Our 11th annual “Women to Watch” section recognizes 12 women whom we believe are going to make a difference in the coming months.
This year’s honorees were chosen by a panel who have a unique perspective on the honor: a group of last year’s Women to Watch reviewed all the nominations and offered their top choices. They chose leaders in business, law and philanthropy. It’s an esteemed group of women that we are honored to profile.
Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for North America Gaming and Interactive, IGT •
As a 12-year-old in her native Massachusetts, Sandra Beaver remembers watching videos about stocks and trading with her mother, a role model who attended night school and went on to serve as head of investor relations for a number of companies, which not only inspired her daughter to work and study hard, but also shaped the youngster’s career path.
“Thanks to my mother’s friends, I was able to intern at Staples Inc. in their investor relations department throughout high school and college, and by the time I went to college I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” said Beaver, who double-majored in finance and economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and also completed a professional designation in relational database management at UCLA.
Beaver joined IGT (then GTECH) in November 2002 as a financial analyst. She relocated to Southern Nevada in 2015, and is now responsible for financial planning, reporting and oversight of a business unit which generates more than $1.4 billion in annual revenue.
Most recently, Beaver was instrumental in structuring and executing the $825 million sale of IGT’s social casino platform, DoubleDown, in Q2 2017. She also provided professional leadership with the launch of IGT’s PlaySpot mobile wagering solution with MGM Resorts International, and also played a critical role in the successful integration of IGT and GTECH in 2015.
“For IGT, 2018 will be a year of execution and delivery,” Beaver said.
Committed to mentoring the next generation of women in gaming, Beaver is working with industry organization Global Gaming Women to launch a Lean In networking circle for female employees, and was also recently nominated to serve on IGT’s executive diversity and inclusion council.
“From a personal perspective, my 7-year-old daughter is a leukemia survivor, so I am active with local organizations that support her care, and am also looking forward to the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women luncheon,” Beaver said.
Senior Vice President of Revenue Optimization, The Cosmopolitan
When Seattle native Colleen Birch moved to Southern Nevada to finish her college education at UNLV, she found her professional path when she enrolled in hotel-centric courses, going on to earn a degree in hotel administration.
“I began my hotel career at Caesars Palace as a front desk agent on the 4 p.m.-midnight shift, which allowed me to take a full course of classes during the day,” Birch said. “An early mentor helped me realize I’d be a stronger hotelier if I moved around the resort, so I spent time in housekeeping and reservations prior to settling into a focus on revenue management.”
Birch joined The Cosmopolitan as director of revenue management in 2009 — a year prior to the property’s grand opening — and has served in her current capacity as senior vice president of revenue optimization since January 2016.
“I partner with every department across the resort to look for revenue-enhancing opportunities,” said Birch, who is constantly seeking more cost-effective channels to drive earnings.
A volunt eer with Las Vegas Rescue Mission and the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center, Birch is also a seven-year board member of Junior Achievement of Southern Nevada and the organization’s current chairwoman, gearing up for the impending launch of a capital campaign to raise funds for a facility that will elevate JA’s profile.
“As the mother of two children, being involved in an organization that starts the financial-literacy conversation so early seemed like the perfect fit for me,” said Birch, who has also come full circle in terms of mentoring by participating in UNLV’s mentor program in which she once served as a mentee.
“Aside from being a mom, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of, and mentoring is definitely a two-way relationship.”
Founder and CEO, Women of the Vine & Spirits
Deborah Brenner founded Women of the Vine & Spirits in March 2015 to advocate for diversity and equality with a commitment to empower women who work in wine and spirits.
“I realized there was a void in the alcohol beverage industry that needed to be filled,” said Brenner, who hails from New York and holds bachelor’s degrees in English and Journalism from the University of Delaware.
It was during a trip to Napa and Sonoma, when she realized the women in the wine industry were under-recognized. Compelled to tell their stories, she authored “Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste and Enjoy Wine,” which Wine Spectator magazine named a critical read in 2007.
Eight years later, Brenner revived the brand, organizing the inaugural Women of the Vine & Spirits Global Symposium in Napa at The Meritage Resort and Spa. Due to the event’s success, Brenner and the advisory board created a year-round alliance, Women of the Vine & Spirits.
“This year, we are also launching our first All-Female Bartender awards, and will also be advocating in Europe for the first time at our European Summit in London in June,” Brenner said, adding that various events are in the planning stages with local resorts. “Las Vegas is one of the largest markets for our members and we are honored to be working with companies such as Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International.”
Brenner also spearheaded the creation of the Women of the Vine & Spirits Foundation to offer scholarships and award money to help women advance their careers in the fields of food, wine, spirits, hospitality and viticulture as well as foster gender diversity and talent development.
“Many studies have found that companies with more female leaders are more productive and profitable,” she said. “Gender parity in business is not only about doing what is right, it’s about results and the bottom line.”
Vice President of Land Planning and Design, Summerlin, The Howard Hughes Corp.
When North Carolina native Julie Cleaver graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her career path was still uncertain.
“I assumed with my business degree that I would end up working at a bank, and that didn’t seem very interesting to me,” said Cleaver, who took a summer job at an interior landscape firm, interviewing landscape contractors, nursery business owners, landscape architects and land developers. “I knew I wanted to do something in one of those fields so I enrolled in some horticulture and landscape architecture at Ohio State University and pursued a degree in landscape architecture. As I worked with developer clients, I discovered a love for all kinds of land development,” she said.
Cleaver joined The Howard Hughes Corp.’s then-parent company, The Rouse Co., in 2004. She assumed her current post in 2007.
“In a nutshell, I am the chief planner for Summerlin and responsible for all current and forward planning for the community,” said Cleaver, who is instrumental in creating the framework for Summerlin’s growth and has overseen the planning for six villages spanning more than 3,000 acres.
“Summerlin is one of the largest master-planned communities in the country, and with close to 5,500 acres left to develop over the next 20 to 30 years, the real challenge will be how to maintain our leadership role in innovative and relevant planning practices to enhance our brand.”
This year, Cleaver said much of the focus will be on the continuing evolution of Downtown Summerlin.
“Shortly, we will break ground on Las Vegas Ballpark, a 10,000-capacity baseball stadium for the Las Vegas 51s, and a new luxury apartment complex will also begin to take shape,” said Cleaver, who is active with numerous professional organizations and a supporter of the Goodie Two Shoes organization.
Audit Principal, Piercy Bowler Taylor & Kern CPAs
Born in Michigan and raised in Chicago, Angela Go spent more than a decade as a manager in the retail arena.
“I enjoyed my career in retail, but knew I would have more opportunities to advance in a different field, and accounting, specifically auditing, appealed to me because I like to solve puzzles and I like variety,” said Go, who holds an associates degree in science from Wilbur Wright College, and a certificate in human resource management as well as a degree in accounting from the University of Phoenix.
“The customer service and human resource management skills I learned in the retail industry translated well into the accounting profession, which is constantly evolving with changing regulations and standards.”
Go joined Piercy Bowler Taylor & Kern CPAs in September 2006 as a junior audit associate, and assumed her current position as audit principal in July 2017, responsible for client relations, oversight of audit teams, on-the-job training of associates, professional development and technical consultation for the firm, which has 85 employees with offices in Las Vegas, Reno and Salt Lake City.
“In 2018, PBTK plans to continue to grow and expand, especially into the Reno market,” said Go, now a certified public accountant who earned the certified fraud examiners designation and became a certified information systems auditor.
As vice president of the Young Professionals Society, Go has assisted with the adopt-a-charity program in support of organizations such as St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, Baby’s Bounty and Blue Star Mothers of America, and has also participated in numerous pajama drives for the foster care program at Olive Crest.
As one of seven women in upper management with PBTK, “I try to be a positive role model for other young women who are seeking careers in competitive fields like business and accounting,” she said.
Vice President of Sales, NRT Technology Corp.
Born and raised in Nicaragua, Rosaura Gonzalez always dreamed of traveling the world.
“This is one of the reasons I pursued an international business degree at UNLV,” said Gonzalez, who moved to Southern Nevada in 1996, and also completed an executive program in global management and negotiations from Thunderbird School of Global Management, earned an MBA from Instituto Europeo Campus Stellae in Spain, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from the Universidad Central de Nicaragua.
Indeed, Gonzalez served in various capacities in international sales with Bally Technologies (now Scientific Games), prior to joining NRT Technology Corp. as an account executive in May 2015, promoted to vice president of sales in June 2016 for the company, which provides payment-processing, cash-handling and cash-management products, services and solutions to the casino industry.
Her responsibilities include managing a large portfolio of accounts in the Western region of the U.S. and Latin America, as well as product strategy and placement, and business development.
“I am motivated to push the boundaries of innovation in partnership with my casino customers while expanding our customer base with increased speed and support,” Gonzalez said. “Pending regulatory approval of the merger between NRT Technology and Sightline Payments, NRT Sightline™ will be a global leader in the design and development of enterprise platforms for the casino industry. Every year, NRT and Sightline enable more than 1 billion physical and digital commerce experiences at over 600 casino properties worldwide.”
A believer in giving back to the community, “Social responsibility is a big part of my life,” said Gonzalez. “Every year I speak at Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly’s annual Hispanic Youth Leadership Summit and also help to raise funds for a global charity to build schools for underprivileged children in rural areas. I’m also a member of the program advisory committee for a local business college program — education is an important aspect of my life, as you never stop learning.”
Director of Learning Solutions, Aristocrat
As a child growing up in Southern Nevada and Central Florida, “My role-playing with dolls was about teaching, and once technology became a thing, I found myself being an early adopter and eager to play with the latest gadget,” said Christiana Houck, Ph.D, PMP, who joined Aristocrat as curriculum developer in December 2007.
Four promotions later, Houck serves as director of Learning Solutions — a post she has held for two years — and has developed and directed technical training for approximately 900 employees, 300 systems customers and several hundred customers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean with a team of 14 training professionals.
Under her tenure, she has increased training options for customers, updated trainer skills and reduced program development time. Over the past year, Houck — who holds degrees from the University of South Florida, Lesley University and Capella University — has enabled the company’s global workforce to train anywhere with any device; doubled learning solutions revenue; introduced four new revenue-generating product certifications for customers; and updated instructional techniques to improve learner engagement.
“As a director, I set strategy, oversee that programs meet business needs and keep an eye out for the latest instructional technology,” said Houck. “I also spoke at eLearning Guild conferences and served as chair of the diversity and inclusion committee for Las Vegas during the launch year — we have some fun plans for increasing awareness at Aristocrat and are working to make it an employer of choice for the LGBTIQ community and our veterans.”
A mentor of young female professionals with Aristocrat’s Leadership Circle and a member of the company’s community involvement committee, Houck also supports Las Vegas Rescue Mission, Three Square, Hero School and Heaven Can Wait.
M. Magali Mercera
Associate Attorney, Pisanelli Bice
Born in Mexico and raised in Puerto Rico, M. Magali Mercera moved to the U.S. — by herself — at the age of 16, with the goal of attending college and law school. To that end, Mercera earned a degree in business administration from UNR and went on to earn her juris doctorate from UNLV, garnering an affinity for business litigation.
“Working in business litigation, there are so many moving parts,” said Mercera, who joined Pisanelli Bice in 2011.
Mercera focuses her practice on commercial disputes ranging from breach of contract and fiduciary duty claims to property and construction disputes. She has experience with all aspects of litigation from discovery through motion practice and trial and has helped Pisanelli Bice earn prestigious awards and national recognition. In 2018 she plans to build on the firm’s achievements by continuing to litigate highly complex cases and also shape business litigation law in Nevada.
“I’m fortunate to be at an amazing law firm where I have received phenomenal support, mentoring and training to be the best litigator I can be,” said Mercera. “I think mentoring is such a big part of learning and advancing in the practice of law.”
Mercera is also committed to pro bono work with the Children’s Attorney Project (CAP). Through this project with Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, local attorneys provide counsel, advice and representation to abused and neglected children who have never before had representation. Mercera has been working with this program since 2010 and plans to continue her work throughout 2018.
“I’ve worked as a volunteer CAP attorney since my first year practicing law, and represent children in foster care,” said Mercera, who always looks for a silver lining, and views failures as learning experiences. “I believe it is critical for these children to have a voice in their situation and their future.”
Vice President of Social Impact and Chief Sustainability Officer, Caesars Entertainment
Gwen Migita’s father always told her she could make a good living at anything, as long as she loved what she did. Migita took those words to heart, and found her niche as a young girl in her native Hawaii.
“I became interested in activism at the age of 12, ,” said Migita, who came to Southern Nevada in 2002 after living in Honolulu, Guam, Seattle, Portland, Tunis and Salzburg.
“I was fortunate to formalize my role with environmental and social responsibility at Caesars Entertainment 12 years ago.”
Indeed, Migita originally joined the company as market research manager in 2004, shifting her focus into corporate responsibility and sustainability functions several years later.
In this role she manages a team of directors, managers and contractors over inclusion and equity, philanthropy, sustainability, community involvement and responsible gaming, and is also responsible for social and environmental responsibility strategy, policies, stakeholder relationships and key initiatives.
“Our public measure includes third-party recognition and we’ve received over 140 accolades in the last decade around corporate responsibility, most recently the Civic 50 as one of the most community-minded companies in the country,” said Migita, who holds a degree in marketing from the University of Washington and one from UNLV. “We also have the most Green Key-certified resorts among any gaming company in the world, and have the first and longest-standing perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign in the gaming industry, at 11 years as a Best Place to Work for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.”
Looking ahead, the company has announced an initiative for gender-equality by 2025, a triple-A score on its carbon, water and supplier engagement with CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) and the 15-year anniversary of its responsible-gaming program, according to Migita, who is active in the Asian-Pacific Islander community and supports organizations related to counter-trafficking, immigration and food insecurity.
Provost and Executive Vice President, Nevada State College
The first in her family to attend college, Idaho native Vickie Shields discovered her career path during her junior and senior years at Boise State University, where she earned a degree in communication.
“I got the opportunity to teach college classes with my professors, and I was hooked,” said Shields, who admitted she has always loved school, and went on to earn a masters and a Ph.D. in communication and media studies from The Ohio State University, and completed the management development program at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “All I wanted from that point on was to be a college professor.”
Shields relocated to Southern Nevada and assumed her current position of provost and executive vice president of Nevada State College in June 2017.
In this capacity, Shields is responsible for oversight of the college’s academic vision and ensuring the quality of academic programs and working across the college to implement processes that support accreditation.
“As provost, I also oversee student affairs and must ensure that the college has the infrastructure and systems to empower staff to be effective in their efforts in student on-boarding and acclimation to competitive college life, retention, and timely graduation based on a student’s personal objectives and circumstances,” Shields said.
In 2018, her goals include improving graduation rates, and pushing for a new degree in informatics/data science to prepare the Southern Nevada workforce for future anticipated growth in the fields of health, data and business. This year, construction will also continue on two new facilities.
“We are planning the building and programming for our first residence hall, a 250-bed facility,” said Shields, who supports charitable organizations that help lift women in their lives, particularly those affected by domestic violence, poverty and homelessness.
Executive Director, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children
A self-described helper who has always loved children, Southern California native Christina Vela was the first member of her family to earn a college degree.
“As a teen mother, I knew higher education was necessary to accomplish my goals and be self-sufficient,” said Vela, who holds bachelor’s degrees in sociology and Mexican-American studies from California State University, Northridge, and went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from UNLV after moving to Las Vegas more than 16 years ago. “I wanted to help other young women take steps to accomplish their goals, and I got my first job as a social worker working with teen mothers living in foster care, and that was the beginning of a career committed to helping, serving and being inspired by children, young people and their families.”
Vela joined St. Jude’s Ranch for Children as executive director in August 2017, having previously worked for the agency from 2010 to 2013 as chief program officer.
“I am hopeful that this year will be one of continued focus on our quality programs, and to answering the question of how else we can help children and young people in need,” said Vela, who works steadfastly with community partners, philanthropists and advocates in support of the agency’s mission and longevity.
She hopes to create a call-to-action for the community by encouraging Southern Nevadans to consider that “at-risk” children are “at-promise” for a better life and brighter future. She also aims to provide more opportunities for children and young people to be mentored, coached and exposed to life experiences that can help break the cycle of abuse and homelessness.
She also supports other local organizations that serve youth such as Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Foundation, Classroom Without Walls and Children’s Defense Fund.
Medical Director, Children’s Hospital of Nevada at UMC
A native of New Delhi, “I always wanted to join the Army, but growing up in India, the only way women could serve in the Army was if they were in the medical field,” said Meena Vohra, who went on to become a physician, but never did make it to basic training.
Instead, she attended GSVM Medical College in Kanpur, India, also completing a rotating internship and pediatric residency at LLR and its associated hospitals in Kanpur. She then came to the U.S. and completed a pediatric internship and residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan; a fellowship in pediatric critical care medicine at Children’s Hospital of Michigan; and earned a Physician Executive MBA from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
She joined University Medical Center in October 1991 as the medical director of the Pediatric ICU on staff as the only pediatric critical care physician. She has served as chief of the Department of Pediatrics since 1996, and as medical director of Children’s Hospital of Nevada at UMC since January 2010, when it was formally recognized.
“I feel a responsibility to care for our community’s youngest and most vulnerable,” said Vohra.
Vohra was instrumental in the development of the hospital’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation program for children with severe traumatic lung injury — the only program of its kind in Nevada — as well as the development of a program to help children with muscular atrophy gain access to a recently-approved new drug which helps slow down the progression of the disease. She helped to develop the only freestanding sedation unit in the state and helped with the introduction of pediatric robotic surgery. She is currently working on bringing a pediatric hematology/oncology program and bone marrow transplant unit to Children’s Hospital.
Looking ahead, Vohra envisions the development of a separate free-standing building for Children’s Hospital of Nevada so critically ill children and their families have better access to state-of-the-art medical care.