February 25, 2008

C.U. in Qatar to Graduate First Students

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This is the first in a series of articles examining Cornell’s involvement in global academic initiatives.

This May, the inaugural class of physicians at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar will be the first class to graduate from an American university’s M.D. program outside of the U.S.
WCMC-Q, which was founded in 2001 through a partnership between Cornell and the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, will graduate 16 students. Each year, the class sizes have been steadily increasing.
“The greatest challenge we face is building a completely new medical school from scratch, in a country located 7,000 miles away from New York,” said Daniel R. Alonso M.D., dean of WCMC-Q. “WCMC-Q replicates the triple mission of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York: education, research and patient care.”
According to Alonso, two of the current main goals are building a biomedical research capacity in Qatar “from basic science to translational and clinical investigation,” and developing a U.S.-style academic medical center together with the new Sidra Medical and Research Center, scheduled to open in 2011.[img_assist|nid=28158|title=Thinking outside the box|desc=Decorative water spouts spray water in front of the Ovoids of the Weill Cornell Medical College in Doha, Qatar. Courtesy Cornell University|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Alonso also stated that there is a great deal of diversity at the Qatar campus among both the students and the faculty members: “We have students from the U.S. to South Korea, Tanzania to Mauritius, and many points in between. 32 countries are represented within the student body. And there are now approximately 60 faculty members from all over the world.”
The curriculum is delivered by a combination of faculty members residing in Qatar, as well as faculty based in the U.S.
For example, PSYCH 101, a course familiar to many students at the University’s Ithaca campus, now extends from Ithaca to Doha, Qatar via streaming video.
“This year one of the lectures included two-way interaction between the audiences in both locales, despite an eight-hour time difference,” said Prof. James B. Maas, psychology, who teaches the course. “It was simply mind-boggling to see the two vastly different cultures interact over a shared academic experience. The chance for such interpersonal communications is essential for promoting understanding.”
Oriel Feldmanhall ’07, a teaching assistant for PSYCH 101 in Qatar, said, “Having branches of American universities in different parts of the world shows a shift towards a much more globalized perspective of education. Particularly in the Middle East, such initiatives allow individuals to build bridges and increase trust and understanding across different cultures.”
Despite political tensions between the Western world and the Middle East, as well as the fact that Qatar is home to Al Jazeera, Alonso, Maas and Feldmanhall all said that Qatar is very safe and a welcoming place for foreigners from all parts of the globe.
“Applicants from all over the world are welcome to apply for admission,” Alonso said. “American citizens form the second highest percentage of nationalities in our student body, second only to Qatari students. Students celebrate their diversity with international evenings and celebrations of different cultures and traditions.”
Feldmanhall stressed the shared experiences among the different individuals.
“The culture there is one of great mutual respect. We learned a lot from each other. It was incredibly interesting to share our ideas and philosophies about religion and politics, as well as what is accepted and what is not,” Feldmanhall said.
Potential future collaborations also seem to indicate that that cooperation in WCMC-Q does not seem to be hindered by any political, religious or cultural boundaries. Sanford Weill ’55 is currently in Haifa, Israel, discussing a potential partnership between the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and WCMC-Q.
Alonso is enthusiastic about what the future holds for the institution in Qatar and for its graduates.
“Looking ahead, we expect our faculty and many graduates of the medical college to work as clinicians, scientists and educators in the academic medical center,” Alonso said. “These are still early days in the life of a new medical school, but the pace of development most definitively meets expectations.”