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Business Officer Magazine
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Vantage Point

Spotlight on an institution in one of the constituent groups: small institutions, community colleges, comprehensive/doctoral institutions, or research universities

By Lee Belfield

COMMUNITY COLLEGES
Hands-On Hospitality Education

When students come to Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to study hospitality management, their education isn't focused on theory. Instead, they are put to work gaining practical experience at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, the first teaching hotel-and-gourmet-restaurant duo of its kind at a community college.

The $30 million facility gives students the opportunity of on-the-job training in the operation of the 71-room facility that opened in July 2010. The two culinary labs, bakery lab, full-service restaurant, hotel bar, guest rooms, and conference center all help students become better prepared for work in the hospitality industry after graduation.

In its first year of operation, hotel activities involving 48 hospitality program graduates included 63 weddings; hundreds of business-related meetings in the conference center; 10,785 paid room reservations; and nearly 40,000 guests served in the hotel's restaurant. The program continues to gain popularity among students and guests. In addition, in October 2011, the American Automobile Association (AAA) honored the Hotel at Kirkwood Center with the prestigious Four Diamond Award for lodging, one of only two such ratings for Iowa hotels.

Form Supports Function

The college gave the hotel's general manager and its hospitality arts faculty members some leeway to customize the working laboratories around the realities of a four-story hotel's operations. One early realization was that the standard 50-minute class length and the schedule structure of Kirkwood's 120 other academic programs would not easily fit into the practicalities of on-site learning.

Consequently, the culinary and bakery labs hold classes from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Hotel management students spend more than 500 hours involved in hotel operations within their two-year curriculum; culinary arts and restaurant management students spend 336 hours in the food service environment during this time.

Energy efficiency was another factor in the hotel's planning. The cooling system consists of pumps that freeze water in Ice Kube units late at night when energy rates are lowest. That trapped ice melts the next day, cooling classrooms, kitchens, and restaurant when electric rates are much higher. Along with geothermal ground-heat exchanges, these systems cool and heat the 117,000-square-foot facility, saving about $140,000 per year compared to traditional system costs and covering the expense of these upgrades within two years.

The Hotel at Kirkwood Center

Gaining Momentum

Kirkwood's hospitality program began with 12 students in September 1972 with a one-year food service training diploma. In March 1991, our expanded culinary arts program was accredited by the American Culinary Federation.

The hotel management program launched in fall 2004. After much research and many visits to other hospitality programs by faculty and business operations staff, a representative group presented to the board of trustees in November 2006 the concept of an on-campus hotel. The board approved the proposal mainly because of the training value for students and the  practical financial model: The hotel's revenue stream is used to pay the project's debt service, while remaining funds cover staff and capital enhancements at the hotel.

Hotel construction began in September 2008, with the facility officially opening for  overnight guests and dining reservations on July 26, 2010. Since that time, Kirkwood's hospitality arts program has enjoyed an increase in demand from prospective students, most obviously in the hotel management program where we already have a waiting list.

"The expansion of curriculum afforded by this state-of-the-art, purposefully built facility is providing the value and depth of training and development for students in the hospitality arts programs," says David Horsfield, chair of the hospitality arts program. "Retention and graduation rates have increased, and practical skills have been expanded because of the breadth of curriculum and the specialized facility in which courses are delivered."

SUBMITTED BY Lee Belfield, general manager, The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa