New ASU faculty will use their interdisciplinary research to build better futures

This semester, five new faculty members are joining the College of Global Futures.

Their unique and diverse backgrounds in sustainability, technology, innovation, education and policy will contribute to the college's vision of creating a sustainable, equitable and vibrant future for everyone on a thriving, healthy planet.

Learn more about the new faculty members.

Photo of Eusebio Scornavacca

Eusebio Scornavacca

Professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society in the College of Global Futures, and the Thunderbird School of Global Management

To say that Eusebio Scornavacca has a diverse background is almost an understatement. He speaks seven languages, has been a visiting professor in 10 different countries and has a strong research collaboration network across six continents. He has a deep and diverse cultural appreciation that allows him to understand and collaborate with people all around the world.

Scornavacca joins ASU from the University of Baltimore, where he was the Parsons Professor of Digital Innovation and director of the Center for Digital Communication, Commerce and Culture. His research focuses on the intersection of disruptive digital innovation with socioeconomic and environmental impact.

"I look at the development of digital innovation and how it can produce a smart, equitable and sustainable future," Scornavacca said. "How can we use digital technologies to help reduce our carbon footprint or create more inclusive financial systems? How can we leverage the capabilities of the digital ecosystem to foster entrepreneurship that creates positive socio-economic and environmental outcomes?"

Scornavacca believes that while digital innovations are disruptive and pose risks, it also has immense potential to do some good.

"Technological development and technological innovation need to be looked at with a balance between the positive and negative impacts and always in light of the context that is being used," Scornavacca said. "How can technology, instead of furthering inequalities, actually help to create a better world for everyone?"

Photo of Beza Merid

Beza Merid

Assistant professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society in the College of Global Futures

When discussing illness and disease, stand-up comedy isn't the traditional venue. But the contradiction between comedy and tragedy can actually lead to some intimate conversations. The unlikely pair has become one of the topics of Beza Merid's research. He studies people's experiences of illness and disease, and the types of social and cultural elements that can shape those experiences. He has found that stand-up comedy can enable people to have more difficult and often taboo conversations, and even creates a shared experience.

"Stand-up comedy operates as a place where people have conversations that bend the rules of society," Merid said. "It enables us to explore and confront these difficult topics and not think of them as isolated, personalized experiences that we have to deal with on our own. Stand-up comedy can create a collective understanding that shows we're all struggling with these kinds of things. It's something we can all relate to."

Merid joins ASU from the University of Michigan Medical School, where he also studied the technologies and innovation surrounding health and illness. Part of his research looked at whether mobile apps could be used to encourage people with high blood pressure to eat healthier and exercise more. But not everyone has access to the same resources to make the technology most effective. The technology only works if everyone has access to the same resources.

"We can design technologies, but we can't really innovate our way out of these structural problems," Merid said. "One of the important things for us to do when we're thinking about the relationship between health and technology innovation is to think about the broader political and social systems that create these problems to begin with. By bringing all those things together, we have a better shot of collectivizing our solutions."

Photo of Janna Goebel

Janna Goebel 

Assistant professor in the School of Sustainability in the College of Global Futures

Janna Goebel is no stranger to ASU. She recently completed her PhD in educational policy and evaluation at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. But her focus on sustainability is relatively new. While earning her PhD, she learned more about the sustainability work happening at ASU and started engaging with the researchers behind it. That urge to study sustainability and our interconnectedness with nature took her to Brazil for her dissertation. She studied how education can be conceptualized beyond the current approach that puts humans at the center of everything.

"I'm interested in how we can reconfigure our relationships with the Earth," Goebel said. "I study how education can influence and change our perceptions so that we can see beyond our view of human exceptionalism."

Sustainability education is more than just incorporating Sustainable Development Goals into the curriculum. Goebel's research also looks at environmental justice and how education is part of the problem and solution to the sustainability challenges we're facing.

"The power dynamics of the world create sustainability problems," Goebel said. "We know that the people who suffer most from climate change do not contribute most to its causes. We have to look at how education is part of that system of oppression, but also liberation. We have to see how sustainability education can be incorporated across all different discipline areas so that we can start to chip away at some of these very persistent status quo power dynamics that are causing some to suffer much more than others."

Photo of Ding Fei

Ding Fei

Clinical assistant professor in the School of Sustainability in the College of Global Futures

A conversation with road builders in western China helped shape Ding Fei's research. While doing international fieldwork for her master's degree in geography, she spoke with a team of workers and learned they were headed to East Africa for their next project. She wanted to learn more about China's global presence and why these construction workers would travel to another country to work, so she followed them to East Africa to observe their operations.

"There is a big debate about China," Fei said. "Some people say China is a distinctive development partner; they have good foreign policies, are very generous in providing loans and investment, and will contribute to sustainable development in Africa. But others say China is a neocolonial power and is using elite diplomacy or resource diplomacy to perpetuate African underdevelopment."

While conducting her research in East Africa, Fei felt that China did not give a very clear picture of what it was doing overseas or how its activities influenced development in other countries. She wants to bring a more critical analysis of China's overseas activities to better understand the nation's impact and the implications of sustainable development in the Global South.

"When we talk about China or any emerging power, we often use very nationalistic terms to address it as a whole, coherent actor while operating abroad," Fei said. "But in fact, there are so many institutions and actors from China, and they have different layers of interactions with the African host country. When they interact, many contingencies or complexities emerge. Also, the host country is not just a passive recipient of aid or investment. It is also trying to carve its developmental path, but its ability to do so is often limited by its own history, domestic political conditions, social conditions and government capabilities. We need to both recognize the agency or the strategies of the host countries, but also critically analyze their constraints to inform policymaking in the future."

Photo of Danae Hernandez-Cortes

Danae Hernandez-Cortes 

Assistant professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Sustainability, both in the College of Global Futures

Danae Hernandez-Cortes wanted to help vulnerable communities and felt one way to do that was through the lens of economics. But when she arrived in Mexico City to earn her bachelor's degree in economics, she noticed another problem that needed solving: pollution. And she believed that environmental policies were one of the contributors.

"When I was starting my undergrad, I wanted to understand what parts of environmental policy were affecting pollution and how we can solve them," Hernandez-Cortes said. "I then decided to do my PhD in economics to try to get more knowledge on how these different policies could affect pollution exposure."

Hernandez-Cortes' research took an interdisciplinary approach with an emphasis on equity; she focused on the sources of environmental inequality and the distributional consequences of environmental policy. She found that her background in economics was instrumental in her research.

"Economics is all about scarcity and trade-offs," Hernandez-Cortes said. "Recognizing that scarcity, and that the policy implications we are trying to achieve have trade-offs, is the main basis for environmental policy. There's nothing more scarce than natural resources, and trying to solve different environmental problems will always involve trade-offs. By looking at these, we're able to understand better policies that could help design efficient and equitable environmental policy."

Ashley Richards
agoelitz@asu.edu