“I like to call our kitchen a Lamborghini,” said Tracy Hulme, Waterloo Career Center (WCC) culinary instructor. “It is gorgeous, shiny, and fun to work in. If I had walked into this type of classroom when I was young, I never would have left.”
According to Hulme, and hospitality/tourism instructor Talia Neiman, hands-on experience is integral for students aiming to pursue a career in the hospitality and culinary fields.
“Students being able to create and set up events for various occasions, clients, and people at the WCC is such a great opportunity for them,” said Neiman. “Additionally, the various field trips or places we visit locally help our students see what the Cedar Valley has to offer.”
High school students work collaboratively to plan events throughout the year, catering and hosting many of the WCC’s annual celebrations such as the Halloween Dance and Holiday Hoopla.
According to Ethan Sadewasser, a senior at Cedar Falls high school, he wanted to learn more about the culinary arts after getting his first job at Pablo’s Mexican Grill. His counselor suggested applying for classes at the WCC to get some additional hands-on learning before he graduates this spring. Sadewasser says having a safe environment to learn without fear of failure has been instrumental. Recently, he just completed his ServSafe certification and is ecstatic to see where his love for cooking can take him next.
Art Epela, a junior at West High, says Hulme has helped him grow throughout the Culinary 1 class.
“Tracey has done a lot to make me feel comfortable and seen in class,” said Epela. “She shares her experience and teaches us about the broad strokes of the industry, but also brings in other people in the business to share their views. She has really helped me hone down the specific fields I want to go into.”
Epela says he is planning to graduate early and continue his culinary education here in Iowa. Currently, he’s learning even more outside the classroom at the Waterloo Convention Center, working as kitchen help for the building’s endless array of exciting events.
While Hulme works with students looking to grow in the kitchen, Neiman works with students on the numerous personal interactions which take place across various industries. Many students combine culinary and hospitality/tourism coursework to prepare for future service industry endeavors, while others take it as an integral supplement to programs such as nursing, teaching, and business.
“The competitive advantage of taking Hospitality and Tourism classes at the WCC means the students can take that knowledge and experience straight into the industry and go in prepared with less training needed,” said Neiman. “Next year, college credit will be offered concurrently in the Hospitality and Tourism Program with Hawkeye Community College.”
Students from across the Cedar Valley are stepping up to take advantage of these experiential learning opportunities. Emma Loeffelholz, a homeschooled senior from Evansdale, started taking hospitality classes at the WCC last year. According to her, the pandemic sparked a new interest in baking, which grew into taking hospitality courses and getting her first job as a cake decorator at Hy-Vee Bakery.
“I think these classes are a great way to try a field if you think you’ll like it – plus it’s free!” said Loeffelholz. “I really liked doing the field trips to Lincoln Perk, Icon Donuts, and Greenhouse Kitchen. That was fun to see.”
Whether students are looking to pursue a career path in Iowa’s best kitchens, or take their hospitality knowledge off to exciting new destinations, the WCC is here to help them plan for all the unforgettable adventures their futures hold.