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

Leading the News

DOE Grant Awarded To Pitt Researchers.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (10/22, Ritenbaugh) reports University of Pittsburgh researchers “were awarded a $987,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Programs to develop a fiber optical sensor network to improve safety in nuclear power reactors.” The article notes that “the principal investigator is Kevin Chen, an associate professor of electrical engineering, and Paul Lego, faculty fellow.” In a statement Chen said, “An important lesson of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 is the lack of situation awareness of nuclear power systems, especially under stressed or severe situations. … When the plant was evacuated following the earthquake and tsunami, we lost the ability to know what was happening in key systems. This information blackout prevented the implementation of proper control mechanisms, which then triggered a disastrous chain of events.”

The Pittsburgh Business Times  (10/23, Subscription Publication) reports Corning Inc. and Westinghouse Electric Co. “are collaborating on the project.”

Higher Education

UNC-Chapel Hill Investigation Report Reveals Two Decades Of Academic Fraud.

NBC Nightly News (10/22, story 8, 2:15, Williams) broadcast that former US Attorney Ken Wainstein unveiled the findings of his investigation into the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, revealing “what may be the biggest academic fraud in collegiate history.” North Carolina president Thomas Ross said he was “shocked and embarrassed” to learn that for over 18 years, student-athletes, primarily from the school’s football and basketball teams, were “funneled” into 188 “no-show” classes in the African-American studies department that required “no class time, no professor and only a single term paper graded by an administrative assistant.” The student-athletes received A’s and B’s from the administrative assistant so that they could remain eligible for their respective sports. Wainstein said he found no evidence that anyone outside of the African-American Studies department knew of the fraud. NBC (Tom Costello) reported that nine staffers have “been fired or disciplined and none of the current coaches were involved.” The report now goes to the NCAA, which could impose further sanctions.

The CBS Evening News (10/22, story 5, 2:20, Pelley) broadcast that “more than 3,000 students, nearly half of them athletes, were enrolled in classes that did not exist and got credit just the same.” According to a newly-released report, “Deborah Crowder, an office administrator in the Department of African and afro-American studies, started a scheme to enroll students in classes that never met and had only one minimal requirement.” Former US Attorney Kenneth Wainstein, who prepared the report, is shown saying, “They didn’t take notes, have to stay awake. They didn’t have to meet with professors. And the only course work they had to do was write a single paper. Deborah Crowder graded the papers and handed out liberally high grades regardless of the quality of papers.”

The New York Times  (10/23, Lyall, Subscription Publication) adds that Wainstein’s report “made abundantly clear” that the fake classes “went a long way toward” ensuring that student-athletes remained eligible. The African-American studies department chairman Julius Nyang’oro, who recorded grades for many of the fake classes, would grade student-athletes’ papers based solely on “the impact that grade would have on the student’s ability to remain eligible.” While the report found no evidence that high-level university officials had knowledge of the fake classes, it was critical of the university for failing to see “numerous warning signs over many years.” North Carolina chancellor Carol Folt has said the school has put in place directors to prevent such fraud from happening again. She said that four university employees have been terminated as a result of the report, and five others have begun disciplinary proceedings.

The Washington Post  (10/22, Culpepper) reports that Wainstein said “the most striking” aspect of the report was a power point presentation shown to the North Carolina football staff in November 2009, which admitted to putting student-athletes in the no show classes. The presentation stated that student-athletes “didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material,” nor did they need to “take notes or have to stay awake.”

University Of Texas-Arlington Water Resources Engineer Works To Predict Urban Water Flow.

Phys  (10/23) reports that DJ Seo, an associate professor of water resources engineering at the University of Texas-Arlington’s Civil Engineering Department, “has been awarded a four-year, $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to improve sustainability of large urban areas from extreme weather, urbanization and climate change.” Seo and a team of researchers “will integrate data from advanced weather radar systems, innovative wireless sensors and crowdsourcing of data via cell phone applications to create high-resolution modeling of urban water systems.” They will integrate cloud computing “to produce a suite of products for flash flood forecasting, inundation mapping, water quality forecasting, storm water management, urbanization impact assessment, climate change impact assessment and adaptation, and other applications.”

MSU Leads Research On Radioactive Waste Containment.

WCBI-TV  Columbus, MS (10/23, Minyard) reports that Mississippi State University is leading a research effort to ensure the safe containment of radioactive materials, partnering with leading energy facilities “to test high-efficiency particulate air filtration systems with the goal of developing more robust HEPA filters for the nuclear industry.” The article notes that Savannah River National Laboratory project engineer Scott MacMurray says “the testing at MSU will impact which design of filters his company will purchase in the future.”

ED Announces Loosened PLUS Loan Eligibility Requirements.

The AP  (10/22) reports that ED on Wednesday released a new set of eligibility requirements for PLUS loans that “updates the definition of adverse credit history” allowing more borrowers with poor credit to qualify. The AP notes that in 2011, ED “rolled out more restrictive requirements,” prompting an “outcry from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which serve a low-income population and have seen thousands of students lose eligibility.” The piece notes that ED “estimates about 370,000 more loan applicants will” qualify under the new guidelines.

The Wall Street Journal  (10/23, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) also covers this story, noting that the announcement comes after a lengthy debate over ED’s 2011 change and the impact that it had on students and their families. The Journal notes that ED’s stated intent is to boost college attendance, and quotes ED Deputy Under Secretary Jeff Appel saying, “These are families who are unable to access credit in the private market…It’s all with the intent of providing wider access to postsecondary education.”

Inside Higher Ed  (10/23) reports that the new rule “reduces from five years to two the period of time that the Education Department reviews when evaluating a prospective borrower’s history for adverse credit events,” and exempts as much as $2,085 in delinquent debt from adversely impacting an application. The article reports that Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton “touted the changes Wednesday as part of the administration’s commitment to improving access to higher education,” quoting him saying, “With these new regulations we’ll reach and better serve many more families and students.” Diverse Education  (10/23) also covers this story.

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ASEE Members on Professional Leadership Opportunities
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Research and Development

DOE Announces Investment In Solar Energy Research.

The Hill  (10/23, Barron-Lopez) reports the Department of Energy has “announced $53 million for 40 innovative research and development projects aimed at cutting the cost of solar energy on Wednesday.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “Today, the U.S. has 15.9 gigawatts of installed solar power – enough to power more than 3.2 million average American homes. … The projects announced today will help the U.S. solar energy industry continue to grow, ensuring America can capitalize on its vast renewable energy sources, cut carbon pollution, and continue to lead in the world in clean energy innovation.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Poll: Voters Dislike Proposed EPA Power Plant Regulations.

The Hill  (10/23, Devaney) reports that the Partnership for a Better Energy Future (PBEF) released the results of a poll Wednesday that finds more than half of voters across the country “would not be willing to pay even $1 more in monthly household energy costs because of” a new Environmental Protection Agency rule, and 40 percent of voters would be “less likely” to vote for a candidate who supported the rule. The NAM is a member of PBEF, and NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said, “The data released today make it abundantly clear that regulators in Washington are completely out of touch with what the rest of America wants. The EPA’s plan to regulate carbon emissions from new and existing power plants could drastically increase energy prices for households and businesses alike.”

A National Association of Manufacturers  (10/23) press release announces that the poll shows “Americans have major concerns about the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations.” The announcement highlights that the poll results show that a majority of voters believe the US cannot afford new costs and job losses, and that 47 percent of respondents opposed the regulation outright – a view particularly pronounced in the states that would be hardest-hit by the price increases and job loss impacts. The NAM’s Timmons said, “A self-inflicted wound like this threatens the comeback underway in the manufacturing sector and makes it harder for manufacturers to compete, expand and create jobs.” Business groups including the NAM will continue to educate the public on the impacts of the EPA regulations beyond the end of the public comment period on December 1.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek  (10/23) also reports this story.

Regulations Will Have Impact On Michigan Manufacturers. Vice President of Government Affairs at the Michigan Manufacturers Association Mike Johnson writes in a Detroit News  (10/23) op-ed that because of EPA regulations, “manufacturers are concerned about our ability to sell our Michigan-made products at a competitive price.” Johnson writes about the effects of energy policies on manufacturing and closes by saying that “Energy policy is not simple. Our goal to remain a strong manufacturing state that supports strong job growth for its citizens, however, is very simple.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Emmett, Idaho Elementary School Continues Independent NASA Explorer Program.

The Emmett (ID) Messenger-Index  (10/22, Baird) reported Carberry Elementary School, which became a NASA Explorer School (NES) 10 years ago, continued the program “in a smaller capacity” after the NES program lost funding. Several “very committed” teachers wanted more science education in schools, and in return for their commitment, NASA continues to provide “science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or resources.” Charles Duff, deputy director of the Ames Research Center, said, “We continue to actively support Carberry, and Carberry continues to support the NES program objectives and is highly supportive of a continued relationship with NASA.”

New Organizational Committee Aims To Push Colorado Girls Toward STEM Careers.

The Denver Post  (10/22, Robles) reports the Women’s Foundation of Colorado is creating a new 12-member coalition to identify factors deterring girls from STEM careers and support programs to reverse the trend, with the help of employers including Arrowhead Electronics, MWH Global, and Suncor Energy so far. The demand in Colorado is contextualized within attention brought by a panel discussion hosted in Denver by Chelsea Clinton on the issue, as well as a Pew Charitable Trusts report finding Colorado had the highest per-capita number of entry-level STEM positions due to defense contracts and a growing information technology industry.

Global STEM Alliance Expands To Help Provide More Students With Science Mentors.

The US News & World Report  (10/22, Brink) reports on the New York Academy of Sciences’ expansion of an international public-private partnership called the Global STEM Alliance, which aims to close gaps between education and industry. The high-tech mentoring program aims to help one million students from elementary to high school across 100 countries. The piece features one student involved in a NYAS robotics team and one Weill Cornell Medical College biologist serving as a mentor. The initiative is also expanding to the undergraduate level, where Meghan Groome, executive director of education and public programs at the NYAS, says “poor teaching” is a root cause of the “STEM crisis.” Another NYAS initiative, called the NeXXT Scholars Program, is a partnership with the US Department of State, helping young women from predominately Muslim countries pair with US science mentors.

Georgia Professor Brings Computer Science To Elementary Schools With NSF Grant.

The AP  (10/23, AP) reports Georgia State University college of education associate professor Caitlin McMunn Dooley will use a three-year $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to help develop a computer science curriculum for urban elementary schools, in conjunction with the International Society for Technology in Education and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Computer Code Incorporated Into Every Class In A Private Massachusetts School.

CBS News  (10/23) reports on the incorporation of coding into all subjects (including art and English) at Beaver Country Day School in Brookline, Massachusetts. Rob McDonald, chair of the math department and spearhead for the effort, states public schools could mimic their curriculum using the same tools and languages, available for free online. Only 10% of schools nationally offer computer science, which is seeking to change. The piece features comments from an English teacher testifying that the exercises advance understanding, with students agreeing.

School Teaches Chinese To Help Students Learn Math.

The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal  (10/22) reports that Hite Elementary has instituted Chinese language courses instead of Spanish in its K-5 to help improve their student’s math skills. Hite Chinese teacher Emily Smith stated “One of the reasons that Chinese students have done well…in math is their language itself automatically breaks apart numbers into tens and ones,” unlike English or Spanish. Principal Tim Hagan noted that standardized tests have shown the school’s “greatest increase in performance was in kids who have trouble in math.” The introduction of Chinese was the latest change after the school previously instituted the Singapore Math curriculum.

Providing Students With Computers Has Brought Challenges.

The DeKalb (IL) Daily Chronicle  (10/22) reports Dekalb School District 428, which spent $1.5 million to provide middle school and elementary students with individual tablets, has been dealing with issues ranging from helping younger students plug in equipment to providing technical support to older students. Although the challenges have been distracting and teachers have requested more technical support, all schools involved have reported that the “devices have benefited the schools.”

Deere Sponsors STEM Event.

The Portage (WI) Daily Register  (10/23) reports on Family Night Out for STEM, held at the Horicon Marsh Education Center on Monday. The event drew about 50 students and their parents and educated participants on “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics careers thru three hands-on interactive activities.” The article notes that John Deere Horicon works was a sponsor of the event.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories


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