A tangible sense of excitement filled the new Health Education Center (HEC) as students returned from winter break to begin classes on Jan. 4.

The 180,000-square-foot center, part of WesternU’s $100 million campus expansion project, features two 356-seat lecture halls, small group learning rooms for the Interprofessional Education curriculum, teaching laboratories in dental medicine and optometry, research laboratories, commons areas, conference rooms and faculty offices.

“It’s really nice to come back to this building. It’s refreshing,” said Allison Abresch, DO ’12.

Students raved about the comfortable chairs in the new large lecture halls. And the size does not hinder the connection between students and faculty.

“This is large, but I still feel we’re all connected because of the stadium seating. You can see everybody’s eyes,” said visiting professor Kevin Jones, PhD. “It’s an amazing building.”

HEC houses the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, the College of Dental Medicine, the College of Optometry and the College of Podiatric Medicine. WesternU also has completed construction of a 600-space parking garage and is close to finishing the Patient Care Center, which will house a pharmacy, optometry clinic, outpatient clinics in osteopathic and podiatric medicine, and an outpatient dental clinic. All clinical areas will be open to the public.

First-year students will begin the Interprofessional Education curriculum this semester, bringing together all the disciplines on campus so students will understand other health professions and provide and promote a team approach to patient care and health care management, leading to improved patient care. Students organized an interprofessional welcome breakfast in HEC on Jan. 5.

“We’re excited to mix with other classes and mingle with other students,” said Paul Nguyen, DMD ’13.

DMD students received an introduction to the A-dec dental simulator, which allows them to perform clinical procedures in exactly the same manner as they would with a real patient.

“We’ve been waiting for this day for long time,” said Farnaz Amini, DMD ’13.

The new buildings place WesternU on the cutting edge of academia, said College of Podiatric Medicine Founding Dean Lawrence Harkless, DPM.

“The fact that students are able to be instructed and to participate in this environment speaks volumes,” he said. “This will create a culture of interprofessional education.”

College of Optometry Associate Professor Robert Lee, OD, taught the first class in HEC, Mechanical and Ophthalmic Optics, on Monday morning. He expected the students to be a little down after returning from a two-week break, but they came in excited.

“The enthusiasm is very infectious when you go in there,” he said. “I think when we have state-of-the-art facilities like that, it really shows the care and thought process put into that building. It not only makes the students comfortable in the teaching environment, but it makes the faculty’s job easier.”