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

Leading the News

Court To Hear Arguments Against EPA Plan To Cut Carbon Emissions From Power Plants.

The AP  (4/16, Hananel) reports the “centerpiece” of President Obama’s “effort to tackle climate change is facing a high-profile legal test as a federal appeals court considers a plan that has triggered furious opposition from Republicans, industry figures and coal-reliant states.” The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear “arguments Thursday in two cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s ambitious proposal to slash carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants that is blamed for global warming.” The lawsuits, one brought by Murray Energy Corp. and the other by a coalition of states, “are part of a growing political attack from opponents who say the move is illegal and will kill jobs, cripple demand for coal and drive up electricity prices.” The AP notes “at issue before the court is whether the EPA has legal authority for its plan under the Clean Air Act.”

The Hill  (4/16, Cama) reports that “while both cases are seen as facing an uphill battle, the court randomly assigned three of its most conservative judges to the panel hearing the case.” Each of the judges, “Karen Henderson, Thomas Griffith and Brett Kavanaugh — were appointed by Republican presidents.” But to supporters “of the EPA’s rule, a conservative panel can’t overshadow the longstanding precedent in which a regulation must be made final before it can be overturned.” Critics and supporters “of the regulation fully expect that such a lawsuit will be filed shortly after the EPA finalizes the rule, and that the case will likely be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune  (4/16, Lane) and Bloomberg News  (4/16, Drajem, Zajac) also provide coverage of this story.

In an editorial the Washington Times  (4/16) writes that “the court should still the EPA’s overreaching hand and enable the states to decide how best to balance the need for a clean environment with the necessity of providing electricity for homes and businesses.”

Higher Education

University Of Tennessee To Host Women In STEM Symposium.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (4/16) reports that the STEM committee within the University of Tennessee Commission for Women will hosts the Women in STEM Research Symposium Saturday on campus to present research they have created and to help combat misconceptions about the fields, which many believe to be “difficult.” The event is intended to encourage undergraduates, especially women, to keep studying the subjects. Committee Leader Mallory Ladd adds that the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields is nationwide and that the problem gets worse the further into a specialty one goes.

Former Corinthian Students May Get Loan Relief.

Bloomberg News  (4/16, Lorin, Staiti) reports that the Department of Education suggested late on Tuesday that former students of Corinthian College, “who have borrowed billions of dollars through the federal student-loan program, may have their debts forgiven if they can show they have been defrauded.” ED has “received demands from at least 250 students to have their loans forgiven as borrowers staged what they called a ‘debt strike,’” according to an unidentified “agency official.” The article quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying in a statement, “When our borrowers bring claims to us that their school committed fraud or other violations of state law against them, we will give them the relief that they are entitled to under federal law and regulations.”

$30 Million Fine Latest In Corinthian’s String Of Troubles. The Washington Post  (4/15, Douglas-Gabriel) reports in its “Wonkblog” blog about the implosion of Corinthian Colleges Inc. last year, taking note of the accusations of fraudulent practices that led ED to cut off Federal financial aid, and touching on the plight of students who now owe thousands for student loans. The piece reports on the recently announced ED fine of $30 million against the firm “for misrepresenting job placement rates to students at its Heald College campuses.” The Post quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “Instead of providing clear and accurate information to help students choose which college to attend, Corinthian violated students’ and taxpayers’ trust. Their substantial misrepresentations evidence a blatant disregard not just for professional standards, but for students’ futures.”

Corinthian Fine Could Signal Renewed Push To Regulate For-Profits. The Chronicle of Higher Education  (4/16) reports that in addition to the fine, ED is cutting off Title IV funding to the Heald campuses, quoting Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “This should be a wake-up call for consumers across the country about the abuses that can exist within the for-profit college sector. We will continue to hold the career-college industry accountable and demand reform for the good of students and taxpayers.” The Chronicle suggests that the move against Corinthian could mean that ED is “devoting renewed attention to such reporting by for-profit colleges, and could have implications that extend far beyond Corinthian.”

ED Approves Two Competency-Based Programs.

Inside Higher Ed  (4/15) reports that ED has approved programs at Walden University and the Texas State College System “that do not rely on the credit hour” for Federal student aid eligibility. The programs are based on “a form of competency-based education called direct assessment,” and join four others that have been given the green light by ED and accreditors.

Wealthiest Universities’ Endowments Grow Faster.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/16, Korn, Subscription Publication) writes that a report to be published by Moody’s Investors Service found that the top 40 wealthiest universities’ endowments are growing faster than those of other schools, attributing to strong performance on investments and donors. The schools had their assets grow half-again between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2014, much better than those with less money but similar credit ratings.

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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Accreditation and Professional Development

Ohio Professor Gets NSF Grant For Super-Strong Adhesive Research.

The Akron (OH) Beacon Journal  (4/16) reports that the National Science Foundation has given University of Akron mechanical engineering professor Shing-Chung Josh Wong a $736,000 grant to support his research into a “super-strong adhesive,” noting that he was inspired to develop the “dry, reusable adhesive” by “the ability of a variety of creatures, including geckos, spiders, flies and mussels, to stick to surfaces and hang upside down from them.” The piece notes that Wong has cofounded a firm called Akron Ascent Innovations to develop the substance, which is “spun from a blend of polymers.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer  (4/16) reports that potential customers for the adhesive “include industrial and consumer adhesive suppliers, automobile and aerospace manufacturers, biomedical and other industries.”

Research and Development

House Republicans Introduce US Research Policy Bill.

Science Magazine  (4/16, Mervis, Malakoff) reports “the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step today in its 2-year effort to reshape federal research policy.” The committee introduced “a long-awaited and controversial bill that covers the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), research at the Department of Energy (DOE), and federal science education policy.” The legislation “calls for funding most Office of Science programs at 2016 levels that match those proposed by the Obama Administration, and then keeping budgets flat in 2017.” The Office of Science overall “would get a 5.4% boost to $5.34 billion.” The bill also increases funding for fusion research but it cuts the Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program.

Global Developments

Saab, Embraer To Partner On F-X2 Project For Brazilian Air Force.

Bloomberg  (4/16) reports that Saab and Embraer have announced that they will partner to jointly manage the F-X2 project for the Brazilian Air Force. The article enumerates the roles that the companies will play in the contract, with Embraer to conduct “systems development, integration, flight test, final assembly and aircraft deliveries” and more. Bloomberg notes that the partnership is contingent on contracts between Saab and COMAER coming into effect, which is expected before H2 2015.

Reuters  (4/15, Gaier) reports that the partners, who formalized their partnership Tuesday on the $5.4 billion project at the LAAD defense fair, intend to develop a plan before July that would begin exports of the Gripen fighter jet from Brazil by 2023, when delivery of 36 Gripen NG single-engine jets to the Brazilian Air Force is completed, according to Embraer defense unit head Jackson Schneider. That contract is set to begin in 2018.

Engineering and Public Policy

US Navy Chooses 13 Contractors For $49 Million Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Contract.

GovCon Wire  (4/16, Forrester) reports that the US Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division will work with 13 contractors as part of its five-year, $49 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to support intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The contractors are BAE Systems, Alion Science and Technology, Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, DigitalGlobe, Exelis, G3 Technologies, Herrick Technology Laboratories, The HumanGeoGroup, Leidos, NAL Research, Northrop Grumman, Xetron, Scientific Research Corp, and the Southwest Research Institute.

House Commission Grants Approval To $35B Energy, Water Spending Bill.

The Hill  (4/16, Henry) reports, “Energy and Water appropriators easily passed their $35.4 billion funding bill on Wednesday.” The legislation “spends $1.2 billion more in 2016 than the current fiscal year, $633 million less than President Obama requested in his budget.” Despite the “easy passage” of the bill, “subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) acknowledged that Congress and the White House could still spar over amendments as the legislative process continues.” The “underlying bill” boosts “funding for nuclear weapons security programs, the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Energy programs and scientific research, among other things.” In addition “it cuts funding for renewable energy programs by $279 million while increasing funding for research into fossil fuels and nuclear power.”

House Panel Clears Bill To Give States Power To Regulate Coal Ash.

The AP  (4/16) reports that on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill giving the authority to regulate coal ash to the states on a 32-19 vote. The AP says that the bill “largely” bypasses an EPA rule issued last year.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Up 2% From 2012 To 2013.

The Daily Caller  (4/16, Bastasch) reported that the EPA says that greenhouse gas emissions rose two percent from 2012 to 2013, “despite” Administration efforts to reduce the gases. The EPA said that the increase was due to an “increase in the carbon intensity of fuels consumed to generate electricity due to an increase in coal consumption” due to the exceptionally cold winter and economic factors. The Caller also notes that the EPA says that emissions are down nine percent since 2005, but says that the US “saw a huge decrease in emissions after the recession hit in 2007.”

The Hill  (4/15, Henry) reports that electricity generation “accounted for 31 percent of those emissions, followed by transportation at 27 percent, and 21 percent from industry and manufacturing.” In its press release, the EPA said, “Current greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks and EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan will eliminate billions of tons of greenhouse gas pollution, save lives through air quality benefits and save Americans money at the pump.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Spring ISD Will Convert YMCA Into STEM Center.

The Houston Chronicle  (4/16, Kirk) reports that the Spring Independent School District is “planning to move forward” with creating a STEM multipurpose center at a former YMCA. Meetings conducted between March 23 and 31 received more than 4,100 comments from the community as to what the center should become. The center may be used for community education, college prep, and parental engagement. Bids to convert the facility will be sought starting in May.

Girls-Only Academies In Los Angeles Will Focus On STEM, Athletics.

The Education Week  (4/16) reports in its District Dossier blog on the continuing story about the Los Angeles Girls-Only Academies. It notes that one of the two schools would be a district-run STEM academy, while the other would be a charter focused on athletics. Both would open in 2016-17. Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said that the district’s female student population is “underserved in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” An academy for boys is also under consideration. Education Week notes that the ED has given an explanation for helping districts develop single-gendered schools without triggering Title IX reprisal.

Project Leads The Way CEO Argues VEX Robotics Championship Shows Importance Of STEM Careers.

President and CEO of STEM Nonprofit Project Lead The Way Vince Bertram argues in an op-ed in the Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal  (4/15) reports that the 2015 VEX Robotics World Championship underscores the importance of giving US students opportunities in STEM fields. He contends that “too many American students are missing out” on STEM preparation and graduate high school “inadequately prepared for college and careers,” and that competitions such as the VEX Robotics Championship is “engaging and relevant” to students. Finally, the Championship “illustrate[s] that progress is being made” to prepare students for “the jobs of tomorrow.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Five Senators Push Back On McConnell’s Efforts To Have States Opt-Out Of Clean Power Plan.
ED Fines Corinthian Unit $30 Million Over Job Placement Claims.
WSJournal Op-Ed: Patent Troll Legislation Is Too Broad, Could Hurt Universities.
“Position Gap” More Important Than Wage Gap For Women In Tech.
Telecom Firms File Legal Challenge To FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules.
Los Angeles Unified School District Approves All-Girl STEM Academy.

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