumna of the Year;
  • Bill Hornbuckle ’84, CEO and president at MGM Resorts International, was honored as the 2019 Hospitality Industry Leader of the Year;
  • Michael Kawazoe ’01, president and director at Lucky Holdings, Inc., was honored as the 2020 Hospitality College Alumnus of the Year;
  • Larry Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Glazer’s Wine, Spirits, and Beer, was honored as the winner of the 2020 UNLV Silver State Award;
  • Rikki Tanenbaum ’06 MHA, COO for San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, was honored as the 2021 Hospitality College Alumna of the Year;
  • Bobbie Barnes ’93 BS, ’05 M.Ed., ’13 Ph.D., associate professor in residence at the UNLV Harrah College of Hospitality, was honored as the 2021 UNLV Outstanding Faculty of the Year; and
  • Guy Fieri ’90, celebrity chef/restaurateur, was honored as the 2021 UNLV Outstanding Alumnus of the Year.

Named for the late Jerry Vallen, the college’s founding dean and hospitality education pioneer, the Vallen Dinner of Distinction highlights hospitality leaders and alumni who make significant contributions to the industry. Proceeds from the dinner fund scholarships for Harrah College of Hospitality students. 

“The Vallen Dinner is not just a platform to honor our amazing alumni and friends who are at the pinnacle of the industry,” said Harrah College of Hospitality Dean Stowe Shoemaker. “It is an opportunity to help the future leaders of the industry – our students.”

The guest list of more than 400 included industry practitioners from numerous hospitality brands, state legislators, community leaders, Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents, and UNLV dignitaries such as UNLV President Keith E. Whitfield.