A double major in Biology and Chemistry, and star basketball player for the Valkyries, Carla Kantara ‘07 exemplified the qualities that comprise a Converse student. Today she embodies the intrepid spirit of the Converse graduate as she advances the field of biomedical science with breakthrough research on radiation therapy.
Dr. Cantara was born in Lebanon and made the challenging transition to life in the U.S. with the help of her Converse family. Dr. Edna Steele, Associate Professor of Biology, played a significant role in Carla’s life as an international student.
“By attending Converse College, I was afforded the opportunity to compete athletically at the NCAA level and receive a strong education in Converse’s reputable science department.”
“When I first met Carla in my office we talked like we had known each other forever,” Dr. Steele said. “I opened my house to her and to the other Converse international students during school breaks, holidays and weekends. I was an international student myself when I first came to the USA and I knew how it felt to be alone in a strange place.”
But Dr. Steele also attributes Carla’s seamless transition and success to her fellow students.
“I believe the greatest contributor to her success was having a circle of great friends at Converse, specifically the members of the International Students’ Organization, who took her in with open arms – they were family.” Dr Steele said. “She knew the value of friendships – not only that she can rely on them when she needed moral support but she was also there for them when she’s needed the most.”
Today Dr. Kantara is the Director of Health Innovations and Digital Health at the University of Texas’ Medical Branch, where her research made headlines for its potential impact on eradicating damage from radiation. Carla’s foundation at Converse still supports her. She continues to reach out to her fellow Connies for advice, both personally and professionally.
We talked to Dr. Kantara about balancing a full-time academic schedule with a demanding sports regimen during her days as a student, her drug research to limit the effects of radiation, and the importance of a liberal arts education in her career.
“In 2003, I decided to move to the United States to pursue a higher education and my passion for basketball. I have always been a strong proponent of academics, and I wanted to ensure that I received both the best scholastic and athletic experience possible. By attending Converse College, I was afforded the opportunity to compete athletically at the NCAA level and receive a strong education in Converse’s reputable science department.
My experience at Converse College was quite pleasant and all of the faculty members were very helpful. However, one particular faculty member, Dr. Edna Steele, was instrumental in my success at Converse College. I was an international student living alone in the United States away from my family. I was playing full-time NCAA basketball and taking a full-load of courses, all while acclimating to a new culture. Although the experience was quite stressful, Dr. Steele’s unconditional support and wisdom allowed me to persevere and excel through these times. She was indispensable to my success.”
The Art of Balance
“Being both a scholar and athlete can be challenging. It is a very exciting experience but it is hard work. It requires good time management skills, mental focus, prioritization and extreme dedication. Finding time to study between practices, games and road trips was certainly a challenge, but if you apply yourself and are disciplined with your schedule, you can succeed.
Life at Converse was not all about basketball and studies; I was also involved in many organizations on campus and maintained a social life in order to keep balanced and avoid burnout.”
Her Breakthrough Research
“My motivation and ultimate goal was to make a difference by working to save people’s lives. I have always been passionate about helping cancer patients, especially children, so I decided to work on developing novel therapeutic drugs to treat this disease. To date, the majority of patients who receive chemotherapy treatment also require radiotherapy. The damaging effects of radiation exposure on cancer patients and/or on any individual are extensively documented. I have been working to address this issue through my work on a drug that could be used to mitigate the harmful consequences of radiation exposure on cancer patients and other individuals who may have been exposed to radiation.
By alleviating radiation-induced damage to normal tissues, we can alter current treatment regimen and protocols. Radiation doses could be increased to better eradicate the tumors and help prevent relapse and/or recurrence of the tumor which often results in metastasis and eventual death.”
The Liberal Arts Advantage
Converse College offers a well-rounded curriculum that encompasses the study of sciences, economics, literature and many other subjects. As a science major at Converse, we were taught to critically think, hypothesize, deduce and analyze data. Such skills are very important when pursuing a PhD in biological sciences and indispensable to succeed in this field. I believe that writing skills in particular are acquired through practice; however, a solid, basic foundation is critical and that is what I received from Converse College.”
“Currently, I work as the Director of Health Innovations-Digital Health at the University of Texas Medical Branch. I am responsible for identifying and developing new health-related technologies at UTMB and creating strategic partnerships to help market and commercialize UTMB’s health innovations. In addition, I am pursing my MBA degree with a focus in leading technologies from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. I also serve on several professional committees and volunteer for seven different non-profit organizations. When I do have some free time, I enjoy playing basketball and traveling.”
“My experience at Converse College was very unique. Not only was I prepared academically to pursue a higher degree, but I also made lifetime friends with whom I am still in touch on regular basis. I graduated from Converse College with the experiences and benefits of playing NCAA basketball, earning a dual degree, and forging a great network of friends. Almost a decade later, I still rely on some of these friends for advice and guidance in my personal and professional life.”