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Westmont College students return to campus after remote semester start

Westmont move-in
Ryan Fish/KEYT
A student checks in at Westmont's hospitality tent outside the student dining commons.

MONTECITO, Calif. - This week, Westmont College students began moving back to a now-modified Montecito campus.

Students began moving in on Wednesday after the semester began remotely on Aug. 31.

All students and faculty are tested on campus for COVID-19 on the day they arrive, and then can be randomly tested throughout the semester.

Isolation housing is ready for anyone who tests positive. There are now no triple-occupancy residence hall rooms in order to keep more students separated.

As students move back in, many classes will move outside beginning Monday, when in-person classes can resume. Some classes will remain fully remote, while some will use a hybrid model. A few labs will be held inside.

About 40 large tents will be used as makeshift classrooms across campus. Another tent is set up covering tables and chairs outside the student dining commons, as eating inside is not allowed.

In all cases, distancing, masks and other safety protocols will be in place.

The transition to alternate or multiple forms of learning has been difficult for professors.

“I’ve prepped harder for this semester than I have any other semester during my college teaching career,” said political science professor Tom Knecht.

That being said, both students and professors have been waiting to see each other face-to-face once again.

"That's one thing I've really missed," Knecht said. "This campus has been really quiet... To see the students come back, it's energizing. It's exciting."

“I just love being with the students,” Physics professor Ken Kihsltrom said. “We’re taking all the available precautions that we can. And I’m just excited to be back face-to-face with students.”

Of Westmont's roughly 1,200 students, about 1,000 opted to return in-person for the fall semester. With that student population, the 113-acre campus makes Westmont well-positioned to handle some of COVID-19's challenges.

“It’s really the right size to be able to respond to a pandemic,” said Irene Neller, Westmont’s Vice President for Enrollment, Marketing and College Communications. “[It] allows the students to each distance well. Have places to go if they want to be outdoors. To exercise. To get in the fresh air.”

Multiple athletic teams are now meeting for distanced workouts. Knecht, who is also the Westmont men's and women's golf coach, led the teams in a competition in San Clemente last weekend.

Students are grateful to be able to return to campus. After an uncertain summer, third-year student Esther Cabrera can now watch her younger brother David begin his college journey.

“I never thought I’d get close to him,” Esther said. “But here we are at the same college. And we can literally walk like five minutes away from each other so that’s gonna be exciting.”

“When we found out we got the move-in days and the schedules, that’s when I started to get really excited,” David said. “And [Westmont] made everything easy for us to transition.”

Neller believes Westmont is prepared in case a COVID-19 surge forces more changes on campus.

“We can shift,” she said. “We can be nimble. We can flex. We can, week-to-week, change up plans to respond to whatever the challenges at that time, or the opportunity.”

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Ryan Fish

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