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

Leading the News

UMass-Amherst Reverses Ban On Iranian Students In Engineering, Science Programs.

The outrage surrounding a recently announced policy at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst barring Iranian students from engineering and science graduate programs–and the sudden reversal of the policy–have generated significant coverage in national media outlets. Coverage is neutral in tone and fact-based, with little in the way of analysis. Lester Holt reported on NBC Nightly News (2/18, story 13, 0:30, Holt) that the University of Massachusetts-Amherst has reversed its decision “to ban Iranian nationals from entering certain engineering and science programs. By law, Iranians are not permitted visas to study here if they plan to return to Iran and work in nuclear-related fields. UMass-Amherst claimed that following the law on a case-by-case basis was too complicated and issued a blanket ban which drew accusations of discrimination.” NBC News  (2/19) also covers this story online.

The Washington Post  (2/18, Svrluga) reports that the decision to reverse the policy came “after significant pushback” on campus and beyond, noting that the ban was “an attempt to comply with U.S. sanctions against Iran by preventing U.S. institutions from furthering that country’s citizens’ education in fields relating to nuclear engineering, nuclear science and energy issues.” The university now intends to “develop individualized study plans to ensure compliance with the law.” The Post continues to describe the “shock” that the announcement of the ban earlier this month sparked, and the widespread calls “to reverse it.” The Post also notes that State Department officials announced that they had discussed the situation with university officials.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/18) reports that the university “had originally cited concerns that admitting the Iranians to some science courses related to nuclear energy could violate U.S. sanctions against Iran,” and said Wednesday that it “had reversed its position after consulting with the State Department and outside counsel.” The Times reports that “a handful” of US schools have such policy regarding Iranian nationals, and says that UMass-Amherst’s policy “set off complaints from Iranian students, who feared they were being discriminated against by the school, and” the National Iranian American Council, which “said it welcomed the reversal.”

Noting that the reversal came after consultations with “lawyers and the State Department,” the AP  (2/19) reports that the policy “drew criticism from Iranian students, UMass faculty and other groups who said it was unfair and discriminatory, and would damage a vibrant exchange of cultures between two countries that are often at odds.”

USA Today  (2/19, Bacon) reports that the university “backed off its controversial policy banning Iranian nationals from numerous science and engineering programs,” saying that “it will instead develop ‘individualized study plans to meet the requirements of federal sanctions law and address the impact on students.’” Noting that the university said it developed its’ new policy “after consulting with the State Department,” the paper reports on the “firestorm of protest” and “accusations of discrimination” that the policy had drawn.

Iranian-American Group Cites Facebook Petition With Reversal. The Christian Science Monitor  (2/18) reports that National Iranian American Council Policy Director Jamal Abdi is crediting a petition launched on Facebook for enlisting his group, which in turn “pressured the US Department of State, Treasury, and the White House and ultimately forced a policy reversal” at UMass Amherst.

Other media outlets covering this story include the Boston Globe  (2/18), the Huffington Post  (2/19, Kingkade), Boston  (2/19, Lebeau), and MSNBC  (2/19).

Higher Education

Carnegie Mellon Erroneously Sends Acceptance Letters To 800 Grad School Applicants.

The New York Times  (2/19, Pérez-Peña, Subscription Publication) reports that Carnegie Mellon University this week became the latest major college to send erroneous acceptance letters to applicants when it “emailed about 800 applicants to a graduate computer science program word that they were accepted, only to email them again later the same day to say, in effect: Oops, not really.” The Times points out the irony in a school “renowned for its computer science offerings” making such a mistake “with a computer foul-up,” and notes that Johns Hopkins and MIT have made similar mistakes in the past year.

The AP  (2/17) reports that the recipients of the emails experienced “swings of ecstasy and agony Monday – first rejoicing that the Pittsburgh institution had selected them for its master of science in computer science, then being told the acceptances were sent in error and that they had been rejected.” The AP relates the lamentations of some of the students impacted, and reports that a university spokesman said the messages “were the result of ‘serious mistakes’ in the university’s process for generating acceptance letters and that it would conduct a review to prevent another error.”

The Washington Post  (2/18, Svrluga) also covers the “cruel computer glitch,” and quotes David Hawkins of the National Association for College Admission Counseling saying, “No matter how hard institutions try to avoid things like this, it just seems from the last 10 years that a handful of these things may be inevitable every year. Every time we hear about something like this, institutions talk about all the different safeguards they have in place to prevent these. But technology being what it is, a single keystroke could circumvent any system you have in place.” Hawkins addressed the emotional impact on students, adding, “from the university perspective it does create an administrative nightmare. Many students and families will be very upset about this. I’m sure a few will attempt to pressure the institution… for admission.”

Coding Academies Offer Short, Intense Training In Software Languages.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/19, Jordan, Subscription Publication) reports on the growth of coding academies or boot camps at which students learn software coding in short intense courses lasting eight weeks or so. One company, SeedPaths, offers such a course for low-income adults, and has partnered with municipal organizations to use Workforce Investment Act funds to cover the costs. The SeedPaths program provides instruction in JavaScript, C# and other coding languages. Most graduates of the eight week program are employed within 90 days. Some companies are reluctant to hire graduates of these short courses, seeing them as unlikely to be adequately prepared. The student profiled in the article has been successful at finding a job and hopes to go to college after saving for a few years.

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Accreditation and Professional Development

Proposed Florida Law May Create New License For Structural Engineers.

JD Supra  (2/19, Baggett) reports the proposed legislation before Florida lawmakers could “create a separate structural engineering license” in the state. According to the article, House Bill 217 would define structural engineering as “a service or creative work that includes the analysis and design of significant structures,” with the Florida Board of Professional Engineers determining what constitutes a “significant structure.” The article notes applicants will need to pass” 16-hour structural exam and demonstrate four years of active structural engineering experience” to earn a license under the proposed law.

Research and Development

NASA Scientists Use Lasers To Measure Snowpack.

KCRA-TV  Sacramento, CA (2/18, Bienik) reports on the use of LIDAR laser technology to measure snow cover in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Scientists fly over the mountains and point a laser lens directly at the snow. The beams bounce back to the plane, relaying information about the distance between the plane and the ground. NASA Jet Propulsion Lab engineer Megan Richardson explains that earlier models to measure snowpack, “based on the park rangers going out and taking just a few measurements, were overestimating the snowpack,” which lead to mismanagement of dam water reserves. Richardson added, “The goal is always to cap the dam without overflowing. So the closest they can get to that every year, the better shape we’ll be.”

Industry News

3D Printing Use Increasing In Industrial Manufacturing.

Plant Services  (2/19, Wilk) reports on the types and applications of 3D printing in industrial manufacturing as well as the benefits manufacturers may obtain by using the technology. The articles notes the three types of 3D printing, “Fused Deposition Modeling, or FDM, which prints using thermoplastic materials; PolyJet, which uses photopolymers;” and Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM) process, which uses thin metal foils. The article also touches on the manufacturing application for 3D printers, such as for making replacement parts for equipment, creating prototypes, and “reverse engineering of unavailable or otherwise legacy parts.”

Engineering and Public Policy

DOT To Spend $232 Million On Infrastructure Damaged By Storms.

The Hill  (2/18, Laing) reports that the DOT announced on Wednesday that it is planning on spending $232 million “repairing roads and bridges that have been damaged by recent storms.” The funding, from the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief program, “is being distributed to 26 states and Puerto Rico, according to the department.” In a statement, Transportation Secretary Foxx said, “We are committed to getting transportation facilities restored as quickly as possible following natural disasters and other emergencies.”

Biden Joins Foxx On Bus Tour Through The Carolinas. The Washington Post  (2/18, Halsey) reports that Vice President Biden joined Foxx on his bus tour “for a couple of days travel through the Carolinas,” giving “weight to the White House’s desire to build a broad consensus on the need to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure systems.” The Post notes that “infrastructure investment, particularly in roads, bridges and transit systems, appears to be one of the few initiatives on which the administration and Congress might agree.”

Lomborg: Stop “Green Worship” Of Electric Car.

In a USA Today  (2/19) op-ed, the president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, Bjørn Lomborg, says, “It is time to stop our green worship of the electric car.” Lomborg says the vehicle “costs us a fortune, cuts little CO2 and surprisingly kills almost twice the number of people compared with regular gasoline cars.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

NASA Unveils STEM Game For Teens.

iSchoolGuide  (2/18, Sanchez) reports on a new multi-player game from NASA that encourages teens to get excited about STEM fields of study. The game, DUST, has players solve a fictional global problem when a mysterious dust falls over the earth and renders all adults unconscious. DUST was developed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA’s Langley location, in conjunction with college students at Bringham Young Uiversity, Provo, and University of Maryland. NASA aerospace engineer Bill Cirillo said of the game, “In DUST there are no fixed outcomes. It’s up to the students to move the story along and do problem solving using scientific method and critical thinking skills.”

Hanover County Schools Get Grant To Develop Model For CTE.

The Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch  (2/19) reports “Hanover County Public Schools (HCPS) has been awarded a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to develop a model proposal for the creation of a Governor’s School program that focuses on Career and Technical Education (CTE).” The program, upon completion, “is intended to serve as a model that can be replicated throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia to meet the ever-growing demand for career-ready students.”

Technology Education Growing.

The AP  (2/18) reports that “with the growth in the technology sector,…many say it makes sense add coding skills to even elementary school curriculums.” Cindy Hahn, principal at Our Lady of Fatima, says that “with technology changing so rapidly, not giving tools to the kids at a young age is doing them a disservice.” Meanwhile, Roxanne Emadi of says “technology education is growing in popularity across the country,” and that “introducing students to coding early can help de-mystify the process.”

Also in the News

Emrich Named Engineer Of The Year By The AIAA.

The Huntsville (AL) Times  (2/18, Roop) reports that Bill Emrich of the Marshall Space Flight Center was named Engineer of the Year by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for his work on the Nuclear Thermal Rocket Element Environment Simulator (NTREES). Emrich said in a statement, “This work is wonderfully rewarding because I’ve always dreamed of working on rocket engines that would send the first explorers to Mars and this project focuses all my engineering skills on achieving that goal.” Marshall Deputy Director of Engineering Preston Jones added, “Bill’s contributions to NTREES have taken this program to the next level. … We are proud of his accomplishments and this award is a testament to his level of professionalism and expertise.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Iranian Students Push Back Against UMass Restrictions.
Study Points To Gender Parity In STEM Doctorates.
Dawn Already Countering Previous Theories About Ceres.
Maine Company Developing Microgrid Technology With Goal Of Becoming Industry Standard.
Commentators Stress Importance Of Energy Efficiency.
YMCA Tech Programs Boost Childrens Interest In Engineering.

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