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Walking the Walk: Colleen Birch

Inspired by past mentors, this ’99 alumna is committed to guiding the next generation.

People  |  Nov 17, 2017  |  By Angela Ramsey
woman

Colleen Birch, '99 BS in Hotel Administration. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Creative Services)

Although the hotel industry was once dominated by men, these women are now at the head of the table in the C-suite. From left: Cindy Kiser Murphey, '80 BS and '95 MS Hotel Administration; Ann Hoff, '90 BS Hotel Administration; Paula Eylar-Lauzon, '89 BS Hotel Administration; Rikki Tanenbaum, '06 Executive Master of Hospitality Administration; Vicki Savini, '92 BS Hotel Administration. Not pictured: Colleen Birch, '99 BS in Hotel Administration. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Creative Services)

 

Editor's Note: 

This story is part of a series highlighting 50 intriguing alumni as part of the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality’s 50th anniversary celebration.


Colleen Birch’s initiation into the hospitality business was anything but typical.

“I was a bartender in a remote fishing village in Alaska,” says Birch, a Seattle native who spent summers away from her regular job as a nanny serving whiskey to commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay. “It was supposed to be a one-year break from college, but it turned into five.”

It also turned out to be a much-needed reprieve from the ambivalence she felt as a sophomore at Washington State University. “Nothing clicked for me,” she says.

That began to change when Birch enrolled at UNLV. “The minute I came into the Hotel College,” she says, “I knew it was what I was supposed to do.”

Birch’s enthusiasm blossomed further when she landed a job at Caesars Palace and began to connect the dots between work and school. “I even got excited about my Facilities Management class,” she laughs. “Who gets excited about Facilities Management?”

Birch’s eagerness to learn translated into opportunities at the front desk, reservations, and housekeeping. Her move into revenue management came as the result of a bold idea: “I suggested to my manager that one person should be in charge of analyzing pricing and demand.” That suggestion led to Birch becoming Caesars’ first yield manager.

Fast forward to today, and this senior VP and mother of two is helping UNLV students lay the groundwork for their own bold careers. “My passion is mentorship,” says Birch, who received the John Yaskin Mentor Award in 2017. “When students wait after class to tell you that your words inspired them … that’s when I know it matters.”