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

Leading the News

EPA Receives Over 1.6 Million Comments On Proposed Power Plant Rules.

The Hill  (12/2, Cama) reports the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday “that it has put an unprecedented emphasis on gathering input for its landmark climate rule for power plants.” EPA’s Janet McCabe “said that the Monday deadline for submitting comments to the agency ends just one part of its efforts to take in feedback.” In a blog post she wrote, “From day one, reaching out and engaging with the public and stakeholders has been our top priority. … Our proposal was shaped by an extensive and transparent public engagement process that has continued to this day.” According to McCabe, “the agency received at least 1.6 million comments on its rule as of Nov. 21. It is continuing to accept comments until the close of business Monday.”

The Hill  (12/2, Cama) also reports that the large “number of comments submitted before Monday’s deadline highlights the intense interest from both environmental groups hailing the rule as an historic effort to curb climate change, and business and energy groups who argue the sweeping regulations will choke the economy.” The article notes that “business groups opposed to the rules cited an industry-commissioned study from October finding it would cost at least $366 billion to implement” and “they also said it would have almost no impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Ohio Regulators Say That Power Plant Goals Are Not Achievable. The AP  (12/2, Smyth) reports that Ohio regulators told the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday “that new federal goals for reducing mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from power plants are unachievable, costly and based on flawed assumptions.” The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency “were among hundreds of stakeholders around the country that filed responses to the proposal by President Barack Obama’s administration to regulate certain pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.” A federal review from earlier this decade “found roughly a third of tall smokestacks of coal-fired plants — structures that tend to send more emissions across state lines — were concentrated in five states along the Ohio River Valley, including Ohio.” According to the Ohio EPA “it simply isn’t possible to meet that efficiency target, ‘especially for Ohio’s fleet of coal-fired power plants which have already installed advanced air pollution control equipment and efficiency improvements.’”

Higher Education

Students To Visit NASA Center As Part Of National Community College Aerospace Scholars Program.

Tri-City Herald (WA)  (12/1, Beaver) reported that 40 community college students have been selected to participate in NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. The article focused on two of the students selected, whom the article cast as somewhat unlikely candidates for the program, since “both see the program as an opportunity to expand their horizons and understanding of science-related fields,” though it is not “directly related to their career paths.” As part of the program, the students “will break into teams and develop more specific proposals for Mars missions and rover prototypes, down to forming a company with a budget and presentations.”

Study Shows Most Students Don’t Earn A College Degree In Four Years.

The New York Times  (12/2, Lewin, Subscription Publication) reports the nonprofit group Complete College America released a report saying that at most American public colleges, only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. The report also found that only 50 of 580 institutions graduate a majority of students on time and that the problem is even more pronounced at community colleges where only 5 percent of students earn their associates degree within two years. The report cites the inability to register for required courses, credits lost in college transfers, and remediation sequences “that do not work” as contributing factors to the prolonged attendance at universities.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer  (12/2, Farkas) reports that the inability to graduate on time costs families “tens of thousands of dollars in extra college-related expenses, as well as lost wages from delaying entry into the workforce” and that to combat this students should be given “pathways” to a degree. The pathways would give students a structured schedule of courses and electives on a semester-by-semester basis that would lead to an on-time completion of a degree.

College Still Easy To Get Into For Qualified Candidates, Despite Low Acceptance Rates.

The Washington Post  (12/1, Ehrenfreund) “Wonkblog” reports universities “waste everyone’s time and money in the process” when they try to artificially depress their acceptance rates. Data shows that students who are qualified can still expect to get into elite schools as schools are making “themselves seem more popular by encouraging even unqualified applicants to apply.” The “shell game” that schools play adds to the calls for a formal ranking system from the government despite the protests of university officials.

The Slate Magazine  (12/1, Weissman) “Moneybox” blog reports that the college admissions game “isn’t nearly so vicious as the people who profit from it would have you believe” since admission rates are “misleading.” One factor driving down the admissions statistic is that many of the kids applying to top institutions “aren’t qualified” and are therefore not making the process more competitive for students with high grades and SAT scores.

HBCU’s Work To Fill Pipeline In STEM Careers.

The Michigan Chronicle  (11/30, Jordan) reports Historically Black Colleges and Universities are working to solve the labor “pipeline problem” by growing their programs in STEM education. More than a dozen HBCU’s have notable STEM programs and some have won grants to increase affordability and access to STEM studies for low-income students.

ASEE Members Named Professors of the Year
Sheri Sheppard of Stanford University and John Wadach of Monroe Community College are two of the four 2014 U.S. Professors of the Year.

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.

Research and Development

US Military Nicknames Technologies And People After Star Wars Icons.

The Washington Post  (12/1, Lamothe) reports on the US Military’s fascination with Star Wars particularly when nicknaming everything from prosthetic hands to missile interception systems, and even people. The piece also highlights the comparison of future technologies to those seen in the iconic films, such as DARPA and Navy testing of aircraft with laser-based weaponry.

NASA To Consider Design For Asteroid Mission.

The Space News  (12/1, Klotz, Subscription Publication) reports that, on December 16, “a team led by NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot will be briefed on the technical maturity, cost, risk, scientific appeal and other aspects of” the two possible forms of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The first would have an inflatable bag capture an asteroid, the second would grab a boulder from a larger asteroid. The briefing will include engineering tests of prototypes for both plans, as well as presentations by scientists on samples’ value and “the benefits and shortfalls for planetary defense objectives.”


Jesse Jackson Calls For High-Tech Jobs And Training In Seattle For Minorities And Women.

The AP  (12/1, AP) reports Reverend Jesse Jackson is speaking across Seattle about the need for more women and minorities in high-tech jobs, while also addressing events in Ferguson, Missouri. Jackson intends to speak Tuesday at the University of Washington, with plans to attend a Microsoft shareholders meeting as well as a Microsoft conference on improving STEM education. On Monday, Jackson visited TAF Academy to highlight a need for diversity in high-tech training and “led an assembly of students and teachers in a chorus call and response of ‘Hands Up. Don’t Shoot.’”

Industry News

Firefly Hopes To Lower The Costs Of Reaching Orbit.

Ars Technica  (11/30, Hutchinson) reports that Firefly Space Systems, a company founded by former SpaceX engineer Tom Markusic, aims to make achieving low earth orbit affordable. The company is currently building its first launch vehicle, the Firefly Alpha, which will be built from composites and powered by an uncommon methane-fueled plugged autogenously pressurized aerospike engine. Firefly’s proponents hope the company’s rocket design will provide advantages in the areas of material strength and weight, and fuel efficiency. Firefly Alpha is being designed to carry small payloads of about 500 kilograms into space, the article says.

Engineering and Public Policy

House Approves Bill To Mitigate Threat Of EMP Attacks, Fortify DNDO.

The “Floor Action” blog of The Hill  (12/2, Marcos) reports the House yesterday “passed a bill to require the Department of Homeland Security to include the threat of electromagnetic pulse events in national planning scenarios.” Approved on a “voice vote, H.R. 3410 would direct the agency to conduct a public education campaign about the threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) events and authorize research into its prevention and mitigation. An EMP is a burst of electromagnetic energy caused by a nuclear weapon or solar storms.” According to Rep. Pat Meehan “an EMP attack would threaten the U.S. electrical and technological infrastructure, as consumers rely more upon electronic devices.”

EPA Released New Ozone Regulations Just Before Holiday.

The Daily Caller  (12/1, Bastasch) reports that that while Americans were “getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving,” the EPA “unveiled stricter standards for ozone, or smog, levels — a rule that has been criticized as possibly the costliest the agency has ever promulgated.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) said, “Yet again we’re seeing the Obama administration release an incredibly expensive regulation on the eve of a major national holiday. The administration is clearly hoping to release this at a time when the vast majority of Americans are focused elsewhere, and that alone should tell us something about it.” The “proposed standard” drops the acceptable amount of ozone in the air “from 75 parts per billion to a range of 65-70 parts per billion.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Pre-College Engineering Expert Offers Educational Holiday Gift Suggestions.

The Indianapolis Star  (11/28, Wang) offers holiday gift suggestions from Monica Cardella, director of Purdue University’s INSPIRE Institute for Pre-College Engineering. In particular, toys that promote creativity and problem solving are recommended, especially toys that challenge children while leaving room to engineer improvement.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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