Photo of Diana Sonosky Montgomery

Supporting Environmental Research

A Legacy for Family and Future

Recognizing the importance of philanthropy as a means of both effecting change and honoring loved ones, Diane Sonosky Montgomery’s parents, Jerol and Elizabeth Sonosky, established several scholarships at USC in memory of family members who had passed. These include the David B. Sonosky Memorial Centennial Scholarship, named for her brother, at the USC Gould School of Law, and another, in honor of her uncle George Stahl, that supports biochemistry students at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her mother, father, brother and uncle all attended USC and “bled cardinal and gold,” according to Montgomery, and she attended before graduating from Cal State Fullerton.

Her family supported other causes, too. “My mother was always interested in the ocean,” said Montgomery.

Coming On Board

Seeking a way to support ocean health, the Sonoskys began to give to USC Dornsife’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, and Jerol Sonosky became a member of the Wrigley Institute’s advisory board, where he served for many years.

When he decided to step back from some of his duties, Montgomery stepped up. “He handed me the baton to carry on the legacy,” as both a Wrigley board member and a philanthropic leader, she said.

“It’s a gem,” she added, speaking of the institute. “The facilities are wonderful, and [Institute staff] are doing great work for both the oceans and the world at large.”

As a member of the Wrigley board, Montgomery has found that her background in finance — she worked as a vice president of operations for an insurance brokerage before her retirement — comes in handy when advising the institute on fundraising and other financial issues.

She has also served as a judge for the Wrigley Sustainability Prize, helping select winners of the annual student contest for sustainability innovation.

Montgomery is unwavering in her belief that sustainability issues should be at the forefront of our present-day concerns. “Sustainability is a balance between the environment and all the life it nurtures and the practice of using natural resources responsibly so they can support present and future generations,” she said.

She has noted that, since the time of her father’s initial involvement, the Wrigley Institute has shifted more focus to the realm of sustainability, a reminder that the oceans’ health is dependent on the health of the larger global ecosystem. She also admires how the institute has focused on implementing the large-scale changes necessary to maintain the planet’s health, such as research on converting kelp into biofuel.

Sustaining the Cause

Montgomery has carried on her family’s philanthropic legacy through her financial support of the Sonosky Summer Fellowship. Started by her parents in 2012, the Sonosky Summer Fellowship began because, according to Montgomery, her father wanted students who study the most pressing environmental challenges to have the opportunity to continue their research through the summer without worrying about sustaining themselves through outside employment.

Montgomery has been delighted to meet some of the award’s recipients.

Carlos Navarro, a PhD candidate in chemistry at USC Dornsife, credits the Sonosky Summer Fellowship with giving him the means to further his research.

“Receiving the 2021 Sonosky Summer Fellowship was a huge boon because it allowed me to return to the laboratory and conduct paid research again, especially after losing so much time to COVID-19,” Navarro said. His research project involved the development of a sustainable recycling process for carbon fiber waste.

Carbon fiber-reinforced polymer composite materials (CFRPs) are often used in aircraft and have tremendous value as a recycled material in consumer goods such as golf clubs and bicycles. However, the process to recover and convert CFRPs is inefficient and creates excess pollution.

Using his chemistry background, Navarro has helped develop a method to make CFRP recovery more sustainable and up to five times faster. He and a co-researcher founded a sustainability start up, Closed Composites, to increase exposure and funding for the project.

“I am thankful for the Sonosky Fellowship because through it, the advancements I’ve made give my start-up a greater opportunity for success and to make a global impact by improving carbon fiber composite sustainability,” Navarro said.

For her part, Diane Montgomery Sonosky is proud to continue her family’s tradition of giving: “If you have enough to give, you shouldn’t sit on it.”

Through her and her family’s desire to “extend their legacy through the years,” they have left a legacy of giving that will bolster the planet’s health, ultimately ensuring a space for future generations to create a legacy of their own.



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