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

Leading the News

President To Propose Program For Free Community College On Friday.

The President is set to announce a new program on Friday that would provide two years of community college for free for many students. The story received significant print media coverage nationwide, though not on the network news programs because the details emerged only late on Thursday. A common theme is that the program is ambitious, but that many key details, such as its costs and how it would be funded, were not released.

The New York Times  (1/9, Davis, Subscription Publication) reports that on Friday, Obama will announced that the Federal government will “work with states to waive the first two years of community college tuition for some students.” A fact sheet released by the White House on Thursday night said that if states agree, the program “would cover full-time and half-time students who maintain a 2.5 grade point average and ‘make steady progress toward completing a program.’” The White house said that the Federal government “would cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college for those students,” and state would have to provide the remaining funds.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (1/9, Collins) reports that the President “will announce the national scholarship program on Friday when he, Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, visit Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville.” Afterwards, the Administration officials will “will travel to Clinton, where they will visit Techmer PM,” where the President is “expected to launch a regional manufacturing hub that the White House says will help attract more good-paying, high-tech jobs to East Tennessee.” The Tennessean  (1/7, Tamburin) reports that when the President visits Knoxville on Friday to announce the program, he will be joined by “many” of the state’s top Republicans, including Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam.

USA Today  (1/8, Korte) reports that the announcement will come in Tennessee, as part of the President’s “three-state tour this week to preview his State of the Union Address.” In a Facebook video uploaded on Thursday, “Put simply, what I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who’s willing to work for it. It’s something we can accomplish, and it’s something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world.”

The Washington Times  (1/9, Boyer) reports that in the video, the President “said he wants Congress to approve funding for the plan, which could benefit up to 9 million students per year at an average tuition cost of $3,800.” Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, said, “With no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan.” Reuters  (1/9, Rampton, Holland) reports’ the comments from the Speaker’s office and adds that the White House has not yet discussed the idea with Congress.

In one of the only pieces to take a serious look at the plan’s prospects in Congress, the Wall Street Journal  (1/9, Belkin, Tau, Nelson, Subscription Publication) reports that the proposal will face a difficult road. The Journal notes that twice before, the President has proposed $8 billion funds aimed at community colleges, and it has failed both times. A year ago, the Journal adds, Congress killed a $6 billion program targeted at community colleges.

Higher Education

Decision For CCSF Accreditation Could Come Friday.

The San Francisco Chronicle  (1/9) reports that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges “voted privately” earlier this week on whether to grant City College of San Francisco “two more years to comply with standards” in the face of a push to revoke the school’s accreditation, noting that the panel “could announce its decision at the end of its three-day meeting Friday in Sacramento — or delay the announcement for days or weeks.” The piece also describes a pending court case in which city attorneys sued to overturn “the commission’s original decision that City College should lose its accreditation and be shut down.”

Schools Try To Make Academic Work More Accessible.

The Hechinger Report  (1/9, Marcus) reports several top universities are using creative ideas and programs to make the work of their academics more accessible and understood by the general public. An example is Stony Brook University, which “has established an entire center for communicating science, named for the actor and director Alan Alda, who inspired it out of frustration with the scientists he met as host for 13 years of the public-television series Scientific American Frontiers.” Another is Duke University, which “last year launched a program it calls the Forum for Scholars and Publics, which promotes plain speaking in not only science but all academic disciplines by bringing faculty members together to discuss their work with everybody else.”

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Research and Development

Computer System Masters Texas Hold ‘Em, May Have Implications For National Security.

The Wall Street Journal  (1/9, Hotz, Subscription Publication) reports artificial intelligence researchers led by Michael Bowling at Canada’s University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group in Edmonton have created a computer game that plays poker game Texas Hold ‘em perfectly. Experts believe this system of computational mathematics in game theory may advance other areas in military strategy and national security along with medical decision-making and complex contract negotiations.

NASA Official Says ARM Is More About Tech Development Than Asteroid Redirection.

Space News  (1/8, Leone, Subscription Publication) reports that after speaking to the NASA-chartered Small Bodies Assessment Group, Lindley Johnson, head of NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations Program, said that technology development, and not asteroid redirection, is the top objective of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The article notes that since the project has unveiled, asteroid redirection has “dominated” media coverage and Congressional discussions. Johnson said that asteroid redirection “is certainly something that the agency as a whole wants to do with the mission, but to a certain level, objectives are tradable.” While one member of the group “scoffed” at that answer, the article noted that ARM would give NASA the opportunity to try out systems with no “obvious fits for any of the other missions.” Meanwhile, Johnson said that officials will decide on what ARM concept to undertake before a mission concept review next month. He said that decision was “out of my hands, and out of the ARM team’s hands, frankly.”

New Spacesuit Designs Aim To Be More Comfortable For Astronauts.

The Bloomberg BusinessWeek  (1/8, Bachman) continues coverage on how SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently said that his company was developing spacesuits that are “not just safe, but also snappy,” although he did not explain exactly what that would entail. According to the article, current spacesuits used by government agencies “favor function over form,” lacking comfort. However, last year, both NASA and a team led by MIT’s Dava Newman introduces suits that incorporate new designs that do away with the current “heavy suit technology.” The article notes that NASA’s Z-2 and future Z-3 suite and Newman’s BioSuit give an “inkling” of what has been portrayed in popular culture “unshackled by the burdens of science.”


Men On Internet Don’t Believe Sexism Study Results.

The Washington Post  (1/8, Feltman) reports “several scientific studies have shown that a gender gap exists in science, technology, engineering and math fields, with women losing out all the way up and down the pipeline of academia and industry.” As a follow-up to these studies, “researchers studied the Internet’s reaction to the evidence those studies provided — and it turned out the way you’d expect, if you’ve ever been on the Internet.” Specifically, “researchers looked at the comment threads of three articles about studies on the issue, and quantified the responses,” finding that “male commenters flipped out.”

Industry News

NASA, Nissan Team Up To Develop Autonomous Car Technology.

A blog at the San Francisco Chronicle  (1/8, Baker) reports that NASA and Nissan have established “a five-year partnership” to work on autonomous cars at the Ames Research Center. According to the article, while NASA may seem like an “odd partner” for the work, it does have experience operating vehicles on other planets remotely. Ames Director S. Pete Worden said, “All of our potential topics of research collaboration with Nissan are areas in which Ames has strongly contributed to major NASA programs. … Ames developed Mars rover planning software, robots on-board the International Space Station and next-generation air-traffic management systems, to name a few. We look forward to applying knowledge developed during this partnership toward future space and aeronautics endeavors.” Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said that by working with NASA, his company should be able to “accelerate” autonomous car technology it wants to introduce “beginning in 2016 up to 2020.”

The Wired  (1/8, Davies) “Autopia” blog notes that NASA and Nissan have “a lot to teach” each other.

The AP  (1/9, Kageyama), TIME  (1/8, Iyengar), Pocket-lint  (1/8, Betters), and TechnologyTell  (1/9, Johnson) also cover the story.

Blog Coverage. Michael Ballaban at Jalopnik  (1/8) describes the partnership in a post where he calls NASA, “the International Space Station And All Around Inspirational people.”

Aviation Technology To Be Advanced At Ames.

Aviation Week  (1/9, Croft), in an article for its January 12 edition titled, “NASA Hones ATM Technologies,” reports that a “vision of an air traffic management [ATM] future” will soon be tested at the Ames Research Center. By 2040, air traffic controllers could have the ability “to safely and efficiently manage highly automated passenger aircraft that dynamically collaborate with the air traffic management system to optimize routing, capacity and fuel savings.”

In another article for the January 12 edition, Aviation Week  (1/9, Croft) reports that Ames researchers will also examine “an airliner flight deck of the future” requiring only a single pilot. The article notes that the concept is now “far less science fiction than it was three years ago.” However, single-pilot operations could be “rife with political and public ramifications.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Keystone Legislation Clears Senate Energy Committee.

While a key Senate committee cleared Keystone legislation on Thursday, and action is expected shortly in both the full Senate and the House, the President’s veto threat hangs over the legislation’s prospects. McClatchy  (1/9, Cockerham, Subscription Publication) reports that the Senate Energy Committee approved the legislation with a 13-to-9 vote on Thursday. The vote broke along party lines, with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who backed the bill. The House is expected to pass similar legislation on Friday, while the full Senate is expected to act on it next week. However, the President has threatened a veto, and “it doesn’t appear there is enough Keystone support in Congress to override” it.

The New York Times  (1/9, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that “despite the clear veto threat,” both parties are readying for a “multiweek debate” over the project. Senate Energy Chair Lisa Murkowski said, “It’s fair to say that the world is watching to see whether the United States is ready to lead as a global energy superpower, which I think we recognize we have become. I believe Congress is ready to send that signal in a bipartisan manner. I believe the American people are ready. It is unfortunate that the administration continues to stand in the way.”

Reuters  (1/8, Gardner, Lawder) reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Keystone is the largest shovel-ready infrastructure project in the country. So we’re going to send it to him (Obama) and we hope he’ll sign it.” During a hearing before the vote, Manchin said, “By golly we need this oil. And I’d rather buy it from Canada than Venezuela.” Sen. John Hoeven (R), a sponsor of the legislation, said that the bill has 63 backers, four less than needed to override a veto. Still, the Washington Times  (1/8, Wolfgang) reports Manchin told his colleagues the bill could draw the 67 votes needed to override a veto.

Bloomberg News  (1/9, Snyder, Hunter) reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “said Thursday that Democrats can sustain a veto in that chamber.”

However, Politico  (1/8, Schor) reports that Senate passage “could take weeks” if McConnell’s plans “to allow an open amendment process result in a flurry of contentious votes, including some potentially unrelated to energy.” The Wall Street Journal  (1/8, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that when debate opens in the Senate on Monday, senators are expected to introduce a broad array of amendments.

However, the Washington Times  (1/9, Wolfgang) reports that Administration officials have “described” the veto threat “as a matter of procedure rather than one on the merits of the pipeline itself.” Analysts says that the President “would be open to the pipeline as part of a larger package and is threatening a veto only to satisfy Democrats in Congress and allies in the environmental community.” Brigham McCown, a former administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said that if the White House secures “major concessions on other matters, the president could approve Keystone and save face.”

Democrats Launch Filibuster. The Washington Times  (1/8, Dinan) reports that Democrats “launched the first filibuster” of the new Congress on Thursday, looking to block the Keystone bill. That move forced McConnell to “begin the procedure for breaking a filibuster.”

As the Keystone situation emphasizes, the Washington Times  (1/9, Dinan) reports that the President’s veto threats are key to the Democrats’ strategy with the GOP in the majority.

In his column for Roll Call  (1/8, Rothenberg), Stuart Rothenberg writes that McConnell has used the pipeline’s potential for creating jobs as one of the key arrows in his quiver. Rothenberg says jobs and lower energy prices are “always good issues to talk about,” but “with the current unemployment rate at 5.8 percent,” the pressure on Obama to sign a “shovel-ready jobs bill” isn’t “what it once was.”

Entergy Plans $187 Million Transmission Project In Louisiana.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune  (1/9, Larino) reported that Entergy Gulf States Louisiana intends to build a $187 million transmission project “in the Lake Charles area” as part of its “effort to ready its grid for rising electricity demand amid a regional industrial boom.” In a Thursday statement, Entergy “said the work would be one of the largest transmission projects in its history” and, if approved, would likely be operational by 2018.

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate  (1/9, Griggs) reported the project “includes two new substations, expanding a third substation and adding about 25 miles of high-voltage transmission lines.” Entergy Gulf States and Entergy Louisiana president Phillip May said the company has commitments for almost 500 megawatts and additional projects by customers could double that amount.

KPLC-TV  Lake Charles, LA (1/8, Schmidt) reported “as Southwest Louisiana prepares for industrial growth an essential component is reliable electricity to meet the demand.” Greg Guilbeau of Entergy said, “We had some of this project that was already in our planning stages for normal growth and…we’ll be able to provide power to the new projects that are going to be moving into this area.”

Colorado Republicans Seeking To “Roll Back” State’s Renewable Energy Requirements.

The AP  (1/8, Wyatt) reports Colorado Republicans “want to roll back the state’s renewable energy mandates,” and “party leaders are feeling more confident about their chances” due to increased numbers in the legislature and decreasing energy prices. A group of Republican senators “wasted no time proposing changes, introducing a bill” on the new session’s first day “that would lower the amount of renewable energy sources required” of the state’s electricity companies.

Indiana Plan Would Allow Utilities To Set Own Efficiency Goals.

The Indianapolis Business Journal  (1/9, McLaughlin) reports that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office is proposing an efficiency plan under which electric utilities would “set their own goals.” The plan would replace an earlier plan established under then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, since repealed. The earlier plan provided funding collected by utilities “out of rates paid by their customers” in order to aid greater efficiency through “home assessments, weatherization for low-income houses, and providing rebates to businesses that installed more efficient equipment.” Under the new proposal, utilities would “file energy-efficiency plans every three years with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.”

Pentagon Looks To Cash In On Tech Investments.

The Washington Times  (1/7, Ybarra) reports “the U.S. government has spent billions on warfare initiatives over the past five decades, and only last year began to see some of its most intriguing technological investments overcome testing hurdles.” Specifically, the government has poured “money into research and development companies like Boston Engineering, which created the ‘GhostSwimmer’ about six years ago.” However, “it was only last month that the Navy was able to take the 5-foot-long drone, which weighs 100 pounds and mimics the movements of a shark, for a spin off the coast of Virginia Beach in Virginia.” The Navy also tested a high-powered laser weapons system this past year which it hopes will pay dividends in the future.

Elementary/Secondary Education

National Research Council Advises On Next Generation Science Standards’ Implementation.

Phys  (1/9) reports the National Research Council has made recommendations for the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards. The piece describes the new standards and their adoption at length before listing the recommendations. Those guidelines cover: teacher and leader learning, curriculum resources, assessment, collaboration, policies and communication, and instruction. The piece closes on curricular values.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

GOP Set To Pass Keystone Legislation.
Brookings Analysis: New Graduates Over-Burdened By Student Loan Payments.
Hopkins President Warns Underfunding Young Researchers Hurts Scientific Achievements.
Amazon Looking To Create Program For Tech Startups.
EPA Delays Rule To Control Carbon Dioxide Emissions At New Coal Plants.
California Districts To Pilot Professional Development For Next Gen Science Standards.

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