ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

NHTSA Hit For Failing To Hone In On GM Ignition Failures.

Bloomberg News  (9/17, Plungis) reports that according to a report from a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration “didn’t recognize a pattern of air bag failures in General Motors Co. (GM) cars that would later be linked to flawed ignition switch design.” The report found that the NHTSA “failed to act on multiple police reports dating back to 2007 that inquired about a link between faulty ignition switches, which led cars to stall, and air bags that didn’t deploy.”

On its front page, the New York Times  (9/17, A1, Stout, Kessler, Subscription Publication) reports that at a Senate hearing on the subject on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) said that the NHTSA is “more interested in singing ‘Kumbaya’ with the manufacturers than being a cop on the beat.” In response, NHTSA head David Friedman “sought to turn blame for mounting safety problems back at G.M., which he said had illegally withheld critical information from the agency.”

In an editorial, USA Today  (9/17) says that the NHTSA “had chance after chance to spot the defect and push General Motors to recall its deadly cars.” Instead, the agency “wagged its tail and meekly rolled over — and not for the first time.” It has “repeatedly failed to spot defects, pursue investigations forcefully or use its powers to get defective cars off the road.”

In an op-ed for USA Today  (9/17, Friedman), NHTSA head David Friedman writes that his group “aggressively investigates and pursues recalls to protect the American public.” Regarding the GM issue, he writes that the NHTSA “looked into this problem twice in the years leading up to the recall. At that time, the data did not support a recall. In fact, the number of related complaints were going down, not up, when we reviewed the case.” He goes on to blame GM for hiding the problem, and says that his group has now reformed its procedures to deal with such situations more effectively in the future.

Higher Education

CFPB Sues Corinthian Alleging “Predatory” Student Loan Practices.

Several national media outlets and smaller sources are covering the news that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has filed a Federal lawsuit accusing embattled for-profit college firm Corinthian Colleges Inc. of fraudulent and abusive student loan practices. Coverage tends to be fact based, and focused on the watchdog agency’s allegations, within the context of the recent pattern of government actions against the firm. USA Today  (9/17, McCoy) reports that the lawsuit accuses Corinthian of “victimizing tens of thousands of students with predatory loan and debt-collection practices,” and alleges that the firm “lured its students to take out expensive federal and private loans by giving them false and misleading representations about career opportunities and job placement assistance.” The article notes that the firm’s shares tanked on the news, explains that it operates colleges around the nation serving over 70,000 students, and further describes the “deceptions” alleged in the complaint. This article concludes by noting that Corinthian in July entered into an agreement with ED to sell off 85 of its 107 campuses.

The AP  (9/17, Boak) reports that CFPB is seeking over $500 million “for borrowers who used the for-profit education company’s private student loans,” alleging that the firm “misled students about their job prospects, in some cases paying employers to offer temporary jobs to graduates.” The AP quotes CFPB Director Richard Cordray saying, “We believe Corinthian lured in consumers with lies about their job prospects upon graduation, sold high-cost loans to pay for that false hope, and then harassed students for overdue debts while they were still in school.” Noting that the firm “disputed the claims made by the CFPB,” the AP reports that the for-profit sector is facing increased Federal regulation, and that ED has “put into place new regulations that cut off federal aid if too many students default on loans or fail to earn enough money after graduation to repay them.”

Noting that Corinthian is based in Orange County, California, the Los Angeles Times  (9/17, Kirkham) reports that the CFPB’s action “adds to a lengthy list of legal and regulatory woes for Corinthian, which announced in July that it would sell off 85 of its campuses and close more than a dozen others amid” an ED “crackdown.” The complaint alleges that Corinthian “engaged in a widespread pattern of deception, advertising bogus job placement rates to prospective students and enrolling them in high-interest private student loans.” The Times notes that California Attorney General Kamala Harris has made similar allegations in a lawsuit last year, but adds that the “federal suit delves more deeply into Corinthian’s private lending program, in which 60% of students defaulted within three years.” The Times notes that in June, ED “temporarily halted student aid funding…amid concerns about job placement fraud.”

Other media outlets covering this story include the Chronicle of Higher Education  (9/17, Field), the Huffington Post  (9/17, Nasiripour), Reuters  (9/17, Nawaguna), CNN’s Money  (9/17, Ellis), The Hill  (9/17, Devaney), the Cleveland Plain Dealer  (9/17, Harris), the Clark County (WA) Columbian  (9/16), the Miami Herald  (9/17, Vasquez), and the Contra Costa (CA) Times  (9/17, By Katy Murphy Kmurphy@,

Corinthian, Education Management Corp Fail To File Annual Reports On Time. Reuters  (9/17, Reuters) reports that Corinthian and fellow for-profit education firm Education Management Corp. have both announced that they will not file their annual reports on time, noting that Corinthian said that the CFPB lawsuit and plans to sell off many of its campuses are preventing an accurate view of the firm’s status.

GOP Blocks Warren’s Student Loan Refinancing Bill.

In its Floor Action blog, The Hill  (9/17, Cox) reports Republicans have blocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill to refinance $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, following a refusal by Warren to open the bill to unlimited amendments. The Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act would have refinanced 25 million individuals’ loans to rates below 4%, offset with a minimum 30% income tax for those earning $1 million to $2 million. Republicans also blocked the bill earlier this year.

Maine Sen. Angus King Introduces Simplifying Student Loan Bill.

The Portland (ME) Press Herald  (9/16, Gallagher) reports Sen. Angus King introduced a Federal student loan bill offering interchangeable debt consolidations into a 10-year fixed repayment plan or single, income-based repayment option capped at 15% of discretionary income; the bill intends to simplify the dozen options already complicating the loan market. Further, the bill would close loopholes for high-income earners by regularly recalculating payments based on changes to income, while also adding provisions for loans below $57,500 to be forgiven after 20 years and above after 25. The remainder of the article cites national efforts from the President and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to address rising student loan debts.

Senators: Simplifications Will Benefit Both Students And Taxpayers. Commentary from Senators King and Richard Burr in the Portland (ME) Press Herald  (9/16) details the bipartisan bill’s simplification of the student loan system, citing problems with the dozen plans’ differing conditions under similar names and various opt-in programs. The senators cite the bill’s integration of ideas from the President and experts to protect taxpayers and assure no disproportionate benefits to the wealthy or advantageous, suggesting the closure of loopholes will save taxpayers hundreds of millions over the next decade. Lastly, they explain the bill directs the Secretary of Education to inform students of their options.

Video Interviews – Leaders at NSF and the Navy Discuss the Future of Engineering
Watch interviews with NSF Assistant Director for Engineering Pramod Khargonekar, who talks about exciting NSF projects and opportunities for ASEE members, and Rear Admiral David Johnson, who discusses the importance of technology to the U.S. Navy and where naval research is headed.
ASEE Perks
ASEE launches “ASEE Perks” a new collection of discounted products and services, only for members.

Research and Development

AAAS Study: Lack Of Research Funding Eroding US Standard Of Living.

US News & World Report  (9/16) reports that according to a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, “a troubling lack of investment in basic scientific research that supports the health and economic prosperity of the country” is contributing to “a lack of social mobility” and “the inability of some to buy a home and start a family.” The report argues that the academic, government, and business spheres “need to form stronger partnerships and that the federal government needs to increase its investment in basic research and development” to promote US economic competitiveness and prosperity.

MIT Researchers Develop Stealthy Cheetah-Like Robot.

The Christian Science Monitor  (9/16) reports that researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are “trying to quell the stereotype of a lumbering robot with a machine built to move more like one of nature’s quickest creatures — the cheetah.” The robot can move 10 miles per hour, but “could eventually reach speeds of 30 mph.” The article explains the mechanics behind the robot’s locomotion, and notes that “perhaps the coolest (and most catlike) thing about this bot is its stealth abilities,” noting that since it uses electric motors instead of gasoline engines, it is much quieter than most four-legged robots. The piece notes that DARPA “has been trying for several years to develop a robot that is as quiet as it is quick” for military applications.

Scientists Seek Solutions For Funding Crisis In Biomedical Research.

The NPR  (9/17, Harris) “Shots” blog reports that the continuing downturn in Federal funding for biomedical research has prompted leaders in the field to attempt to find a fix for the broken system. Dr. Harold Varmus, head of the National Cancer Institute, cited deep structural problems in the way research is financed, with some schools and researchers focused entirely on staying afloat. “This is a very tricky business,” Varmus said, “because we recognize that universities are under tremendous pressures.” Varmus noted that the NIH is seeking practical solutions, such as hiring staff scientists to carry out more of the day-to-day lab-work that the apprentices now perform and awarding grants based on ideas rather than specific research proposals.

NASA Flights Now An Important Part Of Algae Bloom Monitoring.

Popular Science  (9/16, Novak) continued coverage of the flights out of the Glenn Research Center surveying the algal blooms affecting Lake Erie. According to the article, this “small research project” has grown into “an important tool” to help “distinguish harmful algae from beneficial algae.” NASA’s John Lekki, who is in charge of the flights, said, “We’re checking for concentration of algal blooms and sediment in the water. We also look for new areas of algal blooms.” The article notes that while local residents wait on Ohio officials to develop a treatment, they will “depend on NASA’s partnership with NOAA and area universities” to warn of “another water contamination disaster.”

Research Team Creates 3D-Printed UAV.

Wired  (9/16, Golson) reported that a research team at University of Virginia has designed a 3D-printed UAV for the Department of Defense. The aircraft can hold a 1.5-pound payload and one can be “printed out in a little more than a day, for just $2,000.” It was constructed “with off-the-shelf parts and has an Android phone for a brain.” When equipped with all of its gear, it weighs under 6 pounds and can fly at 40 mph for up to 45 minutes, “though the team’s working to get that up to an hour.”

Industry News

Firm Seeks FDA Nod For Device To Extracranial Pressure In Newborns.

The San Antonio Business Journal  (9/17, Subscription Publication) reports in its “Morning Edition” blog that medical device firm Invictus Medical is seeking FDA approval of its extracranial pressure relief device for newborn infants. If the San Antonio-based firm receives FDA approval, the company “could launch its first product on the market in early 2015,” the paper notes. According to the blog post, the device, “with a proposed indication for alleviating extracranial pressure due to a newborn’s prolonged immobility, has already undergone a comprehensive safety validation study at a teaching and research hospital in Dallas.”

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Rejects $481.8 Million Of $511 Million Tappan Zee Loan Request.

The New York Times  (9/17, Berger, Subscription Publication) reports the Federal Environmental Protection Agency rejected $481.8 million of New York’s $511 million loan request to aid the construction of a new Tappan Zee Bridge, approving only five of 12 requests for a total of $29.1 million in Clean Water Act funding. The EPA cited that the withheld funds would have financed construction rather than environmental enhancement. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo intends to appeal the decision, citing the EPA’s conceptual approval of the loan. With $1.6 billion in Federal transportation-project loans already secured, the unhindered $3.9 billion construction project is scheduled for completion by 2018.

Administration Announces Voluntary HFC Reductions From Almost Two Dozen US Companies.

The New York Times  (9/16, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports, on Tuesday the Administration announced that it had “secured voluntary agreements” to reduce HFC emissions “from some of the nation’s largest companies,” the likes of food companies Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Red Bull, and Kroger, as well as Honeywell and DuPont. These companies are committing to finding “climate-friendly alternatives” to their HFC use, which the Administration believes “would reduce cumulative global consumption of HFCs by the equivalent of 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2025,” or “about 1.5 percent of the world’s 2010 greenhouse gas emissions.” The article mentions that the Administration is telling its agencies “to purchase alternatives to HFCs whenever possible, to work on expanding a list of HFC alternatives, and to fund Energy Department research into HFC alternative technologies.”

USA Today  (9/16, Koch) reports “19 companies and two industry groups” have teamed up with the Administration on HFC reduction, which runs the gamut of “the entire HFC supply chain, from the chemical’s production to its use in manufacturing and stores.” McCarthy stated, “The good progress we are making on restoring the earth’s ozone layer would not have been possible without a strong public-private partnership.”

Reuters  (9/17, Volcovici) reports that the agreement adds to the argument for amending the Montreal Protocol for reducing HFC use globally.

The Los Angeles Times  (9/17, Muskal) reports, HFC emissions could “nearly double by 2020 and triple by 2030” without major industry action. Additionally, as many of the outlets are, the Los Angeles Times reports that President Obama will be at the UN Climate Summit next week in New York, “where he will push for policies cutting the use of chemicals that have led to climate change.”

The Washington Times  (9/17, Wolfgang) highlights the Administration’s pro-business stance with respect to finding cooperative routes to address HFC emissions.

The Hill  (9/17, Barron-Lopez) reports, the industries are focusing their efforts on cutting use of “the coolant R-134a,” which “would include phasing out similar HFC compounds used in nearly every office, home and automobile in the U.S.” Energy Secretary Moniz and McCarthy were present at the meeting yesterday between the industry and the Administration. DOE is working on “new funding opportunities for research and development” in “the next generation of efficient cooling technologies and energy reductions.”

Brookings Report Critical Of DOE On Tech Transfer.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (9/17) reports that a new Brookings Institution “puts another public spotlight on what it calls U.S. Department of Energy’s chronic lack of initiative to push technology commercialization at its 17 national laboratories.” Unveiled last week, the report “says the DOE has failed ‘to aggressively and fully seize the opportunity to turn federally funded research into new products and services.’” Brookings says that is a problem “because the labs could potentially act as ‘pivotal institutions’ in the effort to improve national innovation, competitiveness and economic growth.” The article notes that “both Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory have launched noteworthy efforts” and “the report specifically cited the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program as a ‘good model’ for how laboratories can share their expertise and infrastructure with small and medium-sized businesses.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Detroit Conference Focuses On Preparing US Students For “Data-Rich” Economy.

The Detroit Free Press  (9/16) reports that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is hosting a conference dubbed “TechonomyDetroit,” noting that many US workers are not prepared to participate in the big data sector, since “the American educational system often leaves students unprepared for a data-rich world.” The article reports that the event featured panel discussions on the issue “designed to advance understanding how technology can improve the economic outlook for Americans in general and cities like Detroit in particular.”

Hundreds Of South Dakota High School Students Enrolled In Dual Credit Programs.

The AP  (9/17) reports that 780 high school students in South Dakota have enrolled in a reduced-cost program that lets them earn dual credit at high schools, public universities and technical schools, according to the Board of Education. A report given Monday said that students are on track to earn more than 4,000 dual credits, which the state education secretary calls “very exciting.”

Investigator: Teacher Untrained In Methanol Danger, Used Gallon Container.

The AP  (9/16, Elliott) reports a Federal investigator with the US Chemical Safety Board found a Denver teacher lacked special training in the dangers of methanol before a demonstration utilizing a gallon container (an ill-advised quantity) led to the hospitalization of one student and heat treatment of three on Monday at the Science, Math and Arts Academy. Daniel Powell, now on paid administrative leave, suffered minor injuries but declined treatment. This marks the eleventh such incident since 2000. Advisories against the use of large containers have been issued rather than outright bans.

Column Describes How Microsoft Can Incorporate Minecraft Into Its Education Strategy.

In Frank Catalano’s latest column in GeekWire  (9/17), Catalano argues Microsoft failed to highlight the educational capacity and audience of Minecraft during the announcement of its acquisition, a key opportunity for Microsoft to expand its educational market. The majority of the article vaguely explores the educational applications of Minecraft, from classrooms to museums, citing that the discounted MinecraftEdu (licensed exclusively to TeacherGaming) has been praised by Microsoft with hopes to expand its presence with a focus on STEM education. Catalono sees three courses of action for Microsoft: to continue to TeacherGaming partnership, to distribute Minecraft directly as a Microsoft Education initiative, or to let efforts wither as Microsoft “pursues world domination in mass market video games.”

New Surveys Show Gender Pay, Promotion Gap For Top School Tech Officials.

Education Week  (9/17, Herold) reports original analysis of surveys, taken by the Consortium for School Networking, has revealed a gender pay gap and promotion limitation for women among the highest-ranking technology officials at US schools, despite greater experience and credentials. The surveys of 152 men and 78 women shows 80% of women held advanced degrees, compared to 68% of men, while 85% of women reported 10 years or more experience compared to 73% of men. Despite differences in qualification, just 37% of women earned over $100,000 annually, while nearly half of men did. While the results do not definitively prove the existence or scale of gender gaps in pay and promotion (due to limited sample size), they do illuminate growing concerns. The remainder of the article predominately features reactions to the findings from both tech and education sectors, as well as suggestions for how to move forward.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories


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