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  March 12, 2001

Resourcefulness Shaped Connie Cantor's Career

If you've ever attended the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' Cornucopia Fest - a popular annual opportunity for families to visit the Storrs campus, enjoy hayrides and tour the barns - the chances are good that you've bumped into C.C. Carrot, the lady in the carrot costume who gives away baby carrots to visiting youngsters.

And if you've met the venerable carrot lady, then you've encountered an institution, an enduring character, whose presence and mission at Cornucopia Fest speaks volumes about the work of the College's Department of Nutritional Sciences.

Still, meeting C.C. Carrot is a bit like bumping into Donald Duck at Disney World. You haven't really met the department until you've met the lady inside the costume - Connie Cox 'C.C.' Cantor.

A Decade in the Lab
Ten years ago, Cantor was working as a chemist with a company called Springborn Laboratories, in Enfield. A native of Maryland, she had previously worked in the materials science department at the University of Utah, where she earned a degree in foods and nutrition in 1979.

As a student in Utah, Cantor decided she "didn't really have an interest in dietetics." Instead, she took more than the required number of courses in chemistry and, upon graduation, began a career that initially emphasized laboratory technology. It was that career track - and marriage to a Connecticut native she met in Utah - that led Cantor to Springborn Labs, where she spent more than five years as a technician in the analytical laboratory and another couple of years as a chemist doing contract research and development work.

She was interested in a career change when she saw a newspaper advertisement for what sounded like her ideal job, a position as a technical assistant within UConn's Department of Nutritional Sciences. The department was seeking someone, the ad said, with laboratory experience and a background in nutritional science.

Cantor applied, landed the job and soon found herself engaged in work she had never expected or prepared for.

Recreating Herself
The job started out with more administrative tasks than laboratory work. Cantor had to learn about laboratory animal care and found herself developing supervisory skills with the department's animal care staff. She also became familiar with the University's financial record system and supervised student workers with inventory issues.

Little by little, she has become, of necessity, an information technology specialist for the department. Helping faculty, undergraduates and graduate students solve their computer problems, she learned about computers on the job, filling an unmet need within the department.

In 1996, Cantor enhanced this specialty by applying for an institutional internship with the communications and information technology office in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The internship, occupying her one day a week for a year, enabled her to learn about desktop publishing and the ins and outs of graphic design software.

Armed with new skills, she was soon in demand to produce posters and other materials for Nutritional Sciences faculty and graduate students attending national conferences every year.

When the department decided it needed a website for Internet communications, it was Cantor they turned to. She still manages and regularly updates the site she created, a comprehensive overview of the department's faculty, staff and programs. She also regularly produces the department's "What's Happening?" newsletter, which has recently undergone a change in design and content to make it more useful as an external communications tool.

"What has always impressed me about Connie is the way she matched her talents and skills to meet the needs of the department," says Professor Ann Ferris, who was department head when Cantor joined Nutritional Sciences. "Connie has many talents and interests that make her a real asset to the department. Since her original responsibilities covered animal care, she got the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science training and certification for laboratory animal care management. When we needed a website, she learned how to do that."

Carol Lammi-Keefe, current head of department, says Cantor is indispensable. "I can't imagine the department without her," she says. "She fills a very special place here, managing the information needs of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates. We could go outside the department for many of the services she provides, of course, but having Connie here means we can work directly with her, and that means we get informational products that are exactly what we're looking for and are produced in a timely fashion. She's a real asset."

Cantor says although her career is not what she had planned, she has found it fulfilling. "When I first came to UConn, it was quite a transition from the work I'd been doing at Springborn," she says. "But I've always been resourceful, and that's a valuable skill here. I spend every day helping people solve problems and develop the things they need to communicate. I do whatever is needed, and I really enjoy it."

Jim Smith

This article is one in an occasional series about people behind the scenes at the University whose stories are little known.