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Building a New Era in Hospitality Education:

Kirkwood Community College’s Lee Belfield Embraces Host of Opportunities and Challenges
as New $24 million Teaching Hotel Emerges in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

For the past several years, Lee Belfield has seen thousands of Kirkwood
Community College students embrace “capstone projects.” In his roles with culinary arts, lodging and restaurant management education programs, he has guided students through a host of final exams that tested their creative problem-solving skills as well as their talents with cutlery and dining service.
Now it is Belfield who is taking on his own capstone career move. In a culmination of his three-decade hotel and restaurant career, the industry veteran has been tapped to develop, open and lead the new Hotel at Kirkwood Center. Over the next year Belfield and a student/faculty/professional team will complete one of the few full-service teaching hotels on a community college campus.
Belfield was appointed general manager of the hotel June 1. The four-story facility is under construction on the south side of the main Kirkwood campus. When complete it will offer 71 guest rooms, including six suites and a variety of other lodging choices, designed as much for the student experience as college and public guest options.
When he talks about the new facility, Belfield uses terms like “lab” and “classroom” more often than mere hotel or restaurant references.
“As a laboratory, this facility will truly be world-class,” he remarked. “It will be a magnificent place for creating a new, alternative national model for preparing graduates to enter the industry, especially in positions of responsibility. Seldom do we in education get the opportunity to use the word ‘unique’ and have that word mean exactly that. But this project is and will be just that—unique.”
Lee Belfield’s career defines the borders and corners of the U.S. as much as his wealth of experience in both the hospitality industry and education. After a stint as a teacher and coach in Michigan, he managed food and beverage divisions of hotels from Seattle and Colorado Springs to Texas and California. For a decade, Belfield was general manager of major hotels in the Houston and New York City metro areas. During that decade he also got acquainted with Cedar Rapids as general manager of the Five Seasons Hotel, in the late 1990s a Wyndham corporate location. Belfield’s career also led him to management roles at a major Florida resort complex, then with Radisson properties in Tampa and Baltimore.
He says it “was love that brought him back to Cedar Rapids.” An Iowan who would become his wife persuaded him to come back to eastern Iowa in 2001.  Making that move possible was the career opening that also enticed him: a teaching role in the growing Kirkwood culinary and hospitality programs.
It was in his teaching and student management roles at the college that Belfield first wondered about a new concept in how to teach students about the many career possibilities in the hospitality industry. In 2005 the college launched an endowed faculty support program, providing funds and opportunities to explore and research new ways of teaching and learning.
Belfield applied and was granted one of the first Endowed Faculty Chair awards—and promptly started his research. During 2005-06 he visited the few true “teaching hotels” he could find—a handful in Maine, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio. After talks with instructors and administrators on what worked, what didn’t and what was possible, Belfield returned to Cedar Rapids with a set of “real-world numbers and parameters” and started discussions with Kirkwood administrators, his fellow faculty members and a bevy of area business and civic leaders.
The concept and designs that emerged blend the needs of teaching the art and science of hotel/motel service with the strong expectations of real guests paying for their lodging experience. Belfield points to several ways The Hotel at Kirkwood Center will meet both needs at the same time.
“Our hotel and restaurant will employ a full and fully seasoned professional staff in the educational process, as our students work alongside them in every aspect of the operation. The hotel will also complement the already burgeoning services of the Kirkwood Center for Continuing Education. We will literally be joined and provide conference and meeting spaces, catering and the whole hospitality experience. We think our students will complete their programs with as much real-world experience as any school in America,” Belfield said.

                                       Hotel at Kirkwood Suite                                                                Hotel at Kirkwood Guest Room    

As he assumes the new, direct management role of the teaching hotel GM, Lee Belfield seems most pleased with how “teaching” has come to the fore in the hotel’s development for Kirkwood students, faculty, staff--and for himself.
“The things we have had the opportunity to do this year are typical of the Kirkwood entrepreneurial spirit. Departments all over the college have found ways to get involved, from construction and architectural students, to the artworks we will display, the horticulture and landscaping and many more areas. We are sure there are more ways to learn and teach as it is completed in the next year,” he said.
And what about his personal journey and learning?  A pause, a smile.
“I’ve opened and operated multiple hotels and restaurants over the years. This is easily the most complex project I’ve ever encountered. It’s an enormous challenge—and it’s enormously fascinating!”

About The Hotel at Kirkwood Center
The Hotel at Kirkwood Center and the college hospitality program are located at 7725 Kirkwood Boulevard SW in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Facilities will include an executive ballroom with seating for 480, nine additional meeting rooms, a restaurant that will serve gourmet meals prepared by Kirkwood’s Culinary Arts students and 71 guestrooms. For additional information, contact 319-848-8700 or visit


Steve Carpenter
Public Information Director
Kirkwood Community College
Cedar Rapids, Iowa  52406 




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