UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Melissa Cantor, Ph.D., has joined the Penn State Department of Animal Science faculty as Assistant Professor in Precision Dairy Science. She will work closely with Pennsylvania dairy producers as part of the Penn State Extension Dairy Team.
A native of southern California, Dr. Cantor revised her goal of being an equine veterinarian as she earned her B.Sc. in Animal Sciences at the University of Kentucky and worked on a precision dairy research project. A first-generation college student, she then got her M.S. in Dairy Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky where she studied precision technology to detect disease in dairy calves.
Cantor said, “I am excited to be at Penn State in the Happy Valley. I recently attended the PA Dairy Summit, and I was humbled by the welcoming energy from the dairy producers, dairy educators, industry, and faculty members I met. I am looking forward to working with such a wonderful group including the PA dairy producers and the Penn State dairy extension team and faculty at the university.” She added, “I also aim to further our knowledge on ways to improve the use of precision technology to better manage dairy cows and improve sustainability.”
Adele M. Turzillo, Ph.D., Head of the Department of Animal Science, said, “We welcome Dr. Cantor to our department and look forward to the expertise she brings in precision dairy technologies. Her extensive background will be valuable to Pennsylvania’s dairy industry.”
Cantor plans to develop an extramurally funded research program aimed at using data generated from precision technologies to better inform decision making and improve the lives of dairy animals. As part of her extension outreach, she will strive for an inclusive program centered around dairy calf and heifer management topics, and how to adopt and better use on-farm precision technologies.
Cantor has taught classes at both the University of Kentucky and the University of Wisconsin-Madison serving as both co-instructor and teaching assistant. One of the goals of her classes was teaching students how to design, plan, and conduct a scientific experiment following protocols necessary for working with vertebrate animals. An important goal was for students to gain logical thinking skills to interpret and present the results in a meaningful manner. As a mentor, Cantor guided 25 students through the scientific process as they developed a scientifically sound research question and designed a project using appropriate experimental design, data collection methods, statistical analysis, and interpretation of the results.
For two years Cantor worked for Agsource Dairy as a regional milk technician, managing dairy herd improvement testing for 36 herds. Her responsibilities included maintaining equipment, working with parlor management to improve milk quality, and acquiring monthly milk samples. In addition, she developed software skills using various herd management software packages with a focus on milk quality.
Cantor has co-authored 50 presentations, half of those as lead author. She has presented her work at top scientific meetings around the world, including the American Dairy Science Association, Dairy Cattle Welfare Council, Precision Dairy Conference, European Precision Conference, International Society of Applied Ethology, and the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
In her free time, she enjoys training her rescue dogs, drinking coffee, and reading.
–Sally Brown Bair, Penn State University