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

Leading the News

Obama Announces Initiative To Create Solar Industry Jobs.

President Obama announced the creation of a new program aimed at creating jobs in the solar industry, including equipping military members entering the civilian workforce with skills to succeed in the field, during a visit to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Media coverage of the announcement focused on the President’s comments and provided little depth, but did characterize the speech and initiative as a way for the Administration to promote spending on renewable energy.

The Washington Post  (4/4, Nakamura, Eilperin) reports Obama “launched a new initiative to expand the nation’s solar industry workforce” during his “first visit to Utah” as President. Obama “visited a field of solar panels” at Hill Air Force Base “as the Department of Energy announced it will seek to train 75,000 people – including veterans – to enter the solar workforce by 2020.” The number “increas[es] the goal” the department “set in May 2014 by 25,000 workers.”

Reuters  (4/4, Mason) reports the Defense Department’s “Solar Ready Vets” program will be initiated at 10 bases in an effort to prepare military members for solar jobs when they enter the civilian workforce. During a speech at the base, Obama said the program will “train transitioning military personnel for careers in this growing industry.” The AP  (4/4, Price) reports Obama’s “speech followed a round-table discussion on solar energy” that included “residents, veterans and Utah leaders.”

The New York Times  (4/4, Baker, Subscription Publication) reports the visit to Utah capped a two day trip during which Obama “ventured into Red America…to sell his economic agenda” as he “tried to demonstrate that both he and his ideas could travel anywhere in the country.” According to the Times, “it would be hard to find a place where he is less popular than in Utah.” David Simas, Obama’s director of political strategy and outreach, said the visits to Utah and Kentucky “build off key themes in recent speeches: ‘That there’s much more that unites us as Americans than divides us.’”

The Salt Lake (UT) Tribune  (4/4, Gehrke, Davidson) reports Dan Utecht, the Deputy Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, said the President has indicated that “no challenge poses a greater threat to our future generations than climate change” and the proposal will aid efforts to “reduce carbon pollution.”

According to the Military Times  (4/4, Shane), the program “is already underway at three sites and will train about 200 service members in solar panel installation, electrical system repair and building code regulations.” Energy Department Deputy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall indicated that the participants are “guaranteed interviews with private sector solar firms” following the six-week course.

Media widely characterized he speech and program as an effort by the Administration to promote solar power and spending on renewable energy initiatives. The Washington Times  (4/4, Boyer) says the President was “renew[ing] his push for spending on renewable energy.” Meanwhile, The Hill  (4/3, Cama) reported that Obama “used the speech as an opportunity to boast about the success of the solar power sector” and highlight it “as a prime opportunity for military veterans.” Obama noted that the “solar industry is adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy” and characterized the career opportunities as “good-paying jobs that are helping folks enter the middle class.”

Obama added, according to the CNN  (4/3, Liptak, Producer) website, that the “byproduct” of creating more solar jobs is making the “country safer” and “the planet cleaner.” The Wall Street Journal  (4/4, Tau) reports Obama expanded on that thought by saying, “One of the most important aspects of national security is strong economic security,” adding, “We can’t maintain the best military that the world has ever known unless we also have an economy that’s humming.”

USA Today  (4/4, Jackson) reports Obama also placed the program in the context of efforts to improve the economy and create new jobs. Obama said, “We have had the strongest economy, but we’re impacted by what happens around the world.” The struggling world economy, according to Obama, means the US must “redouble our efforts to make sure that we’re competitive, to make sure that we’re taking the steps that are needed for us to be successful.”

Welding Program Teaches Skills To Marines Preparing For Civilian Jobs. The CBS Evening News (4/3, story 4, 2:15, Rose) profiles a program at Camp Lejune, where US marines are learning precision welding techniques during their final four months of duty, with each program participant “guaranteed job after they’re discharged” because of a shortage in that field. According to CBS, 15 different private sector employers are now allowed access to 16 military bases to recruit and train future employees.

Higher Education

Student Debt Activists Rally Around “Defense To Repayment” Clause.

BuzzFeed  (4/6) reports that Democratic Senators hoping to help student loan consumers “mired in debt by predatory for-profit colleges” found an answer “buried deep in a federal promissory note signed by every student who takes out government loans: the ‘defense to repayment’ provision.” The article reports that this obscure clause “has become a rallying point for lawmakers and activists” seeking to help former students of schools owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc. The activists say that the language “obligates the federal government to forgive” Federal loan debts owed by Corinthian students. However, ED “has not specified how defense to repayment works or whether it has ever been used successfully in the past.”

Anti-Cheating Programs For Online Tests Raise Concerns.

The New York Times  (4/6, Singer, Subscription Publication) reports on new anti-cheating software called Proctortrack which uses college students’ webcams to “verify their identities before” tests. The piece notes that the program is part of a move by universities to maintain testing security as they increasingly move toward online courses, but notes that some students find the technology invasive. Such technologies “have raised questions about where to draw the line, and whether the new systems are fair and accurate.”

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 the speakers and presentations from the Engineering Research Council meeting, held in March.

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

New Plan Could Have Astronauts Orbiting Mars By 2033.

Aviation Week  (4/2, Morring) reports that a workshop hosted by The Planetary Society and chaired by Scott Hubbard and John Logsdon determined that with “inflation-adjusted funding levels comparable to what NASA is spending on its human-spaceflight effort today,” the US could afford to send astronauts into Mars orbit by 2033 and onto the surface by 2039. The article notes that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tasked The Aerospace Corporation to evaluate the cost of the proposal. The plan would require no “dramatic advances in technology,” and would rely on NASA’s Orion and Space Launch System. It would also be funded by using the ISS’ current budget once the station was shut down in 2024. According to the article, Logsdon believes that by undertaking an orbital mission before a landing, NASA would gain public support and “international and commercial partners.”

SPACE  (4/2, Cofield) notes that Hubbard called the proposal a “long-term, cost-constrained, executable humans-to-Mars program.” Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said that while the technical issues involved would be challenging, “the real problem” facing the proposal was politics. Hubbard added that the “major hurdles” NASA faced in the past, such as “biomedical, launch systems and so forth,” have been reduced to the point that they are less problematic than finding the necessary “political will.”

NBC News  (4/2, Boyle) and Space Policy Online  (4/2, Smith) also cover the story.

Ramos: Manned Mars Mission Will Be Challenging. The Hindu (IND)  (4/2) reports that at the inauguration of Kongu Engineering College’s Edulaunch initiative earlier this week, Joe Ramos, a former NASA associate director, said that a manned Mars mission will be “challenging” because of the conditions at the planet. He also discussed how NASA was “useful to mankind.”

Blog Coverage. Morgan Rehnberg at Universe Today  (4/2) considers the new Mars orbital plan “an exciting proposal by an organization with a credible history.” However, he does wonder whether starting with an orbital mission would adds unnecessary risks for astronauts.

Mark Whittington at the Examiner  (4/2) blog comments that the proposal could be modified by the next Administration, “reversing some of the more controversial decisions made by the Obama administration.”

Stony Brook University Wins $3M Award Aimed At Turning Discoveries Into Products.

Newsday  (4/4) reported that “Stony Brook University’s Center for Biotechnology has won a three-year, $3 million award from the National Institutes of Health designed to usher basic biomedical discoveries into commercial products. The award is one of only three granted and designates Stony Brook a research ‘hub’ in the NIH’s Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub program — REACH — which fosters public-private partnerships.”


Business Groups Demand Updates To H-1B, H-2A Programs.

The Washington Times  (4/6, Dinan) reports that “with the push for a broad immigration bill now dead in Congress,” business advocates are ramping up calls for Congressional Republicans “to at least consider updating” high-tech worker and farmworker visa programs “to help boost the economy.” The Times says businesses insist that the legislative gridlock “not detail their own needs, which they say are rising along with the economy.” Over five dozen Congress members said in a letter that “any move to stiffen enforcement should also revamp” the H-2A program, “sending a signal” that even the enforcement-only approach favored by Republican leadership “will run into trouble with Republicans who represent agriculture-heavy districts that rely on illegal immigrant labor to man the farms.”

Global Developments

Russian Scientists Develop “Bone Cement.”

“Russian scientists have created a new biological material they called ‘bone cement,’ which after 3D printing into a fracture or a crack, completely dissolves over time, while in its place the human body regenerates the missing part of the bone tissue,” according to RT (RUS)  (4/6). RT adds, “The new substance based on biological hydroxyapatite was created by scientists of the Russian National Research Nuclear University’s affiliate in the Siberian city of Seversk, Tomsk region.” The article adds that the substance could have “huge board potential in surgery, ranging from dentistry and cosmetology.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Foxx: Congress Should Pass Proposed Transportation Bill.

The Hill  (4/3, Laing) reported that Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Friday that it is still possible for Congress to pass a six-year, $478 billion transportation bill, known as the “Grow America Act,” even though lawmakers are discussing settling for a less comprehensive bill. The Hill added that Foxx said Congress should pass the proposed bill by President Obama because it “looks beyond filling last winter’s potholes and looks to building for the future.”

Controversy Surrounding Oklahoma Quakes, Fracking Mounts.

The New York Times  (4/4, Oppel, Wines, Subscription Publication) reports on the controversy surrounding the “sharp and steady increase” of earthquakes over the past five years in Oklahoma, which “many scientists” attribute to fracking. While elected leaders in Oklahoma “have been slow to address the problem,” regulators “have taken some protective measures.” Despite concerns, some “say the political will is missing to confront an earthquake threat tied to Oklahoma’s dominant industry.”

Reid’s Retirement Expected To Impact Yucca Mountain Project.

The Hill  (4/4, Cama) reported that the retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is expected to remove “one of the biggest obstacles to the construction of a nuclear waste site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.” Supporters claim that “Reid’s retirement could shake up the debate over the project and prompt lawmakers — particularly Democrats — to take a second look.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Central Kentucky Nonprofit Offers Students Toy Creation Classes.

The Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader  (4/6, Elben) reports that nonprofit Newton’s Attic provides Central Kentucky students a place to learn engineering, physics, and technology concepts by creating their own toys. The company plans to have courses over the summer and intends on adding professional development classes for teachers.

Colorado School To Host Girls In STEM Program.

The Summit (CO) Daily News  (4/6, Langley) reports that the Keystone Science School in Summit County, Colorado will be hosting a program on April 25 for girls between third and sixth grade interested in STEM programs. The program was designed to help allow girls to visualize themselves pursuing STEM careers, especially given the “harmful gender stereotypes” that endure, and to allow students to reflect on female leadership in the STEM fields.

Tennessee Area Schools Participate In Camp STEM.

The Murfreesboro (TN) Daily News Journal  (4/5) reports that Camp STEM hosted students from Rutherford County schools in Tennessee over spring break. The camp is designed to help students have “exciting, challenging and life-impacting STEM experiences” by showing them how STEM subjects work in hands-on activities.

Fort Monroe Authority Buildings No Longer Reserved For Virginia STEAM Academy.

The Hampton Roads (VA) Daily Press  (4/5, Brauchle, Subscription Publication) reports that a letter of intent between Fort Monroe Authority in Virginia and the Virginia STEAM Academy has expired, meaning buildings that had been reserved for the academy are available to any developer. The Academy has lacked sufficient funding to cover the renovation costs to convert the fort into a boarding school. The Virginia General Assembly denied bills this year that would have addressed the school and its governance structure.

Friday’s Lead Stories

New Plan Could Have Astronauts Orbiting Mars By 2033.
Michigan College Promoting Interest In Photonics, Laser Technician Careers.
University Of Tennessee Installs Solar Panels For Teaching, Research.
Obama Promotes Job Training At Louisville Tech Firm.
Obama To Discuss Clean Energy In Utah.
Palm Beach State College Receives NSF Grant.

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