Colleen Birch was a sophomore at Washington State when she decided to take some time off from school and find her life’s path. After a one-year stop in New York where she worked as a nanny, that path eventually led the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality Alumna of the Year all the way back across the country to southwestern Alaska, where in 1992 she went to work as a bartender in a remote fishing village in Bristol Bay.
Four summers later, Birch realized it was time to resume her education — just not back at Washington State. Rather, the Seattle native packed up her things, headed south, and enrolled in UNLV’s Hospitality College. That move altered the course of her life.
While pursuing her bachelor’s degree in hotel administration, Birch worked full time at Caesars Palace as a front-desk agent. After graduating, she earned her first management position in housekeeping, and from there, she rapidly rose through the ranks at several gaming and hospitality companies, eventually landing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Birch helped open the property in 2010 and remains there a decade later, currently in the role of senior vice president for revenue optimization.
In addition to her day job, Birch also has a secondary, albeit unofficial, role: that of dedicated and passionate mentor. Whether it’s junior members of the Cosmopolitan’s staff or students in Hospitality Hall, Birch revels in sharing her insights and expertise about the industry she adores. And, clearly, it’s an industry that adores her right back, given the lengthy list of hospitality honors she’s received. In 2010, Birch received the Rising Star Award from Global Gaming Women; in 2015, she was named one of the Great Women of Gaming and was also recognized as one of the Revenue Management Professionals of the Year by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International; in 2016, the same organization named her one of their Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization; and in 2018, Vegas Inc. named her a “Woman to Watch.”
Back at her alma mater, Birch received Hospitality’s John Yaskin Mentor Award for Excellence in 2017, and that same year, she was named one of the college’s “50 Most Intriguing Alumni.” When she’s not on campus inspiring others to achieve their hospitality dreams, Birch lends a charitable hand to such local organizations as the Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada, for which she has served as a nine-year board member and is the immediate past chairwoman, as well as the Las Vegas Rescue Mission. She also supports Leadership Las Vegas, a program from which she graduated in 2017.
What’s the one class you took at UNLV that made you realize you had chosen the right career path?
I vividly remember walking into Beam Hall on the first day of school and entering the classroom of Dean Jerry Vallen. Not only was he the dean of the Hotel College, he was a world-renowned professor. So there I was, learning lodging operations from the man who literally wrote the book on the subject (a fact he often reminded us about in his own delightful way). The knowledge I gained in Dr. Vallen’s class helped me connect the dots between the theory behind service operations and the practical experience I was getting as a front-desk agent at Caesars Palace. It absolutely was the pivotal experience that showed me that hospitality is where I belong.
What does it mean to be a Rebel?
Rebels are go-getters — focused, determined, proud of where they came from, and fiercely independent in the way they accomplish their goals. These qualities are prominent in me and my fellow alumni, and I see these same qualities in today’s students when I visit campus as a student mentor or classroom speaker. They’re already learning that hard work and dedication, along with a Rebel spirit, can bring endless opportunities.
What’s your message to the UNLV students of today and tomorrow?
The most successful people are those who go out and make things happen. They don’t wait for others to give them the green light, and they don’t expect others to do the hard work for them. They’re determined and laser-focused on their personal success, as well as the success of the team around them. My hope is that future Rebels go out and accomplish their dreams, support others, and exhibit respect and integrity along the way.