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

Leading the News

Lockheed Seeks Commercial Ventures As Pentagon Cuts Budget.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/14, Cameron, Subscription Publication) reports Lockheed Martin Corp. is venturing beyond defense contract and into commercial enterprises as a hedge against budget cuts by the Pentagon. After failed attempts at commercial ventures in the past, Lockheed said it will focus on global macroeconomic themes like energy and food security. Lockheed is especially attracted to energy projects as the Pentagon looks to cut energy costs and seek energy alternatives, indicating that potential military energy projects could produce much greater revenue than commercial projects. Lockheed’s Skunk Works research arm recently patented a design for a compact nuclear-fusion reactor and is seeking partnerships with utilities and universities. Other defense contractors are following suit, such as Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., which recently acquired two energy engineering-service companies.

Higher Education

Treasury Program Would Eliminate Student Loan Servicers.

The Huffington Post  (11/14, Nasiripour) reports that in an “ambitious new pilot,” the Treasury Department “soon will take some student borrowers’ accounts away from private debt collectors and give them to federal workers.” The Post reports that the program “may result in the government cutting out the student loan middlemen who have gotten rich targeting distressed borrowers.” The article notes that the private servicers working for ED “have been paid billions of dollars over the last few years, while racking up complaints that they routinely violated the law and mistreated borrowers who had defaulted on federal student loans. Meanwhile, the Post notes that according to an ED attorney, Education Secretary Arne Duncan “has the authority to bring student loan collections in house,” noting that this would require Congress to allocate funding.

ED Figures Show Slight Dip In Number Of College Employees.

The Inside Higher Ed  (11/14) reports that according to ED statistics, there was a 7,500, or 0.19%, decrease in the number of faculty and administrators at US colleges receiving Federal financial aid, noting that the “dip, however small, is the first in many years.”

Grand Canyon Considers $2.3 Billion Shift To Private University Over For-Profit “Stigma.”

Bloomberg News  (11/14, McDonald) reports for-profit Grand Canyon University, an industry-leader, is considering buying out its shareholders for its $2.3 billion market value to become a private university. CEO Brian Mueller states that “the stigma surrounding the for-profit industry—some of which is deserved, and some not—is real and it is not improving.” Grand Canyon’s online enrollment has increased 43%, while on-campus enrollment has tripled since 2009; the stock’s value has more than doubled in the last four years, with the industry averaging 12% declines in that same period. The burden of income taxes on for-profit schools are also a potential motivator for the transition.

Candidates for ASEE’s Board of Directors
Positions include President; Vice President for Finance; and Vice President for External Relation.

November Prism Online (ASEE members only)
The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

ASEE Perks
ASEE launches “ASEE Perks” a new collection of discounted products and services, only for members.

Research and Development

Northwestern University “Battery Guru” Calls For More Energy Storage Research.

The Charlotte (NC) Observer  (11/13) runs a Q&A based on an interview with Sanjeev Mukerjee, head of Northeastern University’s Center for Renewable Energy Technology, who is known as “the battery guru.” Mukerjee “says renewable energy, with its on-and-off cycles, won’t reach its potential until there’s a way to store energy.” Mukerjee describes the need for new broad innovations and discusses some potential emerging technologies.

NASA Developing Biodegradable UAV.

Popular Science  (11/13, Atherton) reported that researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California have developed a biodegradable UAV called the “bio-drone” to solve the problem of amateur pilots crashing their non-biodegradable UAVs into delicate ecosystems. “The bio-drone’s body is made of mycelium, a fungal mass specifically grown into this shape” by a New York-based company called Evocative Design, and is “harder than people might expect from mushroom fibers,” according to the article. Although the UAV’s body and circuits are biodegradable, its motors, battery, and rotors “were borrowed from a commercially-made quadcopter.”


Interview: Tech Companies Can Do Things To Be More Appealing To Women.

Bloomberg News  (11/14, Frier) interviews Sophia Chung, an engineering manager and recruiter for Facebook Inc. Chung speaks about the state of female engineers in Silicon Valley. Chung admits that there have been stereotypes of brogrammers and that finding females in engineering positions at tech firms is difficult. However, she points out that companies like hers are hiring more and more females and offering incentives to women who are interested in working for tech companies.

Starting A Family Is A Setback For Women In Research.

Fortune  (11/13, Segran) reports on the struggles of women scientists who have the challenge of balancing work with their research careers. Fortune says, even though women across industries” have similar struggles, “this balancing act is even trickier for research scientists” as “they have a small window in their late twenties and early thirties to stay competitive by publishing papers and landing research grants.” However, Lauren O’Connell, a researcher herself, says that “the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health are trying to promote more women, she explains, but they tend to fund scientists who are further along in their careers — an issue, since many women have already left the field by that point.”

Industry News

GM Engineer Reportedly Not Solely To Blame For Fatal Ignition Switch.

The New York Times  (11/14, Vlasic, Subscription Publication) reports that while most of the blame of the General Motors safety crisis of a faulty ignition switch defect that has contributed to over 30 deaths is placed on engineer Raymond DeGiorgio, “a broad examination of documents turned over to Congress reveal a different account — that of a midlevel engineer who tried to satisfy orders for a smoothly functioning switch that would help G.M. improve the image of its cut-rate small cars.” Documents show that the engineer tried to have defective part replaced with a newer part, “but his request was rejected by a high-level G.M. product committee.”

Forbes Contributor Says Energy Storage Market ‘Poised To Take Off.’

Writing for Forbes  (11/13), contributor Peter Kelly-Detwiler reports that Imergy Power Systems announced Thursday that it is “selling four ESP5 vanadium flow batteries –totaling 20 kilowatts and capable of storing up to 150 kilowatt-hours – to Energy Research Systems for use in Hawaii.” Kelly-Detwiler also notes Southern California Edison’s commitment “to purchase 251 megawatts of energy storage,” Oncor Electric’s announcement that “it will propose a $5.2 billion storage solution to Texas regulators as the most cost-effective way to integrate renewable power,” and Renewable Energy Systems’ Nov. 11 announcement that it will “develop 40 megawatts of lithium ion phosphate-based storage outside of Chicago.” Writes Kelly-Detwiler, “The announcements for projects will accelerate until they are soon no longer newsworthy,” as the energy storage market “appears poised to take off with very real and cost-effective solutions.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Keystone Votes Loom Large In Louisiana Runoff Election.

The AP  (11/13, Espo, Cappiello) reports that Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), facing am extremely difficult December 6 runoff against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), is working to find Democratic converts to help pass legislation approving the Keystone XL project. However, Senate Democratic officials “said the party’s leadership agreed to give Landrieu room to try and pass the measure only after receiving assurances” that the President wouldn’t sign it. On the other side of the Hill, the House is expected to vote on a similar measure being pushed by Cassidy on Friday.

In that vein, USA Today  (11/14, Jackson) reports that the White House is “hinting” that the President would veto any measure to force the approval of Keystone. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “The administration has taken a dim view of these kinds of legislative proposals in the past. It’s fair to say that our dim view of these kinds of proposals has not changed.”

Bloomberg News  (11/14, Snyder, Miller) reports that the “impetus” for the action in Congress were a “close runoff election for a Senate seat in Louisiana.” The piece notes that the Senate has scheduled a vote for “as soon as” November 18.

The Hill  (11/14, Barron-Lopez) reports that backers of legislation to approve the pipeline are “nearing 60 votes in the Senate ahead of a vote next week on whether to approve the project.” Landrieu “says she is ‘confident’ she can rally the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber.”

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (11/14, Subscription Publication) says that the only reason Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is allowing a vote on Keystone is that he is looking to boost Landrieu’s prospects in the runoff election.

In a lengthy analysis piece, the Washington Post  (11/13, Mooney) reports in its “Wonkblog” blog that it has “been quite clear that momentum has been building” politically for action on climate change, but it has also “long been clear that the Keystone issue breaks, politically, in a way that much more favors the GOP than it does the environmental left.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Connecticut Students Participate In National Underwater Robotics Program.

The Hartford (CT) Courant  (11/12) reports that students at a Hartford, Connecticut middle school are participating in the national SeaPerch Challenge program, which as students build remotely operated underwater vehicles and tests their ability to maneuver and pick up objects in a national competition. The program uses concepts in robotics, engineering, electronics and science and its goal is to encourage kids to get excited about these subjects.

Michigan Students Gathered For Technology Competition.

The AP  (11/14, Wardell) reports students in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan gathered in Marquette for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Lego League Competition. The winners of the competition will be facing other teams on December 13 in the state competition in Flint. The program works with students in 4th through 8th grade and encourages them to engage in STEM subjects by presenting different challenges. The challenge this year was to “design an innovative approach to improve the learning experience in a discipline of students’ choosing.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories


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