University Communications

The Newsletter for Marshall University        June 23, 2010

Profile: Cindy Warren

A chance remark by a relative changed Cindy Warren from a West Virginia University-bound scholarship student to a die-hard, bleed-green Marshall student, alumna and employee. And the comment changed the course of her life.

“I had just graduated from Logan High School and was only three weeks away from starting at WVU, where I had won a scholarship and gone through orientation,” said Warren who is the assistant dean of Admissions of the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. “Then I happened to overhear an aunt complaining to my mother about the financial burden this would place on my family.” Warren had no idea family finances were so perilous. She knew the family was trying to rebuild from a devastating flood that had swept away everything they owned three years before. “We lost everything we had, we got out with only the clothes on our backs,” she says pensively. But nothing had ever been said about money concerns. In fact, her parents were supportive of her going to college and proud of her accomplishments.

“I knew at that moment I wasn’t going to WVU, so I called them and cancelled everything. At that time Marshall had a branch in Logan which later became Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, and I decided to take classes there. Jim Harless, who later became the director of Admissions on the Huntington campus, was the branch director. Tuition was $117 a semester but I didn’t even have that, so he arranged scholarship money for me. I took my first year at Marshall at the branch and never looked back. I never said a word about the reason I didn’t go to WVU; I just told my parents I didn’t want to leave home yet.”

She also changed her major. Intending to enroll in biology at WVU, she discovered that Marshall, unlike WVU, required two years of foreign languages for most of their programs. “I’m not good at foreign languages,” she says candidly. “So I went through the catalog looking for a major that didn’t have a language requirement. One was home economics so that’s how I ended up in that program although I had never had a home ec class in my life. But I liked my classes, particularly the ones that dealt with child and family services so it turned out to be a good choice for me.”

So in the course of a year she changed schools, changed majors, changed almost everything, but, she says, “That’s how I found Marshall and the career I have today.”

By 1969, when the Twin Towers opened, she had a job as assistant director of the hall. Later that year she and a friend were made co-directors after a housemother quit in protest over the newly instituted rule that allowed men to visit in the women’s rooms during some hours. “We were 21-year old seniors, full-time students doing our student teaching and now we were in charge of 500 women. That was a real learning curve,” she says with wry understatement.

After graduation her newly minted home economics degree helped land her a job as a business promotion representative and home economist for Columbia Gas in the Beckley area. That was a fun time. She traveled all over the area giving cooking demonstrations and encouraging the use of gas appliances such as ranges, dryers and the just introduced gas barbeque. But after a year, a looming natural gas shortage was leading to imminent layoffs, and once again she found herself unexpectedly back at Marshall. Three weeks before fall classes were to begin she received a call that Prichard Hall was looking for a director. Once again she packed her bags and headed for Huntington, where she oversaw Prichard Hall for one year and then Laidley Hall for two years. She also put this time to good use earning a master's degree in counseling. Her degree led to a job as a drug and alcohol counselor at what is now the Prestera Center. Then, following a stint at a law firm, in 1977 the Med School job opened. up. Now she and the fledgling school were about to embark on a long and fruitful relationship.

“Through the years I have all sorts of different titles. The first one was Assistant Director of Admissions, even though there was no Director of Admissions at the time, but then I’ve always been a one-person admissions office. From the start I generally worked 60 or more hours per week.” Her work ethic is legendary, leading to an extraordinary emergency arrangement which she recalls now with amusement. “When I broke a hip in 1991 they simply moved my office to my home, including a computer, file cabinets, and a mail run. I had a cordless phone hooked on the front of my walker!”

A big part of her job is advising students on the entire admissions process which typically involves processing 2000 or more applications a year for the usual 75 or so annual slots. And she reads every single application. The competition to get into the medical school is intense, she says. A committee of 25, drawn from a broad cross-section of people, narrows the list down to a 250 or so hopefuls, who are then invited for personal interviews. It’s a nerve-racking time for applicants and Warren does everything she can to make the process less stressful. “I sit with them between interviews, chatting with them, trying to put them at ease. I know that many other schools just send them to a room somewhere by themselves, but I don’t want to do that.”

Since she’s usually an applicant’s first contact with the medical school and sometimes the university, it’s important to her that their first impression be positive, so she puts great effort and energy into encouraging that image through personal gestures.

And in fact when the happy day comes to notify the fortunate few who have gained admission, Warren personally calls each admitted student to deliver the good news ahead of the initial acceptance letter. Those calls have led to a hearing deficiency, she jokes. “They invariably scream in my ear when I call, so I’ve learned to hold the phone away from my head.” She also learned not to make the calls on April 1. She did that one year not realizing the date and was puzzled by the doubtful and sometimes abrupt responses she kept getting, very unlike the usual shrieks of joy. She finally realized they thought they were being pranked.

Warren’s caring concern for the medical students has earned her accolades and heartfelt expressions of gratitude from them. Her long tenure has allowed her to see a second generation of physicians flow through the school. Right now there are six students whose parents are graduates, with another two who will be entering in the fall. It’s always a special time when she can personally notify a son or daughter that they’ve been admitted to a parent’s alma mater.

For the past year and a half, any spare time she’s had outside of work has gone to caring for her parents. She was the primary caregiver for her father, who died in mid-May, and now cares for her mother, Nora. She moved them near her so she could spend weekends and evenings looking after them.

Warren is also passionate about the pets she takes in and finds homes for. Over the years she has fostered numerous abandoned animals, mostly cats, although she would never turn a dog away. Strays somehow seem to find their way to her home and she gets calls frequently from people who have unwanted kittens or an animal they can no longer care for. “I think somewhere in Huntington there’s a billboard with my address and a banner that says ‘All homeless animals welcome to South Walnut Street,’" she says laughing. The arrivals get a trip to the vet for a health check, shots and spaying or neutering before they’re sent to new homes. “It gets expensive but it’s important to me that it’s done before I find homes for them.”

If she has another passion, it’s auctions. She loves the thrill of the hunt, the lure of a treasure hunt. Her time has been extremely limited of late but her interest hasn’t waned. Auctions are all around the area, she explains, they’re easy to find. In fact, she and a friend have worked as volunteers with both the Huntington Museum and the Med School on their silent auctions. Auctions are great places to fill out collections, she says. She once had a more than 200 Koala bears. Not surprisingly, right now she’s content with collecting cat-related items.

And although currently her chief concern is taking care of her mother, in the past she has made time to volunteer with several community agencies such as Habitat for Humanity and hopes to do so again at some point. “I enjoy giving to the community; I like to stay busy,” she says, a vast understatement to those who know and admire her.

Even an auto accident can’t slow her down. Just a week after the recent service awards luncheon, where she was honored for her more that 35 years of service, she was involved in an accident which sent her to the emergency room of Cabell-Huntington Hospital, where she was diagnosed with two badly sprained wrists and where she was solicitously tended to by concerned former students. “I knew I was in very good hands,” she says. And to absolutely no one’s surprise, she was back on the job the next day with one arm in a splint and the other bandaged. “Well, it wasn’t the first time I’ve worked with bandages and splints and with my luck it probably won’t be my last!” she says with her irrepressible good humor.

Now she can look back with gratitude to that long-ago summer day which changed the course of her life. “Marshall has been in my blood ever since I called WVU to tell them I couldn’t come. The plane crash happened the year I graduated and I lost some good friends who were on the plane. That was the worst time but there have been so many wonderful times. Marshall is part of me.”

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