As she was wrapping up her high school career in Kokomo, Indiana, Melissa Maher wasn’t sure where she was headed for college, nor had she settled on a major. That all changed when Maher arrived on the UNLV campus and met then Hotel College Dean Jerry Vallen.
“He [Dean Vallen] absolutely sold me on hospitality management,” Maher recalls. “I was in Las Vegas, clearly the Entertainment Capital of the World, and there was no other place I wanted to go to school.”
Maher so enjoyed UNLV that after completing her undergrad degree, she returned and earned a master’s. In between, she remained in Las Vegas and worked for Bally’s, Paris, and the Las Vegas Hilton before landing a gig in the local offices of travel website Expedia, where she has climbed the corporate ladder for the past 16 years and is currently one of the company’s most senior female leaders.
Along the way, Maher—who relocated to Southern California three years ago—has paid it forward: She says 15 Rebels are currently on her team at Expedia, all working out of the Las Vegas office. To Maher, that’s a testament to the Hotel College and its partners in the local hospitality industry, who join forces to give students valuable hands-on knowledge.
“For me, the difference between UNLV and some of the other hospitality schools is absolutely the focus on experience,” Maher said. “At Expedia, we hire a lot of students from Cornell, and they have book experience and they’re really bright kids, but they don’t have the real-life experience that a lot of the students we hire from UNLV have.”