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

Leading the News

Senators Call For Investigation Into H-1B Visa Program.

The AP  (4/9, Freking) reports that “citing concerns about hiring practices” at Southern California Edison, a bipartisan group of 10 US senators on Thursday asked the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Labor “to investigate whether the H-1B visa program is being used as intended.” The senators “said several U.S. employers have reportedly laid-off thousands of Americans and replaced them with foreign workers holding H-1B visas.” In a statement, SCE “said it abides by the law and will cooperate with any investigation that concerns the issues mentioned in the senators’ letter.” SCE “explained that it’s reducing its information technology department from 1,400 to 860,” and “of those left, 97 percent are permanent California residents and 3 percent are on H-1B visas.” Said SCE’s statement, “By transitioning some IT operations to external vendors, along with SCE eliminating some customized functions it will no longer provide, the company will focus on making significant, strategic changes that can benefit our customers.”

The Washington Times  (4/10, Dinan) reports that the senators said that they have “seen reports” that suggest U.S. companies lay off U.S. workers and “replace them with foreign contractors through the visa program — which would amount to illegal discrimination against the U.S. workers.”

The Los Angeles Times  (4/10, Mascaro, Puzzanghera) reports that the call for an investigation was “prompted by reports of massive layoffs” at SCE. Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois (D-Ill.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who lead the group, wrote in a letter Thursday, “We are concerned about recent information that has come to light regarding the abuse of the H-1B visa program by SCE and other employers to replace large numbers of American workers. … We respectfully request that you investigate the unacceptable replacement of American workers by H-1B workers to ascertain if SCE or any other U.S. companies that have engaged in this practice, or the IT companies supplying those companies with H-1B workers, have violated the law.”

The Hill  (4/10, Trujillo) adds that in the letter, the senators wrote, “To add insult to injury, many of the replaced American employees report that they have been forced to train the foreign workers who are taking their jobs.”

Higher Education

Nine Attorneys General Call On Duncan To Forgive Corinthian Students’ Debt.

Several media outlets are reporting on a letter sent by nine state attorneys general to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on behalf of former students of schools run by Corinthian Colleges Inc. The Los Angeles Times  (4/10, Kirkham) reports that California Attorney General Kamala Harris is among the officials calling on ED to forgive the students’ debt, saying that the “scandal-plagued for-profit college chain” broke state laws with deceptive practices. The article explains how the firm imploded last year after an ED “crackdown,” and notes that the AGs are calling on ED to “use a little-known federal regulation that allows students to avoid repaying loan debts for schools that broke state law by deceiving students.” The Times reports that ED spokeswoman Denise Horn said in a statement that ED is concerned about the students’ well being, and “We look forward to responding to their letter.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (4/10, Thomason) reports that the letter is in concert with a group of Senators and “a group of former Corinthian students who call themselves the ‘Corinthian 100.’” The piece notes that the states represented are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington, and notes that the letter says that the “students should not be held responsible for” Corinthian’s “deceptive practices…documented in lawsuits brought by several states as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

Bloomberg Politics  (4/9, Knowles) also covers this story, adding that Corinthian allegedly “lured students into loan agreements with false and misleading claims.” Bloomberg reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in Massachusetts in December “organized a letter to the Department of Education that was signed by 12 of her colleagues seeking the debt to be forgiven.” This piece notes that the “Corinthian 100” “have declared that they will not re-pay their loans taken out to pay for their education at Corinthian Colleges.”

Noting that all nine signatories of the letter are Democrats, the Huffington Post  (4/10, Nasiripour) reports that they say they have “evidence” that Corinthian “fraudulently urged” the students to “take out federal student loans to attend dodgy for-profit schools.” They are calling on Duncan to “use his existing authority to cancel” the students’ debts. The piece notes that CFPB, DOJ, and “authorities in most states have all either sued the company” or opened investigations over allegations that it advertised “false job prospects or graduation rates.” The Post reports that ED spokeswoman Dorie Nolt “didn’t respond to a request for comment.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer  (4/9), ConsumerAffairs  (4/10), the Sacramento (CA) Bee  (4/10), BuzzFeed  (4/10), and the Boston Business Journal  (4/10, Moore, Subscription Publication) also covered this story.

Pressure Mounting For Better Accreditation For Alternate Degree Programs.

Inside Higher Ed  (4/8, Fain) reports that there is increasing political support for “a system to encourage and oversee higher education upstarts that don’t look or act like colleges, such as online course providers and coding boot camps.” The piece suggests that such providers as Udacity, General Assembly, EdX, StraighterLine, and “other noninstitutional providers” could soon offer degrees and even Federal financial aid. The piece notes that ED is required to recognize an accreditor to clear the way for Federal aid.

Mexico, US “Widening Effort” To Train For STEM Fields.

The Dallas Morning News  (4/10, Corchado, Aguilera) reports that 14,800 Mexicans are studying in the US as part of a “widening effort” by the US and Mexico to integrate North America to be “even more competitive.” The training will help meet growing demand for the energy, telecommunications, and technological innovation fields, among other STEM fields.

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.)

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

Research and Development

Rice Engineering Students Developing Wearable Allowing Deaf To Feel Speech.

USA Today  (4/9) reports that engineering students at Rice University “are refining a vest that helps people born without hearing to ‘feel’ speech.” After speech is detected by a tablet computer, an app “feeds data to computer chips sewn into the vest,” which in turn “converts speech into vibrations.”

Northeastern Researchers Using Nanoparticles To Target Skin Cancer.

The Boston Business Journal  (4/10, Bartlett, Subscription Publication) reports that Northeastern University researchers are developing nanoparticles that could potentially cure skin cancer. The particles are applied topically and are “able to get inside cancer cells and identify cancerous growths.” According to research team leader Thomas Webster, a professor and chair of Northeastern University’s Department of Chemical Engineering, “the particles bypass healthy cells.”

Argonne’s Aurora Supercomputer Expected In 2018.

The Evaluation Engineering  (4/9) reports, “Under the joint Collaboration of the Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Lawrence Livermore (CORAL) initiative, the DOE announced a $200 million investment to deliver a supercomputer known as Aurora to the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF).” The supercomputer, expected to be commissioned in 2018, “will draw America’s top researchers to Argonne National Laboratory, the DOE said,” according to the article. DOE had “announced a $325 million investment to build state-of-the-art supercomputers at its Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore laboratories,” the article reports. Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science and Energy Lynn Orr said, “This machine…will put the United States one step closer to exascale computing.”

LNL Researchers Make Discoveries About Superconductivity.

The Los Alamos (NM) Monitor  (4/10) reports, “Taking understanding of quantum matter to new levels, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are exposing high-temperature superconductors to very high magnetic fields, changing the temperature at which the materials become perfectly conducting and revealing unique properties of these substances.” Brad Ramshaw, a Los Alamos scientist and lead researcher on the project said, “High magnetic-field measurements of doped copper-oxide superconductors are paving the way to a new theory of superconductivity.” Ramshaw and his coworkers are experimenting on ways to push “the boundaries of how matter can conduct electricity without the resistance that plagues normal materials carrying an electrical current,” the article reports.

Engineering and Public Policy

Fracking Could Release Radon, Study Says.

USA Today  (4/9, Szabo, Rice) reports, “Levels of cancer-causing radon gas in Pennsylvania homes have increased as the fracking industry has expanded, a new study shows.” The study “doesn’t conclusively prove that fracking releases radon from the ground,” but “the findings are concerning, says Joan Casey, a researcher at the University of California-Berkeley and University of California-San Francisco.” Pennsylvania’s “high radon levels stem from the type of bedrock that runs through much of the state, which contains radioactive materials such as uranium and radium, which degrade into radon, an invisible gas, Casey says.”

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, Pennsylvania’s leading natural gas organization, criticized anti-shale activists’ claims regarding fracking, issuing a sttement saying, “Thankfully, however, these suggestive scare tactics veiled as ‘research’ are easily refuted with readily available unbiased, fact-based data and independent scientific findings.”

NPR  (4/9, Hurdle, Phillips) also reports on the study, quoting study leader Dr. Brian Schwartz, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “One plausible explanation for elevated radon levels in people’s homes is the development of thousands of unconventional natural gas wells in Pennsylvania over the past 10 years,” he said. NPR also reports Casey issued a statement warning, “By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface.”

NBC News  (4/9, Fox, Naggiar) and CNBC  (4/9, Fox, Naggiar), The Hill  (4/10, Cama), The Baltimore Sun  (4/8) and The Washington Post  (4/9, Cha) also provide coverage.

Teams Vie For Money To Make Salt Water Drinkable.

NBC News  (4/10) reports that the Desal Prize will be secured by innovators who find a way to make “saltwater suitable for drinking or farming” in developing nations and possibly California. Six “engineering teams are competing in Alamogordo, New Mexico, for the chance to win $200,000 in prize funds.” Ku McMahan, “team lead for Securing Water for Food at USAID’s U.S. Global Development Lab,” said: “We looked at the landscape for already-existing technologies. … And what we chose then to do was partner with the US Bureau of Reclamation to put together a prize to try to further the market and create some of these technologies and then have them compete together in New Mexico.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

National Group Honors CTE Programs.

Caralee Adams writes at the Education Week  (4/10) “College Bound” blog that the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education held its spring consortium in Washington, DC, on Thursday, noting that a number of programs were selected for finalists for its Excellence in Action awards. The piece notes that an official with the group said that the programs “were recognized for achieving the highest CTE standards” and “demonstrated rigor, had data to back up their success, and reflected strong partnerships with employers, high schools, and colleges.”

Thieves Steal Truck With Virginia Robotics Team’s World Championships Robot Inside.

The Washington Post  (4/9, Balingit) reports that an “underdog” robotics team in Loudoun County, Virginia qualified for FIRST’s world championship competition in St. Louis, but the school SUV that had the team’s robot was stolen. The vehicle’s GPS showed the Chevy Tahoe was taken to Tennessee and was likely to be “dismantled and sold for parts.” The team now must re-engineer their practice robot while raising money for the trip. Robotics teams around the world have been rallying around the team to try and help, which is deemed “typical of the robotics community.”

Pittsburgh Public School Board Approves New Partial STEAM Magnet.

WESA-FM  Pittsburgh (4/9, Schneider) reports that the Pittsburgh Public School Board has approved the creation of a partial STEAM magnet school using nearly $1 million in grants. The board must also accept the grants, which it will do on April 22. Three other STEAM magnets will have curriculum developed using the grants, which were awarded by the Grable Foundation and the Fund for Excellence, and two instructors will be hired to teach the subjects.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Study Suggests That Many Could Be Made Carsick By Self-Driving Vehicles.
Software Engineer “Boot Camp” To Open In Santa Monica.
NYU, AT&T Program Solicits Tech Solutions For Disabled.
Instagram Creator’s H-1B Experience Discussed.
ED Releases Guide For Algebra Teachers.

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