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Assistant dean leaves Yale for a post at Cornell’s new medical college in the Persian Gulf

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2002 - Autumn


In her 13 years at Yale in various posts, Cynthia A. Andrien, M.S., has seemingly done it all. She’s been the bearer of glad, and sad, tidings every March at Match Day, the cheerleader for a charity football game, counselor and advisor to students, a source of information and, at times, a shoulder to cry on.

In August Andrien, the assistant dean for student affairs, left Yale for Cornell. But rather than hop Metro-North to New York City, she flew to Qatar, an oil-rich monarchy in the Persian Gulf. She started in September as associate dean for admissions and student affairs at the new Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, a joint project of Cornell and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. The school will offer a six-year program; two years of premed followed by four years of medical education. The inaugural premed class entered this fall; the first medical school class will enter in 2004.

Andrien, the former registrar who started at Yale as administrative assistant to then-Associate Dean for Student Affairs Robert H. Gifford, M.D., HS ’67, was approached earlier this year by a headhunting firm. She said several factors about the job intrigued her. There was “the opportunity of developing a program from square one,” she said, and the excitement and exoticism of “working in a very different culture, living in a different area, being able to travel and experience other parts of the world.”

The decision was not an easy one. Her husband, Steve, a sales representative for a company that markets class rings, will stay in Connecticut, at least for a while, she said, although she’ll be able to visit every eight weeks. Andrien said she’ll also miss the students. “At commencement, as the students were going by, I was feeling so torn and sad,” she said. “But I kept thinking, ‘They move on so it’s OK if I move on.’ ”

It may strike some as a particularly difficult and dangerous time to be taking on a job in as volatile a region as the Middle East, but after a long weekend in Doha in June, Andrien found the country reassuring. “I felt very safe there,” she said, noting that she’ll live in a housing complex for international workers.

Qatar is a Connecticut-sized patch of desert on a peninsula that juts out into the Persian Gulf from its only land border, with Saudi Arabia. The country has a progressive administration that allows women to drive and doesn’t require them to cover their faces. Andrien expects 70 percent of the school’s first premed class to be women. “If women were not treated well I would not have taken the job,” she said. “My key role is to be working with the students and counseling them academically, careerwise and somewhat personally.”

That personal touch is what has endeared her to hundreds of medical students, as well as the medical school faculty. “You have made a big university feel like a community,” said Richard Belitsky, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry, one of the speakers at a farewell reception in July.

“She has this amazing ability to make you feel like you’re so special,” said Kavita Mariwalla, a third-year student. “She makes you feel like she is giving you her undivided attention.”

Nancy R. Angoff, M.P.H. ’81, M.D. ’90, HS ’93, admitted that her first thoughts on hearing of Andrien’s leaving were selfish. “What am I going to do?” she asked herself. Then another thought came to Angoff. “The students in Qatar are the most fortunate medical students in the world right now.”