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

Leading the News

EPA To Institute Stricter Tests For Measuring Auto Fuel Economy.

The New York Times  (2/24, Kessler, Subscription Publication) reports that the EPA on Monday announced that they are tightening guidelines used to determine the fuel economy standards that automakers provide to consumers. Starting next year, “automakers will face stricter rules for conducting a crucial test or face an audit” by the EPA and “potential penalties.” The rules “for the test had not been updated in over 10 years.” The Times says that fuel economy figures “have been the source of frustration for some car owners who say that their actual mileage does not match the figures advertised.”

Gas Prices At Highest Level Since Last Year. The Wall Street Journal  (2/24, Friedman, Subscription Publication) reports that gasoline prices have risen for 28 consecutive days to $2.30 per gallon on Monday, according to AAA. They are at their highest level since last year. The increase is normal for this time of year, as some refineries shut down for maintenance. In addition, the impact was amplified this year by a strike at 12 refineries, which account for about 20 percent of US production.

Higher Education

Heald College’s Cal Grant Cutoff Temporary.

The Contra Costa (CA) Times  (2/24, Murphy) reports that on Friday, instead of permanently severing Heald College “from the Cal Grant program, state commissioners voted to withhold tuition-grant payments until the college gives the commission proof of financial stability and other records required of Cal Grant-approved colleges.” The Commission hopes this compromise “will keep thousands of students from being caught in the lurch.” The college’s CEO and president Eava Deshon promised Friday that if the state withheld aid dollars, the college would not charge the more than 4,400 students who depended on the aid. The piece notes “Much of the trouble stems from Heald’s deeply indebted parent company, Corinthian Colleges, Inc., which is going out of business amid a slew of financial and legal challenges, including a lawsuit by California’s attorney general alleging deceptive marketing practices.”

Corinthian’s Canada Unit Files For Bankruptcy. The AP  (2/23) reports that Corinthian Colleges “said its Canadian business,” Everest College, “filed for bankruptcy protection Friday after the government closed its 14 colleges in the country,” affecting about 2,450 students and 450 employees.

Report: African Americans Underrepresented In STEM Classes.

The Minnesota Spokesman Recorder  (2/24) reports that a new report by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found that “less than 3 percent of Blacks have earned a degree in the natural sciences or engineering fields by the age of 24 and that the STEM labor force is projected to grow by 2.6 million jobs over the next five years.” According to the researchers, “more than half of those jobs will go to people with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.” The coalition’s president and CEO Wade Henderson “said that equal access to a STEM education is crucial to the future of our country and economy, and to the lives of millions of minority and women students.” The report “said that it’s time for the United States to the examine the pressures that squeeze minority children out of the STEM pipeline and to accelerate the reforms that work to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.”

Report Urges Elimination Of Many Regulations Driving Up Costs In Reporting Financial Aid.

PBS  (2/24, Marcus) says that a new report by the American Council on Education “urges watering down or eliminating many regulations governing” the education sector, which “gets nearly $200 billion a year in federal taxpayer money in the form of financial aid, tax breaks and grants for research and development.” Some colleges say the requirements associated with aid are costly and confusing. The Senate will hear about the findings on Tuesday. However, some university presidents take strong issue with the report’s recommendations, as its “suggestions would reduce the government’s ability to monitor not only the performance of conventional universities and colleges” but also “of private, for-profit institutions that get almost all of their revenue from taxpayers through federal student grants, loans and GI Bill benefits, and some of which have very low graduation rates, very high numbers of student-loan defaults and questionable recruiting practices.” Critics also voiced concern that “no advocates for students, parents or federal taxpayers were involved.”

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

Upgraded Crawler-Transporter Takes Test Drive At KSC.

Florida Today  (2/23, Dean) reports that on Monday, NASA’s “six-million-pound crawler-transporter” took a drive to launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center to test upgrades that will allow it to transport the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule. The article notes that this year, NASA is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the two crawler-transporters’ development. Mary Hanna, the NASA project manager overseeing the modernization work, said, “It has a great deal of history. … It’s just mind boggling (now) to be part of the largest rocket on the planet to be ever built.”

In another Florida Today  (2/23, Dean) article, Hanna said, “Knowing that we’re going to take down the crawler and prepare for the next phase of the space program, getting ready to go to Mars and beyond — just mind-boggling to be part of the largest rocket on the planet to be ever built. … It’s very, very exciting.” In further statements about the test drive, John Giles, NASA’s deputy project manager for the crawler-transporter modifications, added, “The two launch pads here, 39A and B, you just have to imagine that no launch occurred there without this vehicle or its sister vehicle. … So where would we be without it? It really is the workhorse of NASA.” Hanna noted that the crawler’s upgrades are “almost done.”

The CFLN-TV  Orlando, FL (2/23, Pallone) website and Spaceflight Insider  (2/23, Jelen) also cover the story.

Researchers Develop Way To Efficiently Obtain Oxygen From CO2.

The Tech Times  (2/23, Burks) reports that University of Delaware researchers have developed a way to convert “carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide at a rate of 92 percent efficiency, which in turns releases oxygen.” University of Delaware’s Feng Jiao is working with the Glenn Research Center to refine the process so it could be 100% efficient. This technology could have important for manned Mars missions by producing breathable air without the need to ship large amounts of oxygen. However, there are “challenges” to overcome, “like making sure their system works in zero gravity, as well as make sure that it operates consistently over time.” Jiao said that in the next phase of the project, the team would also like to scale it up so it could supply oxygen for a crew of four.

Langley Research Will Enable Mainstream Use Of UAVs.

The Newport News (VA) Daily Press  (2/23, Dietrich, Subscription Publication) reports how scientists at the at the College of William and Mary are utilizing UAVs to aid in their research. In the second half of the piece, the article notes how the Langley Research Center is developing the “sense and avoid” technology that will enable UAVs to be “safe enough for mainstream use.” According to the article, Langley’s Frank Jones said this technology, which will help UAVs avoid stationary object, would be “key to the $80 billion market in unmanned aerial systems.” Meanwhile, the article described other projects at Langley, including development of the Greased Lightning UAV, which can “take off vertically like a plane and hover like a helicopter, with commercial potential for package delivery,” and Mike Logan’s idea to us “a 15-pound drone as a fire-spotter in the Great Dismal Swamp.”


Commentary: Debate Over Women In Tech Sector Has Grown “Toxic.”

In commentary for the Washington Post  (2/23) “Innovations” blog, Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, and distinguished fellow at Singularity University, writes that he “started advocating for women in engineering in 2006,” and laments that there is little in the way of true meritocracy in the “boy’s club” that is Silicon Valley. Wadhwa writes that the rhetoric surrounding the issue of women in the tech workforce has become “toxic,” and describes personal attacks against him on social media, citing these issues as the reasons he is dropping out of the debate.

Industry News

Entrepreneur Wants To Market Wireless Device Chargers.

USA Today  (2/23, Cava) profiles Meredith Perry, a 25-year-old entrepreneur who has launched a firm called uBeam which plans to sell a device to charge electronic devices “over thin air.” The device’s “transmitter is a wafer-thin square the size of a salad plate that punches out ultrasonic frequencies much like a speaker creates sound.” The receiver for the technology resonates “and turns that imperceptible movement into energy, charging the phone.”

Google Shuffles Glass Engineers Around.

Business Insider  (2/23, Eadicicco) reports that Google is shaking up its Google Glass team, moving engineers Stephen Lau, Salil Pandit, and PY Laligand off the project, with some saying the shake up has resulted in a “new” Glass team in place. Business Insider notes that the company recently announced it had “reset its strategy with Glass” during an earnings call.

SRP, ASU Partner To Test Battery Storage For PV Customers.

The Smart Grid News  (2/24) reports that community-based nonprofit “Salt River Project (SRP) and Arizona State University (ASU) have partnered to help their customers with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems to possibly utilize battery storage technology.” The researchers are looking to align the demand between solar generation and peak demand time “by storing the PV energy until peak demand time.” The PV battery storage system has been installed on the roof of the Engineering Research Center at ASU’s Tempe campus. SRP “explained that their power system was built to handle peak demand, but the new program will help reduce bills by reducing that demand,” which “would be able to build more efficient infrastructure, further lowering consumer bills.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Boehner, McConnell Say Keystone Veto Is Simply Politics.

In an op-ed for USA Today  (2/24), Speaker Boehner and Senate Majority Leader McConnell write that on Tuesday, Congress will send legislation approving the Keystone XL project to the President. They argue that the project “is a no-brainer in every way, but the White House says the president will veto this jobs bill.” The two go on to argue that the only reason the President is planning the veto the bill is “politics.”

WTimes Analysis: In Sign Of Ongoing Tension, Boehner, McConnell Skip CPAC. The Washington Times  (2/24, McLaughlin) reports that CPAC is the “biggest annual gathering of Republican leaders and conservative activists,” but neither Boehner nor McConnell is scheduled to speak. Their absence highlights “the lingering tensions between Republican Washington leadership and the party’s grass roots.”

Chaffetz Presses Wheeler To Release Net Neutrality Rules Before Thursday’s Vote.

USA Today  (2/24, Snider) reports that House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz on Monday called on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler “to make proposed net neutrality regulations public before a planned Thursday vote on the measure” in a letter. Chaffetz said, “Although arguably one of the most sweeping new rules in the commission’s history, the process was conducted without using many of the tools at the chairman’s disposal to ensure transparency and public review.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal  (2/24, Hughes, Subscription Publication) reports that the two GOP members of the five-member FCC urged the agency to delay the vote and for Wheeler to make the proposal public. Chaffetz also called on Wheeler to appear at a hearing on Capitol Hill prior to the vote.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Gulf Power Sponsors Florida STEM Program.

The Washington County (FL) Foster Folly News  (2/23) reports that Gulf Power is among the sponsors of this year’s Sunshine State Scholars program, which recognizes Florida’s “highest-achieving eleventh grade STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scholars from each school district.” The conference held this week “provides a unique venue for the state’s colleges and universities to recruit their talents.”

Edison International Supplies Laptops To Support Engineering Program At School.

Writing for the Santa Barbara (CA) Noozhawk  (2/23), Mallory Mitchell, a student intern for Providence, reports that Providence School has received two grants “that are contributing greatly to the new engineering program.” This includes “an Edison International grant program called ‘Computers for the Community’” which “supplied ten refurbished laptops for the engineering classes.”

Chevron’s STEM Initiatives Touted.

In an op-ed in TIME  (2/23) technology consultant Tim Bajarin touts Chevron’s focus on STEM education in the US. He notes “a unique STEM program that the San Francisco 49ers, with help from Chevron, created in their new stadium in Santa Clara, California” that involved “three distinct activities related to STEM.” He notes that recently during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament, Chevron had a tent designed for STEM outreach, providing kids with an opportunity to “learn about various aspects of golf” related to math and physics. Bajarin notes that Chevron’s education and corporate programs manager Blair Blackwell explained that the company is STEM-focused because it “is an engineering company at heart, and needs well-qualified people in the workforce to hire as part of their team today and in the future.” Bajarin concludes, “I’m impressed by Chevron’s financial commitments to STEM education as well as the amount of talent, effort and passion it puts into these specialized programs.”

Oakland Kids Take Part In My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon.

USA Today  (2/23, Guynn) reports on the My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon taking place in Oakland, California, in which 66 local kids “are taking part in a group coding competition” which was “the brainchild of Kalimah Priforce, the 34-year-old CEO of Qeyno Labs.” Participants were “mostly African American teens,” and “Priforce calls them ‘trailblazers’ and they are here on a sunny winter weekend in Oakland to address very real problems they see in the world around them, from helping kids make healthy food choices to encouraging them to read more books.”

Google Partners With Boys & Girls Clubs To Teach Students To Code.

USA Today  (2/23, Guynn, Usatoday) reports that “Google is teaming up with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to bring a program,” called CS First, that teaches elementary and middle-school students across the country “how to express themselves and their interests through computer code.” The program was first launched in July 2013 as a pilot program out of Google’s South Carolina data center. Volunteers from AmeriCorps VISTA will “spend a year helping develop the program at Boys & Girls clubs in Oregon, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Washington state, Boston and Chicago.” Maggie Johnson, Google’s director of education and university relations, said Google hopes to get kids interested in computer science by targeting them at an early age.

STEM Gender Inequality Greater In Illinois Than Nationwide.

The Columbia (IL) Chronicle  (2/24) reports that new research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that gender gap in enrollment in STEM coursework “is even greater in Illinois, where only 15.4 percent of high school girls are enrolled in STEM courses, compared to 30.8 percent nationwide.” According to the study’s co-author and an Education Policy, Organization and Leadership professor at U of I, “[The gap may exist because] females may not have considered a career in STEM or they may not—at home or through other popular media—have seen themselves [represented] in STEM-related fields.” He recommended raising females’ awareness about the opportunities available to them. The study also “included recommendations and strategies for state policymakers to eliminate the gender gap such as improving data collection systems for more transparent reviews, as well as providing incentives to school districts that are successful at increasing female enrollment in traditionally male-dominated fields.”

Also in the News

Huntsville Named The Best Place For Engineers In The US.

The WAAY-TV  Huntsville, AL (2/23, Leder) “tech Alabama” website reports that Huntsville was named “the best place in the country” to be an engineer, according to NerdWallet. The article notes that this was attributed in part to the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Monday’s Lead Stories

UMass-Amherst Policy Leaves Iranian Students Feeling Uneasy.
Ohio State Program Gives Students Free Access To 3-D Printers.
Watchdog Group Accuses Fracking Industry Of Distorting Research.
Dearth Of Female Tech Workers Could Grow Worse.
NSF Selects University Of Alabama As Innovation Corps Site.
Obama Administration Proposes New Rules On Arctic Energy Exploration.
NASCAR Launches STEM Initiative.

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