By Charlie Dodge

In the color-dotted world of Johnny Hart’s B.C. comic strip, communication was the work of simple tools: A swinging club signaled rage. The chisel etched moral lessons. And the snout of UCI’s mascot archetype, of course, trumpeted “Zot!” – telegraphing “welcome to the food chain” to hapless ants.

Today’s Zot! is an electronic exclamation that connects and informs members of the campus community. Unlike B.C.’s characters, the UCI ZotMail system has evolved rapidly, from a centralized service using e-mail and faxes to disseminate information across campus to a decentralized Web-based process that formats and distributes messages through the campus e-mail network. One thing that has not changed, however, is the integral role of Penny White in creating, maintaining and improving ZotMail.

Under White, the system has become an indispensable part of UCI’s internal communications strategy. Top administrators and faculty rely on ZotMail to send important messages to selected groups of employees on the UCI main campus and at UCI Medical Center.

“It’s so much a part of the basic infrastructure that people don’t consciously think about it, except to the extent they get a message they don’t want or missed one they wanted to receive,” says White.

Quite literally, White has a top-to-bottom understanding of what makes communications networks work. In her 16 years at UCI, she has quickly risen from the mail room to the key role of manager of distribution and document management. Her responsibilities include shipping and receiving, maintaining policies and procedures, coordinating document imaging services, and soon, managing record storage.

Working with two computer programmers – both UCI graduates – White implemented the ZotMail system in 1993. Surprisingly, the project required no funding; the only expenses were the labor costs of existing personnel.

Other UC campuses quickly took notice. Riverside and Santa Cruz adopted the earlier centralized version of ZotMail as their model, UCLA has been modifying the new Webbased version UCI unveiled in 1997, and “Berkeley literally took our whole package,” White says.

In addition to her distribution and document management responsibilities, White has taken on a variety of important roles in the Staff Assembly over the years, clearing lines of communication between employees and the administration and providing new opportunities for staff participation in decision-making. She currently serves as vice chair.

When she is not keeping campus communication streams flowing, White enjoys cultivating her role as a “self-taught general gardener” at her Laguna Hills home and as a volunteer at the Huntington Library Botanical Gardens. Her love of plants may be the reason she likes to cite an impressive ZotMail statistic: Last year, the ZotMail system saved the cost of printing, distributing and disposing of more than 3 million pieces of paper.