Photos: Back Together, Back in Class

August 24, 2021 By Caroline Newman, Caroline Newman,

The first day of classes always brims with possibility, but Tuesday felt particularly exciting as University of Virginia undergraduate students streamed along sidewalks and down the Lawn, making their way to their first class sessions of the semester.

The scene was a stark contrast to last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced UVA and universities around the country to hold most of their courses online or meet in greatly reduced numbers.

The pandemic is still ongoing – visible in the masks students and faculty members donned as they entered classrooms around Grounds. However, high vaccination rates among students, faculty and staff have allowed for more in-person courses and a more normal start to the fall semester. Students moved into or returned to their dorms on Grounds last week, filled Scott Stadium for a pep rally Friday night, and filed onto the Lawn for a double dose of Opening Convocation, making up for missed time last year.

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Now, the academic work begins – and faculty and students are excited to get started together.

“Student engagement is everything to me,” said psychology professor Robert Emery, who taught in-person last year but could only teach 70 students at one time, instead of his usual 350. “I’m looking forward to seeing 350 sets of eyes in class in the morning. I wish I could see their whole faces, but I hope they’ll be unmasked in a few weeks. I’m so grateful that students have cooperated so wonderfully with the vaccine mandate.”

Emery, who lives on Rugby Road near Grounds, was also looking forward to walking to class.

“I’m excited to see students out and about – some serious, some fooling around, some exercising, some laying around. I love the vibe, and I’m sure students have missed that feeling,” he said. “UVA is about so much more than classes, and I think we all appreciate that much more after missing out last year.”

Biology professor Sarah Kucenas, who taught a seminar for first-year students on Tuesday morning, felt that buzz while walking to her 9:30 a.m. class in Monroe Hall.

“Even just walking toward Monroe was energetic,” said Kucenas, who also directs UVA’s program in fundamental neuroscience. Most of her 36 students Tuesday morning were entering their very first class at UVA, and many of them had spent their senior year of high school in online or hybrid courses.

Biology professor Sarah Kucenas talks to students in her 9:30 a.m. seminar, specifically designed for first-year students. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“You could just tell everyone was happy to be there,” she said. “Sometimes, getting students to talk in the first class is difficult, but today I honestly had to skip a few things I want to cover because there was so much discussion, which is really the dream.”

“I was just excited to be there and be back to the type of teaching that really is our culture at UVA.”

Take a look at some scenes from the first day.

These Navy ROTC students donned their uniforms for their first day of classes.
Paul Martin, an associate professor of public policy, led a class outside in the shadow of the Rotunda.
Robert Emery led his class in one of UVA’s largest auditoriums in McLeod Hall.
Nursing students were also back in class, here learning about labor and delivery.
Graduate students in professor of practice Jonathan Rosen’s biomedical engineering course discuss projects they worked on over the summer.
Clinical instructor Melissa Otoya used a patient simulator to demonstrate different procedures for her students.
Most students walked, but some scooted.
Robertson Professor of Media Studies Siva Vaidhyanathan led the first session of his “Media Law” course Tuesday at 5 p.m.