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College of Global Futures announces new directors

Exterior of the Walton Center for Planetary Health building.

ASU Senior Global Futures Scientists Joshua Abbott and Eusebio Scornavacca have been named directors of the School of Sustainability and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, respectively. ASU photo

May 07, 2024

As the academic home to those tackling some of our planet’s most urgent challenges, the College of Global Futures at Arizona State University empowers learners to shape their own futures. This commitment to future generations was further exemplified with the recent announcement of Joshua Abbott and Eusebio Scornavacca as directors of the School of Sustainability and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, respectively.

While both Abbott and Scornavacca are relatively new to their roles as directors, they are well acquainted with the College of Global Futures, part of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. They both served as acting or interim directors before their formal appointments, something both Abbott and Scornavacca said has strengthened their ability to navigate their new roles.

Through their decades of experience and clear ideas of progression for their schools, the two new directors see their appointments as an opportunity to further prepare our world’s future leaders for innovative, rewarding and impactful careers.  

“Both Eusebio and Josh are uniquely qualified to direct their respective schools,” said Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of Global Futures at ASU and acting dean of the College of Global Futures. “I look forward to working with them to lead our schools and college into a future of growth, impact and academic excellence that is synergistic with the mission of Global Futures to shape a future where all of Earth’s inhabitants may thrive.”

Below, Abbott and Scornavacca discuss their career journeys and ambitions relating to their new roles.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

Eusebio Scornavacca (left) and Joshua Abbott (right)
Eusebio Scornavacca (left) and Joshua Abbott

Question: You both have long histories of working in this space. How did your backgrounds prepare you for your new roles? 

Abbott: Ironically, it was the economic opportunity provided by (my father's) work in the fossil fuels industry that allowed me to be the first in my family to attend and graduate from college. I started out studying piano but quickly changed my major to business for what seemed like a more practical option and as a good pre-law major. As luck would have it, a professor in my junior year changed my direction by showing me the power of economics as a way to understand the world and giving me the confidence that I could teach and do research for a living.

In graduate school, I discovered the field of environmental and resource economics, which integrates economics and the natural sciences to manage our natural resources — like fish, forests, atmosphere or groundwater — as forms of societal capital. In sustainability, we think about the welfare of the present generation while satisfying our obligations to the future. The only thing that we can ultimately hand from one generation to the next is capital. Some of it will be in the form of knowledge and new technologies, some of it might be financial assets, but much of our bequest is tied to the “natural capital” embodied in the health of the planet: We leave assets and we leave liabilities. In a way, sustainability is about being a portfolio manager. 

I was fortunate to join the School of Sustainability at ASU as only the second faculty member hired. It has been an honor to participate in the growth and evolution of the school from the early days, when the field of sustainability was in its infancy, to today when awareness and careers in the field have exploded.

Scornavacca: I grew up in southern Brazil in a family of Italian immigrants. As a teenager, I attended high school in Milwaukee as an exchange student and was exposed to different socioeconomic realities in America. I then returned to Brazil for my undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering and management, with a major in public administration. During that time, I ... had the opportunity to study in Germany. This early exposure to different facets of life ... instilled in me a passion for fostering access to education, ensuring academic excellence and promoting student success, all of which contribute to public value.

In the late 90s, I became deeply interested in understanding the role of technology as a source of disruption and socioeconomic development. For a significant portion of my career, my focus was on the business aspects of cutting-edge information technologies. However, my perspective evolved over time from a purely business-oriented approach to one that emphasizes societal and environmental outcomes, which I like to call "tech for good." This shift involves not only improving organizational output but also making a positive impact on society and the planet.

After moving to Maryland 11 years ago, I led a center for digital innovation. In 2019, I visited ASU and was immediately drawn to the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. ASU's commitment to access and excellence resonated deeply with me, and I was compelled to join the institution.

Q: What are some of your major priorities in this director role? 

Abbott: One of my priorities is being really intentional about how we communicate with both students and parents about climate change and sustainability. Many, especially in younger generations, feel a lot of climate anxiety. I don’t want to minimize that, but I would say that it’s hard to inspire positive change from a place of fear and anxiety.

Sustainability does require grappling with profound societal challenges, including climate change, biodiversity loss and the need to address uneven economic development in a way that respects planetary health. However, addressing each of these challenges also brings with it a corresponding opportunity. Green jobs are growing exponentially, but these jobs don't only exist in the sustainability field — they are important across all sectors. An important goal in our school is to help our students make sense of this exciting but sometimes messy job market so that they can chart their own path toward impactful and rewarding careers.

Scornavacca: The priority number one for our school is to increase our consequential global and local impact across its activities. This means attracting a substantially larger student body, diversifying and fortifying our funding portfolio as well as fostering stronger engagement with a variety of ASU and external stakeholders. This represents an extraordinarily exciting opportunity for our school towards contributing to the success of the College of Global Futures while furthering the mission of Global Futures Laboratory, and advancing the ASU Charter.

When I think of students coming to the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, I think of a mantra: purpose, journey, jobs, impact. When students come to us, they are betting on the “family farm” and they come with an incredible sense of purpose. They want to do something in the world that will create a positive impact and will create a better future for everyone. How do we, as a school, turn that purpose into a journey? We do that through providing learning opportunities that develop the skills and enable experiences they need to catalyze their purpose into action. From there, they have the power to translate their skills and purpose into meaningful jobs after college and prepare them for a lifelong career with impact in the areas of innovation, global development and futures.

Q: What would you tell students who are interested in the School of Sustainability (SOS) or the School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS)? 

Abbott: I definitely encourage them to explore further. Take an SOS class — perhaps one of our General Studies Gold courses — or reach out to our faculty or student advising team to learn more. I would also emphasize that achieving a sustainable world is a huge challenge and requires engagement and ideas from people from all backgrounds and walks of life — not just those that naturally identify as environmentalists. I would point to my own nonlinear path into sustainability as an example that you can truly come from anywhere and find a place to belong in this field.

Finally, I want to emphasize that there are many different ways to engage in the field of sustainability for 40 hours a week. There are STEM-heavy careers focusing on renewable energy deployment or species conservation, corporate careers helping companies reduce their climate impact while delivering value to customers and shareholders, and careers in public policy, helping to steer  the “rules of the game” in a more sustainable direction. These are just a few of the many available opportunities afforded by a degree in sustainability — all while knowing that you’re doing something of redeeming value for your family, community and world.

Scornavacca: Our school offers a unique and dynamic environment where students are empowered to explore the intersection of innovation, development and societal impact. (At SFIS), you'll engage with cutting-edge research, collaborate with like-minded peers and work closely with faculty who are leaders in their fields. Whether your interests lie in science and technology policy, global development, social entrepreneurship or technological innovation, our transdisciplinary approach provides a fertile ground for exploration and growth.

Moreover, I would highlight the real-world impact of our programs. From tackling global challenges to fostering ethical innovation, our graduates are equipped with the skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of the modern world. From mentorship opportunities to undergraduate research and experiential learning initiatives, we are committed to fostering an inclusive and collaborative environment where every student can thrive.

The School for the Future of Innovation in Society is more than just a place of learning — it's a catalyst for meaningful change. If you are passionate about making a difference and shaping the future through innovation, then our school is the perfect place for you to embark on your journey.

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