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

Leading the News

As Part Of Settlement, DOJ Could Force GM To Plead Guilty.

The Detroit News  (5/24, Shepardson) reports that according to Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning, GM may be forced to plead guilty “as part of a settlement with the Justice Department, which is nearing a decision on whether to seek criminal charges against the automaker in its delayed recall of 2.6 million cars for ignition switch defects linked to at least 104 deaths.” While it is unclear what DOJ “could be considering charging GM with,” the “immediate impact of a guilty plea would be that the automaker would need waivers from the Labor Department to handle employee pension and retirement savings plans.” In addition, the company “would need exemptions from the Securities and Exchange Commission for some debt offerings,” and government contracts could be impacted.

NHTSA Chief Moved Quickly To Get Dangerous Vehicles Off The Road. Reuters  (5/25, Morgan) says that since taking over NHTSA in January, Administrator Mark Rosekind has acted quickly to force automakers to recall defective vehicles, a move Reuters says demonstrates greater willingness on his part than his predecessors to use the government’s legal powers. Rosekind took over the agency in the wake of a year of public and congressional criticism over its response to safety crises, and his mandate was to get dangerous vehicles off the road.

Higher Education

Georgia College President Criticizes ED College Rating Plan.

In an op-ed for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (5/26), Ed L. Schrader, president of Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, critiques Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Obama Administration’s proposal to “saddle colleges and universities with an unworkable federal college ratings system.” Schrader concedes that the Federal government has a legitimate role in “overseeing and maintaining the world’s greatest higher education system and finding more ways to improve the quality and availability of higher education,” but argues that the proposed rating system “is tone deaf to the contexts and settings in which many colleges and universities serve.” He points out that “schools in areas traditionally underserved by higher education” are often attended by students with limited support, leading to higher-than-average dropout rates. Schrader suggests that currently existing accrediting agencies are sufficient to “hold colleges and universities accountable and guide students as they select the institution that best suits them.”

New College Grads Less Likely To Find Underemployment.

In a front-page article, the Washington Post  (5/23, Mui) reports that economists are saying that “the tide is turning” on the underemployment of college graduates, with those graduating in 2015 having not only the “best chance since the recession” to land a job, but one that utilizes their degree. A Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently found that the rate of underemployment “fell substantially over the past year but still stands at about 45 percent.” However, according to the Post, there is a “brightening outlook for college graduates” that appears to already be affecting the economy.

Pennsylvania Colleges Partnering To Align Engineering Programs.

The Philadelphia Inquirer  (5/26, Lai) reports that Rowan University in Glassboro, Pennsylvania, and Rowan College at Gloucester County are both looking to expand enrollment in their engineering programs, and have therefore entered into a partnership “to align their engineering programs and create a road map for transfer.” Under the arrangement, “community college students will now take essentially the same courses” as those at the university.

Two Of Three New Mexico Research Universities Mainly Graduate Liberal Arts Majors.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (5/26) reports that despite the national push to promote STEM education at the university level, most of the graduates at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University are liberal arts majors. However, the state’s third research university, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, has no non-STEM graduates.

US Universities Lack Botany Majors.

The AP  (5/26, Lauer) reports that the number of US universities offering botany degrees has halved since 1988, which has resulted in the closure of expensive herbaria in a number of schools. The lack of new students could make plant life “a virtual mystery” and could make it more difficult to create alternative fuels and medicines, among other things. NSF Division of Environmental Biology program officer Joe Miller said that the lack of students will mean “we aren’t going to understand what we have in the world.” Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission botanist Theo Witsell added that while there “aren’t a lot of open jobs,” no one is moving in to the field to replace retiring older workers.

ASEE Member Comments on Strategic Doing
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Research and Development

French Company Develops 3-D Heart Modeling Program.

The NPR  (5/22, Farr) “Shots” blog reported that “recent advancements in the field of computer-based modeling” may help cardiovascular surgeons to see a patient’s heart in 3-D. French company Dassault Systèmes released its “Living Heart Project,” in which physicians can take a patient’s scan, convert it into a 3-D model, and consider all possibilities before the patient undergoes surgery. While the technology has not yet been approved for diagnostic purposes, hospitals can purchase it for educational and research purposes.

Columnist Argues The Value Of The Space Program.

In their “Venture Bound” column for the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune  (5/24), Wayne Anderson and Carla Anderson wrote that they learned much more about how NASA technology has impacted people’s lives on Earth by visiting the Kennedy Space Center. NASA is “justifiably proud” about what it has accomplished. The pair noted that much of “what we take for granted today” has its roots in NASA, stressing that any time someone criticizes NASA’s costs, they need to look at its benefits as well.

In contrast, in his column for the Daily Nation (KEN)  (5/24), Waga Odongo wrote that spending on space may not be justified because it can lead to technology that has military applications. Odongo believes that Earth is “a bit more paranoid and unsafe” because of NASA, so the money spent on space exploration would be better spent on studying the ocean.

Global Developments

UAE Space Agency Lays Out Its Strategic Framework.

The AP  (5/26, Schreck) reports that the UAE issued its “strategic framework “for the UAE Space Agency, which was formed last year. During the rollout, agency Chairman Khalifa Mohammed Thani al-Rumaithi said, “The United Arab Emirates is seeking to confirm its status as a spacefaring nation.” Mohammed Nasser al-Ahbabi told the publication, “We as a space agency support the idea that the UAE needs to be a hub for space,” and that Aabar Investments’ $280 million investment into Virgin Galactic will fall outside of the agency’s purview, even though Aabar Investments is backed by the Abu Dhabi government. Meanwhile, the article notes that among the initiatives revealed on Monday is “an academic space program involving Yahsat, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute,” and Orbital ATK.

The Abu Dhabi (ARE) National  (5/25) notes that along with the academic space program, the region’s “first Space Research Center” will launch in Al Ain in the coming five years.

The University Herald  (5/25), in its coverage of the new strategic plan, has a statement from Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, about the agency’s Hope Mars probe, which will launch in 2020. Elachi said, “The UAE’s Hope Probe to Mars will not only advance human scientific knowledge and strengthen the UAE’s technological capabilities; it will also provide inspiration to all the young people in the UAE and throughout the Arab world.”

The Gulf News (ARE)  (5/26, Kader), Khaleej Times (ARE)  (5/26, Debusmann), and Abu Dhabi (ARE) National  (5/25, Malek) also covers the story.

Industry News

Industry Considering 100-Year Service Lifespan For Nuclear Plants.

The Charlotte (NC) Business Journal  (5/22, Downey, Subscription Publication) reports in its “Energy Inc.,” blog that Areva Inc., CEO Gary Mignogna wants the NRC and the nuclear industry to “consider a 100-year life cycle” for nuclear power plants. Mignogna told the Charlotte Business Journal’s Energy Inc Summit Thursday that former Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers questioned whether plants could operate much beyond the 20-year extension the NRC currently offers after a plant’s 40-year initial license, adding, “But Jim’s a lawyer. I’m an engineer. The material condition of the plants is just fine.” Toshiba America Energy Systems chief executive of Ali Azad says his organization is working on reverse engineering to fabricate replacement parts for older plants, since many of the original equipment providers may no longer be in business.

Enhanced Technology Improves Water Use In Fracking.

The Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram  (5/24, McEwen) reported that Jean-Philippe Nicot, research scientist at the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University Texas at Austin, “said that the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing in developing shale resources has raised public concern about the impact of fresh water use on aquifers used to provide drinking water and on surface water.” Other public concerns “center on surface spills, defective surface casing, disposal practices and possible contamination, either by methane or hydraulic fracturing chemical additives,” the article reports, adding that “the oil and gas industry is focusing on developing technology to use more brackish water, recycle flowback water from hydraulic fracturing projects, improve water management and operations and supporting studies to increase knowledge of fundamental processes, Nicot said.” He called on oil operators to collaborate more.

Audi Sees Electronics Of Increased Importance For Autos.

Bloomberg News  (5/24, Rauwald) reports that Audio “expects that electronics and digital features will become just as important as sheer horsepower for global carmakers as they brace for a fundamental industry shift and new competitors and potential allies emerge.” Audi’s sales chief, Luca de Meo, said Sunday in Shanghai, “By 2020, 50 percent of value creation will be based on apps, software, electronic systems and digital services. … This will totally change our industry and our offering.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal  (5/24, Murphy, Subscription Publication) that Audi on Sunday unveiled its latest connected-car advancements in Shanghai, where it is hoping that the new features will allow it to weather a down-turn in sales of high-end cars. Reuters  (5/22) reports that Audi said on Friday that it will develop navigation and similar functions with Chinese web-service provider Baidu. Separately, Reuters  (5/25, Wolde) reports that Daimler on Monday also announced that it is working to include Baidu software in its vehicles.

Bloomberg News  (5/22, Rauwald) reports that Audi “is open to other carmakers joining the consortium bidding for Nokia Oyj’s HERE maps business, the automaker’s research and development chief Ulrich Hackenberg said.” Hackenburg, speaking on the sidelines of the Audi shareholder meeting on Friday, said, “It’s important to ensure free availability of the data. Data management will play an important role in the future.” Reuters  (5/22) reports that the HERE consortium currently consists of Audi, Mercedes and BMW.

Engineering and Public Policy

Experts Place More Blame On US Army Corps Of Engineers 10 Years After Katrina.

The New York Times  (5/24, Robertson, Schwartz, Subscription Publication) reports that almost 10 years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the US Army Corps of Engineers acknowledges that the “catastrophic flooding of this city was caused not merely by a powerful storm but primarily by fatal engineering flaws in the city’s flood protection system.” An upcoming article in the peer-reviewed journal Water Policy indicates that experts assessed the levee system’s design process and contend “that fault should fall even more squarely on the corps” and also on local officials.

GOP Presidential Candidates Walk Thin Line On Nuclear Waste.

The National Journal  (5/25, Plautz, Subscription Publication) reports that candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination are in “an awkward spot” when taking a stance on where the country should store its radioactive waste, with the early primary states of South Carolina and Nevada with serious stakes in the issue. While the national GOP wants to open Nevada’s Yucca Mountain facility after Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is no longer in the Senate to block it and Sens. Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Dr. Ben Carson have expressed support, former Govs. Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee have said that local consent is crucial in approving a site and neither Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) nor former HP Executive Carly Fiorina have an expressed position. Democratic frontrunner former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opposed the project during her 2008 presidential bid.

Report: New Emission Regulations Would Raise Electricity Rates And Hurt Coal.

The Wall Street Journal  (5/22, Harder) reports that a report released by the Energy Information Administration on Friday finds that the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would hike electricity prices five percent and double the amount of coal-fired electricity taken offline by 2040. The report, written by the agency at the request of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), produces different figures than the EPA, which says that electricity rates will drop by up to 8.7 percent by 2030.

The Washington (DC) Examiner  (5/26, Colman) reports that 90 megawatts of coal-fueled electricity will be taken off the grid under the rules, opposed to 40 megawatts without them. EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia responded to news of the report by saying that “In many respects, it will be the approaches that states and utilities adopt as a result of assessing their own needs that will determine the impacts of the program.”

The Washington (DC) Examiner  (5/26, Siciliano) reports separately that the report’s unveiling has strengthened GOP resolve to block the plan, with Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee Chair Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WV) saying that “This new analysis from the administration’s own energy statistician calls needed attention to the threats posed by the president’s misguided ‘Clean Power Plan.’”

Department Of Energy Report Promotes Larger Wind Turbines.

The Washington (DC) Examiner  (5/26, Siciliano) reports that a report released by the Department of Energy endorses the construction of larger wind turbines in the United States as a means of boosting wind energy production, but says that they will likely “be more difficult and expensive to build.” The report, released at the Windpower 2015 Conference, says that “This expanded technical potential is primarily in the Southeast United States, with improved deployment potential for wind in the Northeast and throughout the West as well,” and supporters are pushing the construction of turbines as tall as 426 feet. However, building the massive turbines becomes more expensive as parts that cannot be assembled on site must be transported.

Elementary/Secondary Education

High Schools Pushing Students Towards Aviation And Aerospace Studies.

US News & World Report  reports in its “High School Notes” blog that “some high school teachers are encouraging teens to reach new heights – literally – through aviation and aerospace education.” Rebecca Vieyra, an Albert Einstein distinguished educator fellow at NASA and a former high school physics teacher, is interviewed for the article and says that “teaching students about how flight occurs is a good way to grow their interest in science, technology, engineering and math topics.” The article goes on to detail programs at high schools across the country which are focusing on teaching students to explore aviation and aerospace activities.

Philadelphia Science Festival 2015 Reviewed.

The Philadelphia Tribune  (5/26, Hill) reports that the Philadelphia Science Festival offers students the opportunity to create robots, learn about farms, look at the stars, and understand the science of motion. The nine-day science festival includes lectures, debates, exhibits, and for the first time, STEM teacher workshops.

South Carolina Elementary School Hosts STEM Programs.

The Aiken (SC) Standard  (5/25, Novit) reports that programs at Greendale Elementary in South Carolina have taught students about STEM subjects through hands-on learning and has included guests from the Savannah River Ecology lab, Home Depot, and Brick4Kids. Principal Sonya Colvin said that the “strong STEM foundation” will prepare children “for the next level.”

Attract Female Engineers By Cultivating Talented Girls, Not Reframing Subject.

MSA Professional Services project engineer Raine Gardner writes in an op-ed to the Madison (WI) Capital Times  (5/25) that those that claim engineering should be “more relevant” “couldn’t be further from the truth” because engineering already “impacts society in all that we see, do, touch and use.” Gardner says she entered engineering “because I grew up in a family of problem solvers” and she was taught “I could do anything boys could do.” Instead, teachers and schools should “emphasize this reality” rather than “reword descriptions.” She concludes that to recruit women, schools should “cultivate and nurture” girls with math, science, and related skills, expose them to engineering, let them know they can “successfully handle the roles of engineer and parent,” and not “belittle women by thinking we can only work in jobs that fill our hearts and souls.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

AAAS Study Shows Federal R&D Funding On The Decline.
Women In Technology Group Gives University Of Washington Recruitment Award.
US Air Force Names New Chief Scientist.
India Signals Energy Interest In Mexico, Colombia.
House Passes Legislation To Aid Private Space Industry.
Senate Committee Approves Energy Legislation.

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