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

FAA Proposes Rules For Commercial Drone Use.

The FAA on Sunday unveiled proposed rules which would permit commercial operation of unmanned aircraft. In a separate policy directive also released on Sunday, the President sought to address the concerns of privacy advocates about the use of drones by government agencies by ordering agencies to limit the collection and retention of data gathered by drones The memorandum also directs local and state agencies receiving Federal grants to create drone privacy policies. Both of the network newscasts which aired Sunday evening covered the announcement, dedicating four minutes and 20 seconds to the story, and print and online coverage are both heavy. While the President’s memorandum gets some coverage, most reports focus primarily on the FAA proposal, highlighting the proposed rules and comments from Federal officials. Several stories also note the rules’ impact on companies such as Amazon and Google, whose plans to use drones for deliveries would be prohibited – at least for the time being.

Lester Holt reported on NBC Nightly News (2/15, story 5, 2:30, Holt) that while unmanned commercial drones are currently banned, with the FAA proposal, “they’re one step closer to getting permission to fly now.” Tom Costello noted that under the rules, drones “would only be permitted to fly during daylight hours, under 500 feet at 100 miles per hour or less and five miles away from airports.” In addition, pilots “would have to maintain constant visual contact with their drones and be required to hold a new FAA flight certificate.”

In a story posted on Sunday before the proposed rules were released, TIME  (2/15, Vella) reported that an economic analysis describing the rules “was posted online by mistake, the Associated Press reports.” TIME noted that while the report “does not offer a total estimate on the annual economic benefit of new drone-friendly rules,” it “claims they would exceed $100 million.” Reuters  (2/15, Scott) also reports briefly on the proposed rules.

Bloomberg News  (2/15, Levin) calls the announcements from the FAA and the White House “the most significant attempt so far to set a framework for controlling a new technology that has at times evolved faster than the government was able to react,” and quotes Transportation Secretary Foxx as saying, “Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” and the Washington Post  (2/15, Whitlock) notes that in a conference call on Sunday, Foxx told reporters, “We’re putting forward what we believe to be the safest possible approach at the moment, but of course we look forward to hearing back from the public.”

Higher Education

Many Factors Stand Between Community College Students, Financial Aid.

The Hechinger Report  (2/17) reports on President Obama’s proposal for making the first two years of community college free, exploring whether it’s needed, and who would benefit from it. The piece notes that many community college students are from low-income families, and therefore “would seem to be eligible for existing federal and state grants that cover community college tuition.” However, “only a little more than half of the low-income students are getting free rides right now.” The piece reports that some 31% of community colleges “are believed to be poor enough to qualify for federal grants” but aren’t getting them, often because they’ don’t fill out the FAFSA. Moreover, there are “cultural reasons” related to not wanting to take government aid, and “the typical community college student isn’t a traditional college student who fits neatly into financial aid rules.”

Presidential Politics Seen In Walker’s Plans For State University System.

The New York Times  (2/17, Bosman, Subscription Publication) reports that when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) proposed to “sharply cut state aid” to its university system, “he ignited a furious backlash that crossed party and regional lines.” Walker’s budget “calls for a 13 percent cut in state aid across the university system, with its 13 four-year universities and 180,000 students, for a total decrease of $300 million over the next two years.” The Times says that it, along with changes to the founding principles of the system, appear to be designed to woo potential 2016 Iowa caucus voters.

In a front-page story, the Washington Post  (2/17, A1, Samuels) reports that as he “woos supporters around the country” for a potential presidential run, Walker “is once again picking a fight against a powerful institution at home — public universities.” Walker says that the cut “is a fair exchange for a two-year tuition freeze and new flexibility long sought by administrators to set pay scales and campus construction priorities.” However, the plan “is drawing angry responses from school officials and students as the state’s Republican-led legislature takes it up.”

UMass-Amherst No Longer Admitting Iranian Students To Graduate Engineering, Sciences Programs.

The Boston Globe  (2/13, Fox, Annear) reports UMass Amherst “no longer will accept Iranian students into graduate programs in chemical, computer, and mechanical engineering and the natural sciences because it says doing so puts the college at risk of infringing on US sanctions against Iran.” A statement on the university’s website earlier in February cites the Department of Homeland Security edict that says Iranian citizens are ineligible for US visas if they are enrolling in higher education towards a career in Iran’s nuclear field (engineering, energy, science), natural gas, or petroleum.

Growing Expenses Related To Adjunct Professors May Push College Costs Higher.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/17, Belkin, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that US universities and colleges have looked to contain costs in recent decades by relying more on adjunct professors than expensive tenured professors. However, that strategy is now in doubt as adjunct professors have begun to successfully unionize at a number of colleges. In response to the unionization pressure, college administrations are more likely to negotiate longer-term pay packages. As a result, administrators have begun to warn of upward pressure on tuition.

ASEE Members Elected to National Academy of Engineering. Mory Gharib (Cal Tech), Jack Hu (University of Michigan), Clayton Radke (UC Berkeley), Vigor Yang (Georgia Tech), and Ajit Yoganathan (Georgia Tech) were elected to the honorific society.

#ASEEYoADiversity. These institutions have model programs for student retention, many focused on minorities and women.

Diversity Committee Newsletter. Read the Winter edition, with updates on the Year of Action.

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Research and Development

Georgia State University Reports Record Amount Of Research Funding In 2015.

The AP  (2/14) reported researchers at Georgia State University received $53 million in research funding, “a record amount,” in the first two quarters of fiscal year 2015. The university says this is a 30 percent increase over the amount brought in during the same period last fiscal year.

Researchers Testing New Devices To Help Deaf Children.

The AP  (2/15, Neergaard) reports a handful of children are helping to test auditory brainstorm implants, explaining that the devices go “beyond cochlear implants that have brought hearing to many deaf children but that don’t work for tots who lack their hearing nerve.” The piece explains that University of Southern California audiologist Laurie Eisenberg “outlined the research Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”

Astronomers Consider Sending Messages To Nearby Stars.

The AP  (2/17, Borenstein) reports that some astronomers “want to beam messages out into the void and invite the closest few thousand worlds to chat or even visit.” However, some scientists, “including Stephen Hawking, think that’s crazy, warning that instead of sweet and gentle E.T., we might get something like the planet-conquering aliens from ‘Independence Day.’” The article describes a dispute over the issue at a convention in San Jose of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Friday, noting that “several prominent space experts, including SpaceX founder Elon Musk and planet hunter Geoff Marcy, started a petition cautioning against sending out such messages, saying it is impossible to predict whether extraterrestrial life will be benign or hostile.”


Female Engineers Making Changes In Auto Industry.

The Chicago Tribune  (2/2) reports that a growing number of women are holding leadership roles in the auto industry, but women only “hold about 25 percent of jobs in the motor vehicle and parts industry as of late 2014.” Moreover, “fewer than one in five engineers in the auto industry are women.” The article continues to profile three female engineers who “are making their mark on today’s cars while setting the groundwork for the next generation of young women interested in automotive science and technology.”

Industry News

Congress Not Moving On Auto Safety Reforms.

Politico  (2/16, Robillard) reported that reforming “auto safety laws is toward the bottom of this year’s congressional to-do list,” in spite of record car recalls, “critical mistakes” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “and what some senators alleged was a criminal cover-up by the nation’s largest automaker.” Anger at General Motors concealing an ignition switch defect hasn’t translated into action, “in sharp contrast to” Congressional reform of the NHTSA following the 2000 Ford-Firestone tire scandal. While safety advocates say the $35 million cap NHTSA civil penalties for hiding individual defects means the fines are just the cost of business for automakers, new NHTSA head Mark Rosekind, “said he plans on cracking down on automakers and forcing even more recalls in 2015.”

Engineering and Public Policy

WPost: Research Geoengineering As Climate Change Plan B.

In an editorial, the Washington Post  (2/17) writes that the “controversial” practice of geoengineering, seeking to deliberately alter the Earth’s climate, should not be counted on to deal with climate change. Noting the “formidable” costs and possible side effects, the Post says “it makes no sense” to just prevent the problem by limiting carbon emissions. Still, citing a National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences report, the paper argues the planet needs “the beginnings of a backup plan” and calls on Congress to at least consider funding geoengineering research.

EPA Veto Of Alaska Mine Draws Scrutiny.

The Washington Post  (2/16, Warrick) reports on the EPA’s expected use of “a rarely used” preemptive “veto” to bar Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. From beginning work on a mine in southwestern Alaska that sits below “the spawning ground for the planet’s biggest runs of sockeye salmon.” The Post says most Alaskans and a “broad coalition” of conservationists, fishermen, tribes, and wealthy activists support the EPA’s position, but by using the veto, “the EPA has made itself the target of congressional Republicans” who claim the agency has overreached beyond the scope of the law, in addition to the subject of two lawsuits. Northern Dynasty reportedly alleges, based on agency documents that the EPA improperly colluded with mining opponents and “coordinated local opposition to the mine” in order to “kill the project in its early stages rather than risk a formal permitting process” beyond the agency’s control.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Data Shows STEM Gender Gap In K-12 Evolving.

Education Week  (2/17) reports that new 2009 data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that “the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics may be starting to turn.” According to the data, “by 12th grade, girls in 2009 were more likely than boys to have earned credit in advanced math and science, including Algebra II, chemistry, biology, and health sciences, though boys are significantly more likely to earn credit in computer science and engineering.” This may “reflect lower interest in STEM on the part of the female students studied,” as “across the main racial groups, male students tended to be more likely to say they “like” science, and there was a similar gender breakdown for math.”

New Math Standards In Florida Schools Examined.

NPR  (2/16) reports on how parents and students are coping with the new math standards introduced in Florida based on Common Core, which “outline what students should know in every grade.” According to experts, the new standards, which have been introduced in several states, “means big changes to how math is taught.” There is “more focus on understanding concepts and solving problems multiple ways” and “less memorization of formulas and grinding out worksheets full of similar problems.”

Evidence Continues To Show Benefits Of Arts-Integrated Learning Of STEM.

John M. Eger, Director of the Creative Economy Initiative at San Diego State University (SDSU), writes in the Huffington Post  (2/15, Eger) that many of the neuroscientists and researchers speaking at last week’s “Learning and the Brain” conference in San Francisco explored the various ways “to engage young people and enhance learning.” The findings presented by Ivonne Chand O’Neal, Director of Research and Evaluation at the Kennedy Center for Education, argued that “arts integration -if done right–was the answer to giving our young people the new thinking skills for a new economy.” Therefore, “It’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math +the Arts) that will make the difference.” Citing similar findings by others, Eger concludes that if “we know the arts enhance math and science comprehension, we must begin changing the curriculum to be using the arts and art integration, namely teaching through the arts.”

Legislation Considered To Bring Rural STEM Experiential Learning Pilot To Minnesota School Districts.

The Detroit Lakes (MN) Online  (2/17) reports on proposed legislation in Minnesota, known as Senate Filed 471 and House File 555, “that would, if approved, develop a Rural STEM Experiential Learning Pilot Project for up to 16 rural Minnesota school districts.” The proposal is scheduled to e heard today by the Minnesota Senate. The article describes how the pilot can benefit students. The “proposed legislation includes a $570,000 initial investment by the state in purchasing the necessary equipment for the eight proposed STEM modules,” and “Each of the 16 participating school districts would be required to pay $5,000 for each of the four years of the pilot as their ‘buy-in’ to the project.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

GM To Build Compact EV At Michigan Plant.
Senate Task Force Calls For Easing Of Regulation Of Colleges.
New Study Predicts “Megadrought” In Second Half Of Century.
Internet Company Wants To Be The Lego Of This Generation.
Upcoming Keystone Veto Could Be The First Of Many.
South Florida School Hosts Lego Robot Tournament.
Hamilton: Geo-engineering A “Dangerous Approach.”

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