PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — It was a rainy first day of classes at the University of West Florida, but according to UWF Vice President for Academic Engagement and Student Affairs Dr. Greg Tomso, it was one of the most exciting first days back they have had in a while.

“We have all been a little shellshocked from COVID,” said Tomso.” It is great to see campus bouncing back with life. Enrollment is up and we have seen unprecedented attendance at our student events over the weekend. So, we couldn’t be more excited.”

This year, the university has a little more than 13,500 students enrolled, which Tomso said is an increase over the last year.

“It has remained steady over the past couple of years, but we are inching towards that 14,000 mark,” said Tomso. “Our undergraduate student enrollment is up one percent, our transfer student enrollment is up 14% and our graduate enrollment is up 6%.”

Tomso said all of their residence halls are 100% full.

“We have about 1,500 students who are moving onto campus, and we couldn’t be more excited to host them,” said Tomso. “We actually currently have a waiting list, which means we more students who want to live on campus than what we have space for. That’s an important sign of the growth and maturation of a university campus. UWF is a relatively young university. We weren’t open until the 1960s, so we started as a commuter school and now we are shifting towards a residential school. Those changes are a sign of a healthy, thriving campus.”

The goal at UWF, according to Tomso, is to grow with purpose and incrementally.

“We want to make sure that as we grow, we provide the necessary student support services to make sure that our students are successful,” said Tomso. “It’s not just about getting students through the door. I’m very excited to say that we have one of the highest, if not the highest, first year to second-year student retention rates, of any regional university, that I know of, in the United States.”

When the first day of school comes around, Tomso said he always thinks about the new students.

“We have over 2,200 students coming to UWF this week for the first time ever,” said Tomso. “Our campus is a little bit like a maze in some places, so we see a lot of students that may need a little help, so we have staff and golf carts looking for our lost sheep, as we call them. We have staff outside all of the buildings helping make sure students get to where they need to be. We think a lot about what it must be like to be in a new place, away from your family and friends and trying to help people feel welcome.”

On the student engagement side, Tomso said they are focused on the wellbeing of their students at UWF.

“We know from national data and our own local experience that even though people are coming out and excited to be engaged again in our post-COVID environment, that a lot of us aren’t feeling as bold as we used to and aren’t taking as many risks,” said Tomso. “I think it is important, within reason for college students to try new things and take new risks. So, what are new risks we can take and what are some things we can do to safely leave our comfort zones? I think those things are important for the college experience and making sure our students have the tools and education they need to make good choices.”

On the academic side, Tomso said they have a lot of programs that are drawing a lot of attention on campus.

“Nursing remains extremely popular, cybersecurity and computer science remain popular,” said Tomso. “We are opening a new degree in human resource management in the College of Business and of course we have our doctorate degree in intelligence systems and robotics. So, there is a lot happening all across campus right now.”

For first-time students coming onto campus, Tomso advises to be resilient, ask for help, do something that pushes you out of your comfort zones and get to know your professors.

“One of the great advantages of coming to a school this size is that our faculty really enjoy getting to know our students and have time to make those personal relationships,” said Tomso. “Our faculty have open times during the week where students can just show up and talk. Take advantage of those office hours.”

For those students still wondering where to go to college, Tomso said UWF gives all of the offerings of a university, but the feel of a small college.

“Students who are attracted to our campus want individual attention, they want the buildings to have numbers and the students to have names, not the other way around,” said Tomso. “They want access to high-impact educational experiences without having to wait semester after semester to take something. Whether they want to do research, study abroad or do internships, we have really built our programming and philosophy around making sure our students are engaged and have access to those high-impact practices that really take the learning outside of the classroom. I think that diversifies us from other universities and colleges.”

For more information about UWF, click here.

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