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

Leading the News

Infrastructure Report Shows Economic Benefits Of Infrastructure Spending.

The Engineering News Record  (9/24, Ichniowski) reports on a NAM study that says a boost in infrastructure spending will increase the US economy, add to jobs, and increase take-home pay. NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said on a conference call, “We get a lot of agreement that something needs to be done” about the nation’s infrastructure. He also said, “What this report seeks to do is to quantify the need, but more importantly, to talk about the economic benefits that can arise if the appropriate actions are taken,” and added that all funding sources should be considered when determining how to pay for the boost in spending. Timmons also decried the continuing resolutions on spending that keep getting passed, saying, “We simply can’t continue to lurch along with temporary Band-Aids.”

Politico  (9/25, Caygle) reports that during the release of the report on Tuesday, NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons encouraged the nation to look at whether state models for transportation funding can be used for national funding initiatives, saying, “States are creating alternative funding streams and they’ve served as laboratories, so we need to evaluate those solutions to see if they can be applied at a federal level.”

Higher Education

Study: Black Women Less Likely To Get STEM Degrees Despite High Interest.

The Houston Chronicle  (9/25) reports that according to a new study from the American Psychological Association, “black women tend to be more interested in pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math than white women peers, but they are still less likely to actually earn degrees in those fields.” The article notes that the study comes amid a national push, including efforts by the Obama Administration, “to get more students interested in” STEM fields–particularly minority students–to improve US economic competitiveness. The Chronicle reports that the study’s findings suggest that “the answer to closing the STEM gap might not lie in boosting students’ interest, but rather in breaking down the barriers to those students’ success.”

ED Announces Decline In Student Loan Defaults.

ED’s announcement on Wednesday that defaults on Federal student loans have declined for the first time in several years generated significant national print and wire coverage. Much of the coverage is fact-based and neutral, but some sources raise concerns about what the data mean and about ED’s having altered some criteria in how the results were determined. The New York Times  (9/24, Pérez-Peña, Subscription Publication) reports that ED said that the default rate fell “for the first time in years,” but is still “far above prerecession levels.” The Times reports that among “students who were supposed to begin repaying their federal loans in the 2010-11 fiscal year,” 13.7 had defaulted on their loans, down from 14.7% the previous year. The Times notes that “previous years’ default figures were reported differently but showed a sharp increase through the economic downturn.” Meanwhile, ED said that 21 colleges–20 of them for-profit schools–had such high default rates that “they could lose eligibility to receive student grants and loans from the federal government — effectively, a death sentence for those schools.”

Noting that the default rate is “one of the most closely watched metrics in higher education,” the Washington Post  (9/24, Anderson) reports that the rate “has fueled debate over the value of a college degree and the tendency of students at some schools to take on too much debt.” The Post quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “While it’s good news that the default rate decreased from last year, the number of students who default on their federal student loans is still too high, and we remain committed to working with postsecondary education institutions and borrowers to ensure that student debt is manageable.”

The AP  (9/25) reports that of the 4.7 million student loan borrowers who began repaying in FY2011, “about 650,000 have defaulted.” The AP notes that students at schools with excessively high default rates “could be barred from participating in federal financial aid programs.” This article quotes Duncan saying, “We will also continue working with institutions to ensure they are providing their students with the information and guidance the students need to repay their loans after they graduate.” Meanwhile, ED said that it is “taking action against one adult and continuing education school and 20 for-profit schools,” many of which are schools of cosmetology.

The Los Angeles Times  (9/25, Lee) reports that the declining default rate “spanned all sectors of education – from public to private institutions – even as about 650,000 more students began repaying loans in 2011 compared with 2010.” The Times also notes that ED singled out 21 schools for “having default rates so high they could be denied eligibility for loans and grants from the government,” and concludes by quoting Duncan saying, “I encourage institutions that may be subject to sanctions to communicate with their students to ensure that they understand the implications of a potential loss of access to federal loans.”

Florida State University Professor Leading “Ocean Vector Winds” Team.

The WTXL-TV  Tallahassee, FL (9/24) website profiles Mark Bourassa of Florida State University, who is heading the team that will use the ISS-RapidScat instrument, which just arrived at the ISS on the Dragon spacecraft, for the “Ocean Vector Winds” project. Bourassa, who was reportedly “excited” by the decision to launch the instrument, expects to start getting data “as soon as October 5th.”

US College Enrollment Declines For Second Year Running.

Bloomberg News  (9/25, Lauerman) reports that according to a new US Census Bureau report, US college enrollment “declined in 2013 for the second straight year as registrations in two-year colleges tumbled.” Overall college enrollment fell 2.3% to 19.5 million, though enrollment in four-year colleges rose 1.2%. Meanwhile, “enrollment in two-year colleges fell 9.6 percent.” The article notes that David Baime, senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, said that community colleges “have seen a decrease in students since the recession began to abate.”

Study: Student Loans Only Debt Category On Rise.

The Oklahoman  (9/25, McNutt) reports that according to a new study by Experian, “consumer debt is decreasing in every major lending category except one — student loans.” The article reports that the study says that since the recession began, “student loans have increased by 84 percent, surpassing home equity loans/lines of credit, credit card debt and automotive debt.”

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.

Advances in Engineering Education – New Issue; Call for Papers
AEE released its Fall 2014 issue. In addition, AEE has put out a call for papers on flipped classrooms in STEM. Read more.

Research and Development

Driverless Vehicles Get Smarter As Marine Corps Gets Lighter.

The Marine Corps Times  (9/24, Seck) reports on the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s development of a prototype hybrid-electric unmanned vehicle, expected in 2016. Initial tests of the GUSS system were conducted on a Polaris off-road vehicle at the Advanced Warfighting Experiment at Rim of the Pacific in Hawaii; since then, the prototype has become a diesel-electric hybrid to reduce engine noise. In the coming year, towing and backing capabilities will be refined, perhaps through the addition of a third rear sensor and improvements to multispectral imagery assessment of terrain types. The developments will reduce convoy costs by reducing labor. John Bryant, senior vice president of Defense Programs at Oshkosh Defense, cites the obstacle of earning troops’ trust. Oshkosh, which was awarded an Office of Naval Research contract to develop the TerraMax system for counter-improvised explosive device missions, will provide a 2015 conceptual demonstration after algorithm refinement.

Professor Suggests Federal Funding Has Both Highs And Lows For Researchers.

NPR  (9/24, Harris) reports in its “Shots” blog about “the perils of up-and-down funding for the National Institutes of Health” which, Richard Larson, engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology noted in a scientific paper cycles “between states of ‘euphoria,’ and a ‘hangover’ far greater than you’d expect.”


Silicon Valley Backs Diversity Effort For Computer Science Education.

Bloomberg News  (9/25, Burrows) reports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement at the Clinton Global Initiative Conference of the Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative to diversify computer science graduates: the group includes educational institutions and companies such as Harvey Mudd College, the Anita Borg Institute, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Intel. BRAID plans to donate a total of $1.35 million over three years to computer science departments at 15 universities, who will employ best practices of leading institutions. The announcement follows diversity disclosures by technology companies, with Google employing 17% women and 3% blacks and Hispanics, similar to Facebook’s 15% female and 4% black and Hispanic employment. The article goes on to cite those best practices to be employed by BRAID backed universities, as well as promises to study how best to attract and retain both female and minority computer science students.

Engineering and Public Policy

Microsoft Voices Furstration With H-1B Visa Policy, Considers Options.

ComputerWorld  (9/25, Thibodeau) voices Microsoft’s frustrations with the H-1B visa program for high-skilled foreign workers at a recent two-day conference addressing competition for skilled international labor; the company plans to apply for roughly 1,000 H-1B visas (despite cutting 14% of its workforce) and expects 50% will be accepted, assuming there is another lottery after the 85,000 application cap is exceeded. In 2013, Microsoft received 1,048 approved H-1B visas. The article moves on to speculation from William Kamela, a senior Federal policy lead at Microsoft, who cites the potential for hiring overseas; though 60% of Microsoft’s workforce is in the US, 68% of profits are made overseas. Kamela goes on to cite growing competition for computer science graduates as other industries develop “robust IT departments.” Critics cite conflicts of STEM education initiatives with foreign talent recruitment, especially during substantial layoffs.

EPA Rolls Out Plan To Restore Great Lakes.

On Wednesday, the New York Times  (9/24, Wines, Subscription Publication) reports, the EPA released a “new blueprint” for its attempts to “restore the Great Lakes, including plans to clean up 10 contaminated rivers and harbors and a stepped-up attack on poisonous algae blooms that coat parts of three lakes each summer.” The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan II includes “a new attempt to buffer the lakes against the effects of climate change.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

New Mexico High School Receives Grant For Two 3-D Printers.

The Deming (NM) Headlight  (9/25) reports that a Carl D. Perkins Federal grant has allowed New Mexico’s Deming High School to purchase two 3-dimensional printers. The printers will be used by a Robotics class and a Computer Aided Drawing class. So far students have used the machine to replicate things like iPhone cases, pieces of chains, and a working nut and bolt.

Detroit Lions Help Expose Detroit Students To STEM Education.

WWJ-TV  Detroit (9/24, Cardenas) reports Athletes for Charity, Tata Technologies and the Detroit Lions are teaming up to expose students to STEM education at two Detroit public schools. The program aims to improve learning outcomes and generate student interest in STEM education, and the curriculum includes book distribution by Detroit Lions players, monthly vocabulary development, and essay contests.

Ohio Schools, Organizations Offer STEM Courses.

The Hamilton (OH) Journal-News  (9/25) reports that several entities in the Hamilton, Ohio area are pushing STEM skills and education for area students. Stephen T. Badin High School has built a STEM lab with help from Project Lead the Way and grant from Butler Rural Ecletric Cooperative. Nonprofits such as the YWCA Hamilton’s TechGYRLS program offers STEM skills to girls during an eight week program. Educators interviewed look to use the new STEM lab and courses to help enhance student education and develop skills for employment.

Pittsburgh School May Become STEAM Magnet With Grant.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (9/23, Belculfine) reports Pittsburgh Woolslair K-5, a small school in the Pittsburgh area that has been threatened with closure, may be saved thanks to a grant that will turn the school into a STEAM magnet school. The school would accept 75 students in its inaugural year, but plans are entirely contingent on the funding grant. The school will get their final decision in March of 2015.

More Schools In San Antonio Area Using Electronic Textbooks.

The San Antonio Express-News  (9/25, Malik) reports on the “benefits and challenges” teachers describe surrounding the increased use of e-textbooks in districts in and around San Antonio, Texas. The piece notes that some educators attribute increased test scores to the change, but also describes funding challenges and other growing pains associated with the use of such technology.

Also in the News

Renewable Energy Plan Hinges On Huge Caverns In Utah.

The AP  (9/25) reports that “a proposal to export twice as much Wyoming wind power to Los Angeles as the amount of electricity generated by the Hoover Dam includes an engineering feat even more massive than that famous structure: Four chambers, each approaching the size of the Empire State Building, would be carved from an underground salt deposit to hold huge volumes of compressed air.” Utah caverns “would serve as a kind of massive battery on a scale never before seen, helping to overcome the fact that — even in Wyoming — wind doesn’t blow all the time.” The AP notes that “air would be pumped into the caverns when power demand is low and wind is high, typically at night.” Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Brendan Kirby said, “Stored energy technically is wonderful stuff. But it’s primarily the capital costs that get you. … If it made a lot of economic sense, you’d be seeing these projects duplicated.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories


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