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

Leading the News

Zachry Group Gives Texas A&M Engineering School $25 Million.

The San Antonio Express-News  (4/2) reports that the Zachry Group, a San Antonio-based engineering firm, is giving Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University $25 million “citing a shortage of engineers.” Noting that this is the firm’s largest gift ever, the paper reports that the money will fund “ongoing construction of the 550,000-square-foot engineering education complex at the university’s College Station campus as well as the establishment of the Zachry Leadership Program.”

The Bryan College Station (TX) Eagle  (4/2) reports that the firm is “a longtime financial supporter of Aggieland,” and explains that the gift will “renovate the 43-year-old, 350,000-square foot Zachry Engineering Center and expand to 550,000 square feet to become the hub of the college’s undergraduate program.”

The Texas Tribune  (3/31) reports that the Zachry Group “hopes the money will buoy A&M’s Dwight Look College of Engineering’s aggressive plans to double enrollment and become the largest engineering school in the country.” The firm cited the need for “more qualified graduates to hire,” and “chose to give to A&M specifically because it already has an expansion plan in place.”

Higher Education

Cards Against Humanity Female STEM Scholarship Highlights Gender Debate.

The Chicago Tribune  (4/2, Elahi) reports that since Cards Against Humanity released a new science-themed expansion pack this week “to fund a women’s STEM scholarship” on Monday, the company “has raised more than $222,000 and prompted discussion about women-specific initiatives.” Noting that the proceeds from the expansion “will fund a full-ride scholarship for at least one young woman pursuing an undergraduate STEM education,” the article notes that the decision to have the recipient “selected by a board of 40 women scientists” has raised questions from those who are concerned that a more diverse panel would be preferable.

Missouri Officials Tell Duncan About Innovation Campus Program.

The Kansas City (MO) Star  (4/2) profiles the Missouri Innovation Campus program, which allows high school students interested in “high-demand fields such as information technology or engineering” to obtain an associate’s degree while still in high school. The program is “a highly acclaimed partnership involving the school district, UCM, Metropolitan Community College-Longview and local businesses.” The article reports that a delegation of local educators traveled to Washington, DC, for the White House College Opportunity Summit, where they touted the program to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, and others.

Charlotte Area Community College Receives STEM Grant.

The Charlotte (NC) Business Journal  (4/1, Thomas, Subscription Publication) reports in its “Techflash” blog that the Central Piedmont Community College will be developing its STEM programs with an NSF grant in association with two other local community colleges. The program’s goal is to encourage students to receive a bachelor’s degree and to increase the representation of minorities in STEM fields.

Open Letter Criticizes Fareed Zakaria On STEM.

In an op-ed to the Huffington Post  (4/2), Dr. Mariappan Jawaharlal argues that Fareed Zakaria does not have “a single shred of evidence” to support the assertion that promotion of STEM subjects makes liberal education irrelevant or blindly promotes memorization. He adds that the “real problem” is a lack of domestic students entering engineering, especially in high-demand growth markets like computer science. He concludes that America is will lose its edge in attracting global innovation and entrepreneurship if “we are complacent” and that the country “needs more doctors, engineers, scientists, and teachers.”

Universities Changing Focus Post Recession To Suit Market, Growing Subjects.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/2, Rivera) reports that universities are tailoring their programs to reflect fields that attract students and meet emerging industry needs, including those specific to the regional market. During the recession, universities cut a number of smaller programs and “duplicative” departments while growing business, management, graduate, and STEM programs. Daniel J. Hurley of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities claims that the changes stem in part from a “utilitarian” mindset after the market crash and that “faculty and even institutional ego take a back seat now.”

March+April Prism now online (members only)
Cover Story: “Growing Pains.” Ethiopia is pushing engineering education harder than any other country In Africa, creating challenges for its academics.

VIDEOS – Watch a collection of talks from the Public Policy Colloquium, held in February. (Due to audio problems, not all talks were captured.)

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Research and Development

UT-Arlington Researcher Developing Low-Power Hearing Aid Circuit.

Medical Design Technology Magazine  (4/2) reports that University of Texas at Arlington electrical engineering professor Sungyong Jung “is developing a more efficient, low-power integrated circuit for directional hearing aids that will lead to a better quality of life for hearing impaired people.” The Korean Electrotechnology Research Institute has given Jung a $144,000 grant “to build an integrated circuit for a tiny microphone that would mimic the auditory system of a Ornia ochracea – a parasitic fly known for its exceptionally miniscule ear.”

NASA “Determined” To Complete Work On Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator.

The Economist  (4/2), for its April 4th edition, reports on how “after years of hand-wringing,” the Department of Energy has resumed production of the plutonium-238 NASA needs to power the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) used for space missions. While the amount being made “may not seem very much,” NASA is “more parsimonious with the stuff” than it used to be. Meanwhile, NASA’s work on an alternative to the RTG, the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator, was halted in 2013 due to a tighter budget. According to the article, NASA is “determined…to complete testing of the generator.”

Virginia Tech Researchers Find Many Youth Hockey Helmets Lacking.

Bryan Toporek writes at the Education Week  (4/2) “Schooled in Sports” blog that a new study published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering suggests that parents of “youth-hockey players should be wary of what helmet their child is wearing,” noting that Virginia Tech researchers “tested 32 brands of hockey helmets to gauge how well they would protect players against concussion.” None of the helmets tested “earned a four- or five-star rating on a five-star scale, and only one—the Warrior Krown 360—earned a three-star rating.” Toporek quotes Stefan Duma, the head of the university’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, saying “We don’t think anybody should be playing in [the ‘not recommended’] helmets,” which failed to earn a single star in the testing.

Engineers Create Exoskeleton That Helps People Walk.

The AP  (4/2, Borenstein) reports that engineers have created a prototype exoskeleton boot that is designed “to make walking more efficient and easier.” The AP notes that when worn, the one-pound device can “reduce the energy it takes to walk by 7 percent,” and does so without a power source or motor. According to the AP, some of the Carnegie Mellon University engineering professors that worked on the project hope the device will “boost the development of other exoskeleton devices” that could help disabled people walk.

Industry News

Engineers Use 3D Printer To Make Race Car Lighter, More Efficient.

According to Machine Design  (4/2, Korane), a team of engineers has used a 3D printer to create parts for its DeltaWing racecar, leading to not only a simplified manufacturing process, but a lighter automobile with “improved…structure and internal efficiency.” The article notes that the 3D printer was able to produce parts that were “heat resistant, durable, and lightweight” and that could be used for motorsports and even aerospace.

Engineering and Public Policy

California Governor Announces Mandatory Water Restrictions.

Media coverage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s announcement, which included reports on all three network newscasts, highlighted the seriousness of California’s water crisis. ABC World News (4/1, story 4, 1:45, Marciano) showed Brown saying, “We’re in a historic drought and that demands unprecedented action,” and noted that he ordered “all cities and towns to cut water usage immediately by 25 percent. … The new mandate could possibly see further restrictions on homeowners who were already urged to reduce water by 20 percent, facing fines for things like washing off sidewalks.” USA Today  (4/2, Cava) notes that other “measures Brown will have the California Water Resources Control Board oversee” include: “water reduction on the part of golf courses, cemeteries and other large landscaped spaces; the replacement of 50 million square feet of lawn statewide with drought-tolerant landscaping; a rebate program to encourage the purchase of water-saving appliances; and requiring new homes to use drip irrigation.”

As he made the announcement, the Los Angeles Times  (4/2, Megerian, Stevens) reports, Brown was “standing on a patch of brown grass in the Sierra Nevada that is usually covered with several feet of snow at this time of year.” Said the governor, “It’s a different world. … We have to act differently.” The New York Times  (4/2, Nagourney, Subscription Publication), meanwhile, quotes Brown as saying, “This is the new normal. … We will learn how to cope with this.” The CBS Evening News (4/1, story 4, 2:10, Villafranca) reported that “several of the state’s reservoirs are at a third of capacity, and the underground water supply is rapidly being depleted.” In fact, “researchers say California will need 11 trillion gallons of water to recover.” The Washington Post  (4/2, Wilson), meanwhile, says “data suggests the drought will only get worse,” spreading “across every western state.”

NBC Nightly News (4/1, story 2, 3:05, Almaguer) featured footage from a “drone video documenting bone-dry record breaking conditions,” and noted that “NASA says this epic drought now affects 64 million Americans across the west.” Benjamin Cook of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies was shown saying, “Very likely the single worst drought of the last 150 years and possibly approaching the worst drought of the last 500 to 1,000 years.” NBC Nightly News (4/1, story 3, 1:15, Rascon) went on to report that “many California farmers are in crisis mode” and “losing billions of dollars every year that we have this drought.” With “many of them…surviving thanks to groundwater…they’re pumping so much of it so fast that the ground in some areas is literally sinking.”

Bloomberg News  (4/2, Marois) says “Brown’s order isn’t a burden for homebuilders who already face strict building codes that limit water use.” Instead, “the bigger impact will be on older homes, especially the 7.5 million residences built before codes enacted after the 1970s drought.” Yesterday’s order “proposed a statewide consumer rebate program to replace old appliances with water-saving and energy-efficient models.” “Conserving water in California isn’t just a suggestion anymore,” said the Huffington Post  (4/2, O’Connor). The Wall Street Journal  (4/2, Carlton, Subscription Publication), among other news outlets, also reports on Brown’s order.

In an editorial, the Sacramento (CA) Bee  (4/2) writes, “After three grinding years of drought, Brown has taken serious action. To which we say: Finally.” While “Brown is to be commended for heeding the alarm bells…California’s response to this slow-motion natural disaster has been nerve-wrackingly tentative until now.” The Los Angeles Times  (4/2), meanwhile, editorializes that “in the short term…the most effective projects may come in the form of software to better manage home water use, landscape design to better capture rainwater, and a greater respect for the value of the state’s most precious resource.”

Scientists: Climate Change Aggravating Drought. The New York Times  (4/2, Fountain, Subscription Publication) reports that according to scientists, “the severe California drought that has led the state to order cutbacks in water use may not have been set off by climate change…but global warming is making the situation worse.” Princeton’s Michael Oppenheimer, for example, said, “The drought is made of two components: not enough rain and too much heat. … The rain deficit isn’t clearly connected to climate change, but the planetary warming has made it more likely that the weather would be hotter in California.”

Beach: US Must Lift H-1B Gap, Address Worker Skill Set Gap.

Gary J. Beach, former publisher of CIO Magazine, writes in the Wall Street Journal  (4/1) that American workers have “despised the H-1B program” for undercutting jobs, but “only a minority of displaced workers took a long, hard look into the employment mirror and questioned whether their skill set was up-to-date, certified or cost competitive.” Beach says that in 2015, “the skill set of the future American worker” does not “stack up” well against international tech workers, and “job #1” for the US should be “reinventing public education to teach the digital skills needed in the workforce,” but “until that job is completed,” Congress must lift the annual cap on H-1B visas.

Heller Vows To Continue Fighting Proposed Yucca Mountain Repository.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (4/2, Rogers) reports that Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) said he will do everything in his power to keep Yucca Mountain from opening to spent nuclear fuel. When Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) retires, Sen. Heller will become senior senator and he discussed how he would continue to press “some of the issues that Senator Reid and I have worked on, worked closely together, continue to push them, issues that deal with Yucca Mountain, economic growth, housing and some of these issues that are near and dear to both of us.” Concerning Yucca, Heller said, “I think the discussion has been had over the last 20 years and I think it’s over. Yucca’s dead. We’re going to move on. I’ll continue to push that narrative just like Senator Reid and Senator Bryan before me.”

NYSERDA Solar Loan Program Extended.

Newsday  (4/2, Harrington) reports that as part of the new state budget, “a program that provides state-backed loans for residential solar panels and other green energy fixes with the loans repaid on monthly utility bills has been given a one-year reprieve.” On Wednesday, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority “sent messages to solar installers and others announcing extension of the popular program through March 31, 2016.” The program “had been scheduled to expire Wednesday for all but moderate-income customers, but last-minute negotiations had the program added to the state budget.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Hosts “Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day.”

The Suburban Journals Of Greater St. Louis  (4/2) reports that the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Society of Women Engineers “hosted more than 120 young girls at its third annual ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’” earlier this month, quoting senior civil engineering major Sofia Chkautovich saying, “We help young girls see that they can do in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and that it’s not just a male-oriented field.” Elementary and middle-school girls “completed a total of five activities, covering the fields of civil, mechanical, electrical, industrial and computer science engineering.”

Lego Project To Help Poorer Students Connect With STEM Fields Early.

The Cincinnati Enquirer  (4/1, Sparling) reports that nonprofit STEM education group iSPACE has created a program introducing Legos to students to children in high-poverty schools along with STEM content to steer children towards science oriented fields. Legos are noted as a favorite childhood toy for engineers, and while they may spark interest in science or provide an outlet for scientific experimentation, the toys can be “too pricey for some families,” barring students from realizing an early interest in the subject.

STEM Revival In New York Argued For.

Mark Schulte, a former New York City math teacher, writes in an op-ed in the New York Post  (4/2) that New York City’s STEM program “is in desperate need of a kick-start,” arguing that faltering performance is evident in the “dropoff” of students qualifying for national and state-wide competitions. He adds that schools have been “fading into obscurity” as a result of good principals being “lured away” by better pay or working conditions while “sub-par” principals are added “on racial or gender considerations.” Schulte concludes that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio should allow extra merit pay for the best STEM teachers and Chancellor Fariña should hire principals on merit.

STEM Class In Illinois Features Robotics.

The Chicago Tribune  (4/1, Staff) reports that a STEM class for first graders at St. Louis de Montfort School in Oak Lawn, Illinois taught about robotics and teambuilding.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Obama Releases Plan To Cut Emissions By 28% Over 10 Years.
ED Releases List Of Colleges On Heightened Cash Monitoring.
NCSU Researchers Develop Cyborg Cockroaches For Search And Rescue.
Commentary: Brasilia Should Focus On Sustainable Solutions To Water Scarcity.
DOE Moving Forward With New Efficiency Rules For Pumps.
Mothers Launching Science-Themed Clothing For Girls.

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