September 24, 2021

holding poster while sitting_ cathy n davidson's father
Paul C. Notari holding a framed copy of the flyer used to promote the Paul C. Notari Research Grants in Environmental Studies (Photo credit: Mary Lou Notari)

By Bonnie Eissner

To celebrate her father, who turned 95 this month and whose life was changed by the GI Bill, Distinguished Professor Cathy N. Davidson (English, Digital Humanities, and Data Analysis and Visualization) established the Paul C. Notari Research Grants in Environmental Studies, which have the potential to change the lives of Graduate Center doctoral students. 

Four research microgrants of $500 will be offered by the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, which Davidson founded and directs, in an annual competition, beginning in 2022. Doctoral students who are working in any area relevant to scientific, social, cultural, legal, or policy issues in relation to environmental studies, climate change, renewable energy, pollution control, and allied areas are eligible to apply.

The new microgrants are similar to the Dr. Louise Lennihan Arts and Science Research Grants, offered by the Futures Initiative through the generous support of software and digital media inventor and Graduate Center honorary degree recipient Curtis Wong. Since 2016, the Futures Initiative has awarded over 30 of these $500 microgrants to graduate students working at the intersections of humanities, arts, science, and technology. 

Wong, Davidson explains, believes that the rigor of entering a grant competition, which now receives 50 or 60 applications a year, is an important step in a career. 

“In addition to monetary support, these small research grants inspire doctoral students to write proposals that can become the basis for dissertation abstracts, papers, posters, and articles — and become the basis for applications to much larger internal and external funding,” Davidson says. 

Both the Lennihan grants and the new Paul C. Notari grants mirror the values of the Futures Initiative: interdisciplinarity, being able to communicate the value of one’s research to the public, and supporting research that has public benefit. 

Applying for the grants, Davidson says, gives Graduate Center students the “opportunity to frame their work in a way that its importance is legible to other researchers from outside their discipline, and to think about the public good, equity, and social justice implications of their work, in any and every field.”

Davidson describes her dad’s work as exemplifying his dedication to the public good. The son of immigrants, he was a World War II veteran who went to college with the support of the GI Bill, the first person in his family to earn a university degree — a B.S. in Physics from DePaul University. Later, he earned a master’s degree from Rollins College. He began his career in the microwave division of Motorola and went on to work for the Business Equipment Manufacturer’s Association and the American Waterworks Association. He then became director of the Technical Information Branch at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (formerly Solar Energy Research Institute), established under President Jimmy Carter. 

Paul C. Notari, about to ship to the South Pacific to fight in World War II

Paul C. Notari, about to ship to the South Pacific to fight in World War II (Photo courtesy of Cathy N. Davidson)

For his 95th birthday on September 8, 2021, family members presented Notari with a framed copy of the flyer used to promote the grants. 

“He’s read the flyer for the Paul Notari Research Grants in Environmental Studies dozens of times since then, including at a surprise birthday party attended by 25 of his friends, including a book club he participates in, mostly of scientists and doctors significantly younger than he,” says Davidson.  

He summed up his reaction: “I’m honored, flattered, and grateful to see my life’s work and dedication to the environment carried out by doctoral students at a great, public university. There is no topic more urgent to the future of all humanity.” 

Learn more about the Paul The Paul C. Notari Research Grants in Environmental Studies and how to apply for them on the Futures Initiative website

Growing the Support

Since Davidson initiated the grant fund, one family member has already added to it. She says, “Since the grants are small, anyone can contribute and immediately see 100% of their contribution go to support the research of a worthy doctoral student, whose work has been rigorously evaluated by other excellent doctoral students.”

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing