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

Leading the News

Iranian Students Push Back Against UMass Restrictions.

The Huffington Post  (2/18, Kingkade) reports that University of Massachusetts student groups are blasting a new “policy that restricts Iranian citizens from enrolling in some engineering and science programs, arguing that the policy is ‘clearly in conflict with academic values and principles that prohibit discrimination.’” Noting that the school announced the policy last week as in line with US sanctions against Iran, the Post reports that the Iranian Graduate Student Association and the Persian Student Association have “established a Facebook page to drum up opposition to the admission ban.”

NBC News  (2/18) reports that the policy has “stirred charges of discrimination and a backlash among students who say it was unfairly imposed and could hurt the school’s reputation.” The piece explains that US concerns about Iran “developing a nuclear weapon…prompted a 2012 law that excludes Iranian nationals from studying in America if they planned to work in nuclear or energy fields.”

Higher Education

Study Points To Gender Parity In STEM Doctorates.

The Chicago Tribune  (2/17) reports that despite the widespread perception of a “leaky pipeline” to blame “for a lack of women in science and technology,” a new study from Northwestern University “on students who pursue degrees in STEM areas shows equal percentages of female and male undergraduates now go on to pursue a Ph.D.”

US News & World Report  (2/17) reports that the study indicates that “the idea that women leave the STEM pipeline after entering college at higher rates than men isn’t necessarily true,” and that “the gender gap in persistence rates actually has closed since the 1970s, when men were nearly two times as likely to later earn a relevant doctorate.”

Senate To Hold Hearing On Streamlining College Regulation.

Campus Safety Magazine  (2/18) reports that a bipartisan group of Senators is scheduled to hold a hearing on February 24 “on recommendations from a report from the American Council on Education on how to streamline and reduce federal regulations” of colleges “while protecting students and taxpayers.” The piece explains that the Senators set up the council of college presidents and other higher education experts in 2013 to review ED’s “regulations and reporting requirements on colleges and universities,” with the mandate “to provide specific recommendations on reducing, eliminating or streamlining duplicative, costly or confusing regulations and reporting requirements to Congress.” Much of the article focuses on the Clery Act, and it relates the comments of Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander on the report’s contents.

New York Fed Study Points To Rising Student Loan Defaults.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/17, Starkman) reports that a new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York indicates that US household debt rose in the last quarter of 2014, even as consumers “are struggling more with auto and student loans.” The article discusses fluctuations in mortgage, credit card, and auto loans, but says that student loans were “the biggest trouble spot,” with “an alarming 11.3%” default rate, “up from 11.1% in the third quarter.”

Bloomberg News  (2/17, Smialek) reports that the increase in student loan delinquencies is “a troubling sign that Americans are failing to keep up with payments as education debt climbs.” This article quotes New York Fed Research Officer Donghoon Lee saying, “Although we’ve seen an overall improvement in delinquency rates since the Great Recession, the increasing trend in student-loan balances and delinquencies is concerning. Student-loan delinquencies and repayment problems appear to be reducing borrowers’ ability to form their own households.” Bloomberg adds that the report indicates that student loan delinquency rates “probably understate the actual situation,” since roughly one half of student loans “are in deferment, in grace periods or in forbearance, temporarily removing them from the repayment cycle.”

The AP  (2/18, Rugaber) reports that the report suggests that student debt issues are stymieing young consumers’ ability to purchase homes, noting that total US student debt levels currently stand at a record $1.16 trillion. The AP cites previous Fed research indicating that “younger Americans with student loans are less likely to take out mortgages than those without student debt,” as compared to before the recession, when the reverse was the case. CNBC  (2/18) also covers this story.

Sanders Calls For Two Years Free At All Public Colleges.

The Hill  (2/18, Shabad) reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called Tuesday for a radical shift in “higher education funding that would involve free tuition for freshmen and sophomores at all public colleges and universities.” The piece quotes Sanders saying, “We need a revolution in the way higher education is funded,” and reports that he “said rising college costs are preventing young people from going to college and are leaving many students in debt.”

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.

ASEE Perks
Learn about the broad collection of benefits available to ASEE members.

Research and Development

Dawn Already Countering Previous Theories About Ceres.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/17, Khan) “Science Now” website reports that the Dawn spacecraft has returned “ the best images to date of the dwarf planet Ceres.” The “unprecedented views” were taken on February 12 ahead of the spacecraft’s March 6 arrival at Ceres. Carol Raymond, Dawn’s deputy principal investigator at the Jet propulsion Laboratory, said, “The really neat thing about Ceres is that it’s kind of straddling a lot of boundaries between … the rockier asteroids in the inner part of the asteroid belt, and the wetter asteroids in the outer part of the belt. … I really think we’re going to learn a tremendous amount. … Ceres is just such a unique object that by studying it, there will be implications for many other types of bodies.” The article notes that the new images of Ceres are already countering previous theories that the dwarf planet’s surface would be smooth. Raymond added, “The whole surface appears to be cratered. It doesn’t appear to have a very smooth surface like might have been expected. … All in all, it’s just looking really interesting.”

The Washington Post  (2/17, Feltman) “Speaking of Science” blog, Discovery News  (2/17, O’Neill), and NBC News  (2/17, Coldewey) website also cover the story.

New Report Examines Climate Change’s Effects On New York City.

The Daily Mail (UK)  (2/17, Zolfagharifard) reports that a “ Nasa-backed report” developed by the New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) 2015 using Lansat 7 data predicts that New York City could experience a “devastating increases in temperature, rainfall and sea level as a result of global warming.” NASA’s Cynthia Rosenzweig, who co-chaired the report, said, “Climate change research isn’t just something for the future. … It’s affecting how key policy decisions are being made now.”

JPL Prepares Robots For DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals.

ComputerWorld  (2/17, Shaw) interviews the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Brett Kennedy, principal investigator for Robosimian and Surrogate robots. Robosimian is currently entered in the finals of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, and JPL is considering entering Surrogate as well. The team is currently improving the robots for the finals. Kennedy said, “When we started the task we had a very long laundry list of things that JPL has on the shelf in terms of capabilities. A lot of the perception algorithms we use, a lot of the planning algorithms we use, were there but we didn’t have time to implement them for the competition. For the finals, we’re getting all that stuff down off the shelf and trying to make the system better.” Kennedy added, “I think that the real value of what we’re doing here is not so much about winning, which would be nice and we’re certainly competitive folks so we’re gonna try, but it’s actually showing the world what we can do.”

Industry News

Maine Company Developing Microgrid Technology With Goal Of Becoming Industry Standard.

The Bangor (ME) Daily News  (2/17, Fishell) reports that Pika Energy, “the renewable energy company that began in a garage in 2010 and by 2013 attracted about $1.1 million in funding now has its sights on building the standard platform for small-scale electricity grids.” The company is engineering “a new iteration of its REbus microgrid system” to function as the “standard platform for microgrids.” The story mentions that Pika received $150,000 through the DOE-administered Federal Small Business Innovation Research grant program, as well as two other loans from the Maine Technology Institute “totaling about $500,000.”

Forbes Contributor Examines ‘Rumor Mill’ Around Apple’s Electric Car.

In an analysis piece in Forbes  (2/14), Chuck Jones looks at the “rumor mill” associated with “Apple developing an electric car,” a development that has been reported in the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times. Although Jones does not rule out an electric car at Apple, he casts doubt on the possibility by analyzing factors that could help verify whether Apple is in fact working on an electric car, including the ability of Apple to dedicate workers for such research, executive moves that could indicate car development, how the scheme appears to be “way outside Apple’s power alley,” and the “tremendous” time needed to develop a car.

Engineering and Public Policy

Commentators Stress Importance Of Energy Efficiency.

Writing in The Hill  (2/17, Gordon) “Congress Blog,” retired Navy Commander, former Pentagon spokesperson, and senior adviser to “several” Washington think tanks J.D. Gordon argued that while climate change may be “one of the most ‘polarizing’ issues in our country today,” not to mention the world; on the other hand, “nearly everyone on the planet benefits from promoting energy efficiency…a win/win — something that die-hard progressives and staunch conservatives ought to agree on.” According to Gordon, energy efficiency lies at the intersection of global security interests, cost reduction, and combating global warming.

Similarly, writing for The Hill  (2/17) “Pundits Blog,” US Green Building Council president Roger Platt urges bipartisan cooperation in the new Congress on “issues that both sides can agree on,” such as “energy-efficient buildings.” Using the same phrase, “win-win for both ends of the political spectrum,” Platt says that the Federal government should wholeheartedly embrace LEED certification, “as it benefits people and the environment, drives innovation and the economy and saves money for building owners from corporations to federal government.”

USA Today Endorses FAA’s Proposed Drone Rules.

In an editorial, USA Today  (2/18) endorses the proposed FAA rules for regulating commercial drones. The paper says that the FAA “has finally proposed rules designed to balance commercial potential with public safety. And, for the most part, the proposals are smart.”

In a related op-ed for USA Today  (2/18), Michael Drobac, executive director of Small UAV Coalition, says his group “shares the widespread positive reaction to the FAA’s long-awaited proposed rules governing small unmanned aircraft systems.” However, the rules “fall short of the mark” on several issues. The main issue is that it could still be years before they are finalized. Drobac says that in the interim, “companies should be granted exemptions to test and explore self-piloted unmanned aerial vehicles that will unleash a new economy.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

YMCA Tech Programs Boost Childrens Interest In Engineering.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (2/17, Todd) reports on the YMCA Creators Space Tech Initiative in Pittsburgh. The program is a “mix of introductory basics and engineering fundamentals.” Students at some locations now have access to Hummingbird Robotics Kits “designed in Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab to introduce robotics at an elementary level.” Also students are “taught the basics of coding language through “Minecraft” and Scratch.”

Study: Out Of High School Males Liked Math, Science More Than Females.

THE Journal  (2/17, Schaffhauser) reports that “in 2009 female students didn’t like math or science as much as male students in high school,” according to a study conducted by researchers from the American Institutes of Research and Activate Research and overseen by the National Center for Education Statistics. Male “high school graduates were more likely to agree than female graduates” with “statements such as, ‘I like mathematics/science,’ or ‘Mathematics/science is one of my favorite subjects.’”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

FAA Proposes Rules For Commercial Drone Use.
Many Factors Stand Between Community College Students, Financial Aid.
Georgia State University Reports Record Amount Of Research Funding In 2015.
Female Engineers Making Changes In Auto Industry.
Congress Not Moving On Auto Safety Reforms.
WPost: Research Geoengineering As Climate Change Plan B.
Data Shows STEM Gender Gap In K-12 Evolving.

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