Western University of Health Sciences welcomed nearly 1,000 new students and their families to campus on Aug. 8 in celebration of the new academic year. Click here to view the photo gallery.

The opening of three new colleges – dental medicine, optometry and podiatric medicine – and the continued growth of the existing programs required holding two Convocation ceremonies for the first time. Convocation, held off campus at Pomona First Baptist Church, welcomes and honors the entering classes each year.

Rounding out the day was the colleges’ individual white coat ceremonies and a welcome barbecue at WesternU’s Pomona campus.

This is the dawn of a new era at WesternU, with the three new colleges to be joined by the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences, which will welcome students in January, said WesternU President Philip Pumerantz, PhD. These new centers of learning will make WesternU the most comprehensive graduate health sciences university in the United States, he said.

“Our students are here not only because of their academic accomplishments and qualifications, but because they are called to the quest we share: to care, with compassion, so the world will be a better place,” Pumerantz said.

At the end of each Convocation ceremony, the WesternU Board of Trustees presented Dr. Pumerantz with a proclamation recognizing his contributions to the university, as well as the invaluable role played by his wife, Harriet, in the development of WesternU.

A “suitable work of art” will be placed on campus to honor Dr. Pumerantz and to “commemorate the bold, audacious, and significant accomplishments of the Founding President during his illustrious service to the University.” The audience responded by giving Dr. and Mrs. Pumerantz standing ovations.

The celebratory mood continued with white coat ceremonies, which symbolize students’ entry into the healing professions, and serve as a reminder of the powerful influence of the healer.

“As the white coat is put on your shoulders, you are entering into a relationship with people to provide them with care,” Linda Crans, a WesternU Board of Trustees member, told the College of Pharmacy’s Class of 2013.

Her sentiments were echoed and expanded upon by Pharmacy’s keynote speaker, Megan Nguyen, PharmD, a WesternU associate professor of pharmacy practice and administration.

“Communicate with your patients with compassion,” Nguyen said. “Communicate with physicians, and remember that we are all on the same team. Challenge yourselves during your education here.

“Today you become accountable for what you learn, because it affects another human life.”

Putting on the white coat for the first time is important to the students and their families. Minh Truong, DMD ’13, said he is going farther in his education than anyone else in his family. He was born and raised in Pomona, and he appreciates having family and friends nearby to support him.

“The white coat ceremony means a lot to me and my family,” he said. “It means a lot to be the first to represent the charter class of dentistry. This is a big responsibility. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

“It was amazing – I thought I was going to cry,” Sangeeta K. Salvi, DVM ’13, said after the College of Veterinary Medicine’s white coat ceremony. The Pomona native and UC Riverside graduate said that in addition to getting a good education over the next four years, she wants to be involved in other campus activities and “eventually give back to WesternU as much as I can.”

Saturday’s ceremonies capped the end of Welcome Week, where new students meet classmates, faculty and administration and prepare for the year ahead.

Earlier in the week, Dr. and Mrs. Pumerantz held an Ice Cream Social at their home. They personally greeted each new student and provided an informal setting to mingle with faculty and classmates.

Students in the new programs are excited about getting started. Craig Udall, DPM ’13, said he came to WesternU because he was impressed with the College of Podiatric Medicine administration.

“Everyone seems to be focused and committed to the school,” he said. “That makes it nice for us. Everyone is real down to earth. They’re concerned about our education, not just about their careers.”

Anamaria Muresan, DMD ’13, has worked 14 years as a certified dental technician. She joined the College of Dental Medicine because she sees lots of new opportunities in the field.

“I chose dentistry to continue my hobby and because when I was a child my bad teeth embarrassed me,” she said. “Knowing that I can be able to build someone’s esteem by making a person confident and happy prompted me to do more than be a dental technician.”

The week’s activities were well organized, said Nathan Dedic, MSPA ’11.

“All the students seem happy to be here. They seem excited to start the year,” he said. “All the faculty seem to enjoy what they’re doing.”

Many of the students are excited about interprofessional education, which will begin in early 2010. Students from different disciplines will work together to provide and promote a team approach to patient care and health care management.

“We’ll be seeing things from a different perspective, a different point of view,” said Vanessa Aspericueta, MSN-E ’13.

Parents also received an important glimpse into their children’s new academic home. Melanie and Tom Diaz said they toured the campus with College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Phil Nelson. Their daughter, Aleece, is entering an intense program, and they were impressed by what they saw, Melanie Diaz said.

“So we did something right, or she did,” Melanie Diaz said.