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A crystal ball reflects the SCU Mission.

A crystal ball reflects the SCU Mission.


What ideas, trends or products should we expect to see in 2021?

In 2021, Americans are looking forward to something better.

Vaccines should offer us immunity from COVID-19, the economy should revive, a sense of normalcy should replace a year of desperation. 

And whether you voted for him or not, a new U.S. President has been legitimately elected. Relying on a different leadership strategy, based in part on his Catholic faith, Joe Biden will try to heal our divided country and move it forward.

Is there any better time to reach out to a group of Santa Clara University thought leaders, both faculty and alumni, for their take on the year ahead? 

When we asked them, “What innovative product, idea, trend, concept, or development are you most excited about, or intrigued by, in 2021?” here's what they told us:


PHIL KESTEN, Associate Professor of Physics, Associate Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies

SEARCHING FOR EVIDENCE OF LIFE “OUT THERE”: Could 2021 be the year of life... life not on planet Earth?  NASA's Perseverance Rover is now scheduled to touch down in the Jezero Crater on Mars, the site of an ancient river delta and a crater lake, in February. There is a good chance that life, perhaps microbial life, once existed there; scientific equipment on Perseverance will collect rock and soil samples that might uncover evidence for such life.  

And NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, will launch in October. The mirror in the James Webb telescope has six times the light-gathering capability of the Hubble telescope, which will enable scientists to study the atmospheres of planets far from our solar system, in order to look for signs of life. 


JOANNA THOMPSON, Director of the Office for Multicultural Learning

BLACK WOMEN PUSHING FOR HEALTH AND WELLNESS: For 2021, I am most excited about the continued increase of Black women in the area of health and wellness. There is a history of stigma affecting the BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color) community when it comes to accessing culturally competent health and wellness resources, in addition to a general lack of diversity in the faces of the experts we see in this field. Personally, as a woman of color, it has been empowering to see this intentional and inclusive shift! Here are some of my favorite Black female health and wellness practitioners: Hannah Bronfman; Ally Love; Lauren Ash; Massy Arias, and Jeanette Jenkins.


LINDSEY KALKBRENNER ’04, MBA ’09, Director of the Center for Sustainability

DON’T IGNORE SUSTAINABILITY GAINS: I’m excited about seeing how telecommuting, virtual meetings, and virtual conferencing will integrate into work and life when we re-immerse in worklife post-pandemic. How will our ability to meet and work remotely—for those whose jobs enable remote work—impact organizations’ greenhouse gas emissions? Will we be able to see dramatic decreases in travel and commute-related emissions persist? 

During the pandemic, I've been able to present at a conference hosted virtually from Florida, provide consultation with counterparts in Brazil, lead a sustainability-across-the-curriculum workshop for colleagues throughout the U.S., supervise virtual summer sustainability internships for students around the U.S., participate in hula workshops from Honolulu—all without spending a dime (or time!) on travel or flying on a plane that would release greenhouse gas emissions. 

It’s also been a welcome opportunity to be able to participate in family events (kid birthday parties, baby showers), arts, museums, and cultural programs we might not have been able to attend normally because they were too far away.


ELSIE WOLFE ’95, Vice President and Sales Manager of Alcoholic Beverages for Safeway’s Northern California Division 

GET READY FOR HARD SELTZERS 2.0: A new generation of hard seltzers is coming our way as the trend continues to grow triple digits. Many of the new product launches are not malt-based—like White Claw or Truly—but spirits-based, with vodka and tequila. We will see top spirits brands like Absolut, Jose Cuervo, Ketel One, to name just a few, rolling out with RTD (Ready to Drink) cocktails in a can. Also expect to see some innovation on the original White Claw and Truly hard seltzers with the release of “Hard Tea” to compliment the “Hard Lemonade” that launched mid-2020. 

Lastly, who wants an extra kick in their coffee? Yes, spiked coffees are on the way, too!


ERIC GOLDMAN, Professor, School of Law, Co-Director of SCU’s High Tech Law Institute

AN IMPROVED ONLINE DISCOURSE: In 2020, I helped launch a new organization called the Trust & Safety Professional Association (TSPA). The TSPA will cater to the professionals doing content moderation, the process of managing user-generated content. Historically, the content moderation community lacked any infrastructure for members to communicate with or learn from each other, which led to feelings of worker isolation, a lack of cross-fertilization of ideas across the industry, and many efforts to reinvent the wheel. 

Now, with the TSPA, I’m hoping that we can provide the infrastructure necessary to pull the content moderation community together. In turn, by empowering those community members, I hope the TSPA will be a major force for good in improving online discourse and pro-social interactions.


HERSH SHEFRIN, Mario L. Belotti Professor of Finance, Leavey School of Business 

SMART MOVES TO REDUCE GLOBAL WARMING: The development of carbon capture technology that offsets carbon emissions is gaining traction and generating hope in the battle against global warming. Energy companies are investing in it. Airlines are investing in it.

At present, carbon capture technology has lottery-like features, meaning low odds of a very high payoff. Global annual carbon emissions are 40 gigatons, and given current technology, offsetting these emissions will require 40,000 carbon capture plants, about the same number as there are global power and industrial plants.

Keep in mind that the Roaring Twenties followed the Spanish Flu pandemic. Once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, people will want to take to the skies again. Planes are major emitters of greenhouse gases, and it will take carbon capture to address aviation emissions.


DREW STARBIRD MBA ’84, Director, My Own Business Institute (MOBI) at SCU | Professor, SCU Department of Operations Management

POST-COVID SMALL BUSINESS SHAKEOUT: Small businesses adopted a number of innovative strategies to survive the continuing pandemic. These strategies include selling products online, creating new products and services, changing how products are delivered, and intensifying customer communication. Not all of these efforts have been successful, but some have opened up new opportunities.

I predict that some of these efforts will continue past the end of the pandemic and change the way these businesses operate in the long-run. Which will continue?  I am intrigued by the question and eager to learn the answer.


ANN SKEET, Director of Leadership Ethics, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

WANTED—BUSINESS LEADERS WHO CAN RESTORE TRUST: A global pandemic has made clear that trust is a common good and that its erosion comes with significant costs. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer declares an information bankruptcy, following last year’s findings that ethics mattered three times more than competence in creating trusted institutions.

Before the pandemic, 83 percent of employees were fearful of losing their jobs, a number that has only increased as people see the pandemic accelerating technological adoption in the workplace. Only leaders who can restore trust will be able to reach their goals. Edelman identifies paying fair wages, focusing on education and training, embracing an all-stakeholders model, and partnering across institutions as critical steps to take. For those acts to take root and truly serve the common good, leaders should establish and build relationships with the people they work with as a crucial first step.


MARYAM KHANBAGHI, Ph.D., Director of Power Systems and Sustainable Energy Program, Electrical Engineering Department

RENEWABLE ENERGY KEEPS GROWING: In the 21st century, 100 years after industrialization of electric power, the electricity delivery landscape is changing from unidirectional to bidirectional. This transformation has accelerated and increased integration of renewable energy to the grid. 

Utilization of renewable energy impacts greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction. In addition, it enables delivery of electricity during natural disasters as well as providing electricity in remote areas at relatively low cost.

Integration and proliferation of renewable energy require new technologies and policies, which combined, will help reduce the cost of renewable energy and strengthen its viability.

2021 is an exciting year, where the U.S. rejoins the Paris Agreement, energy storage systems become part of utilities planning, and networked microgrids become a viable solution to the integration of renewable energy to the power grid. SCU being located in the heart of the Silicon Valley with its mission to form the next generation of engineers “to innovate to make the world a better place” can play a significant role in this journey. 

Photo at top courtesy of Umang Shah M.S. '19.

Alumni, Business, CAS, Diversity, Energy, Engineering, Ethics, Finance, Law, LSB, SOE, Sustainability, Technology
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