A sense of providence seems to envelope Carla Kantara. A native of Beirut, Lebanon, Kantara moved to Houston, TX solo to begin her college years in earnest. “You don’t get a chance unless you take a chance,” she says with a smart smile. On May 19, she will graduate—with honors—with her Bachelor of Science in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Then she returns to Houston to begin work on her Ph.D. at the University of Texas Medical Branch. She turned down a full scholarship offer from LSU.
So how did she make it this far? Kantara began her college work at San Jacinto College North in Houston and earned an Associate’s Degree in Mathematics before transferring to Converse in 2005. “I was very much aware of Converse’s academic reputation when I began looking to transfer,” she said. “I was especially drawn to the challenges offered to the Converse biology student. During my time here, I have found that Converse science students simply do things that can’t be done by students at larger colleges: we gain experience by writing our own seminars; we write research proposals which include not only a hypothesis but research methods, finance details of the project, and materials; and we present our research findings in our junior and senior years. We can do all of this because we thrive in the smaller classes that generate one-on-one interaction.”
Throughout her two years at Converse, Kantara continued to dazzle her professors and her peers. “What I like best about Carla is that she is so excited about learning,” said Dr. Jerry Howe, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Chemistry. “She not only grasps new concepts quickly but also frequently asks questions that demonstrate her desire to fully understand the material to a greater depth than any student I have taught in the last three or four years. Her enthusiasm is contagious and her classmates seek her out for assistance.”
But there is more to Kantara than lab work and that’s a good thing. “Research hospitals like UTMB need people that can handle pressure and multi-tasking. They do not want one-dimensional people,” said Kantara. If we are to believe what the many career journals tell us about the importance of language skills, Kantara is in splendid shape with her fluency in English, French, Arabic, and Spanish. At 5’10” she has also been a force on the hardwood as a forward for Converse’s Basketball All-Star team. She has been an integral student voice for Civitas, Mortar Board, and the Science Forum.
“With persistence, motivation, intelligence, organization, and self-discipline, Carla managed to stay on top of her hectic schedule,” said Dr. Edna Steele, Associate Professor of Biology at Converse. As she turns her attention back to Texas, Kantara is firm in her research ambitions. “I am very interested in pediatrics, and may pursue a career as a pediatric oncologist. As far as research, I am especially drawn to the areas of esophageal, prostate, and breast cancer,” said Kantara.
Downtime seems foreign to Kantara. She spent the summer break of her junior year at the MD Anderson cancer Research Center in Houston. There, she committed twenty hours per week while being trained as a phlebotomist in the Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology Department and working as an undergraduate researcher in the Center’s Experimental Therapeutics Laboratory.