Students and school officials that Western Mass News spoke with are all thrilled to be back here and enjoying what will look like a somewhat normal year at Western New England University.

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Our back-to-school coverage turns to the first day of classes at Western New England University.

Students and school officials that Western Mass News spoke with are all thrilled to be back here and enjoying what will look like a somewhat normal year at Western New England University.

“It is nerve-racking coming to school during a pandemic even though it’s still going on but, I know that with their support and assistance it’s going to be a great year,” freshman student Patrick Riley said.

Riley is one of over 800 freshmen celebrating his first day of classes at Western New England University in Springfield.

Emily Wambach, a junior, who works as a peer advisor and orientation leader on campus wants to pay it forward and welcome the class of 2025 with open arms.

“It’s just important for me to make sure they feel welcomed here on campus, I definitely had a hard transition so I just want to make them feel like they belong here,” Wambach said.

Western Mass News spoke with University President Robert E. Johnson who was excited to be back for the start of school.

“We were face-to-face last year with social distancing, but now to be back together real deal in classes, picnics and stuff like that, it is exciting,” Johnson said.

He said the university is utilizing an advisory team comprised of faculty members to monitor COVID.

“We have an advisory team which is made up of scientists from pharmacy, biology, psychology, our professors, and they inform our decisions,” Johnson explained.

At Western New England, students and staff are required to be vaccinated to return to campus, and there is a mask mandate in indoor public spaces.

The Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs & Provost, Maria Toyoda, said the school is still utilizing remote learning for data and visual intensive classes and making accommodations for students opting for remote learning is nothing new.

“We will always have students who need accommodations for various reasons, and we’ve always stretched to accommodate them,” Toyoda said.

The university will use seating charts in class and attendance policies in public spaces, including labs and libraries to monitor contact tracing.

For Bryan Gross, vice president of enrollment management and marketing, it’s a special day welcoming the second biggest freshman class in university history.

“To read and to hear and to learn what some of the students have overcome to be here today it’s really moving and touching,” Gross said.

President Johnson said the university’s emergency management response team meets weekly to assess COVID cases on campus.

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