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

Leading the News

Officials Speak At NBAF Groundbreaking Ceremony.

The AP  (5/28, Draper) reports that Federal officials, including DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, were present at the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility at Kansas State University. The AP says the NBAF “will feature the nation’s most secure animal disease research lab.” Johnson is quoted saying, “NBAF addresses a serious vulnerability, that biological or agricultural threats could have a substantial effect on the food supply of this nation and have serious public health consequences.” The facility “will replace the aging Plum Island, New York, facility” and is located in the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, which “has the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world,” according to DHS.

The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal  (5/27) reports that “the state’s most powerful politicians,” such as the governor and members of the Kansas’s Congressional delegation, joined the Cabinet members at the ceremony. The Capital-Journal cites DHS estimates that “Construction will be completed in 2021 and NBAF will replace the Plum Island facility in 2023.” The Capital-Journal also notes that all US Representatives from Kansas “voted against an appropriations bill in March that granted the final $300 million in federal funds for NBAF” out of “opposition to President Barack Obama’s immigration policy.”

The Hill  (5/27, Byrnes) reports that Johnson called the Senate’s failure to extend parts of the Patriot Act due to expire Sunday “alarming,” saying that “The Senate has failed to pass this reasonable compromise or any other legislation in place of the authorities that are about to expire at midnight on Sunday. The Senate, I hope, will act soon.”

The Wichita (KS) Eagle  (5/28) says the “consensus of Federal and state leaders” was that the NBAF “will be the front line in protecting the nation’s food supply.” Johnson is quoted saying, “We will now be able to ensure availability of vaccines and other rapid-response capabilities to curb any outbreak.” Johnson admitted to asking “What’s an NBAF?” when meeting with Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, but afterwards, “I went back to our office and I said to our staff, ‘Please tell me we are supporting and committed to this very important facility.’ And we are, and we will be.”

Higher Education

Federal Judge Tosses APC Challenge To Gainful Employment Rule.

The Washington Post  (5/27, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that US District Judge Lewis Kaplan has tossed out a challenge to ED’s “rules limiting the amount of debt students can carry in career-training programs” filed by the Association of Proprietary Colleges. The Post characterizes the ruling as “a blow to the beleaguered for-profit college industry,” and reports that it comes as the for-profit college sector is “buckling under government lawsuits, regulatory scrutiny and depressed student enrollment.” The Post reports that the ruling leaves “little hope for” another lawsuit aimed at blocking ED’s gainful employment rule.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (5/28) reports that the APC “represents 20 institutions in New York,” and notes that Kaplan’s ruling said that “the association’s claim that the department had overstepped its bounds in issuing the rule ‘is quite surprising, but not for its merit. It is surprising because it is at best ill conceived and at worst misleading.’” The Chronicle notes that another lawsuit, filed by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, “is still pending.”

Reuters  (5/27, Ax) also covers this story, quoting Kaplan writing in his ruling, “DOE has a strong interest in ensuring that students – who are, after all, the direct (and Congress’s intended) beneficiaries of Title IV federal aid programs – attend schools that prepare them adequately for careers sufficient for them to repay their taxpayer-financed student loans.” The Consumerist  (5/27) also covers this story.

Survey Questions Colleges’ Use Of High School Discipline Records In Admissions Decisions.

Inside Higher Ed  (5/26) reports that according to a new survey conducted by the Center for Community Alternatives, most US colleges consider high school disciplinary records as a condition of admittance, “even without formal policies on what role these records should play in admissions decisions.” The survey was released with a report “questioning whether colleges are too quick to rule out qualified applicants because of something they did in their high school years that may be irrelevant to their chances of academic success.” The article reports that the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers took part in conducting the survey.

Senate, House Education Committees Turn To Higher Education Act.

Education Week  (5/28, Camera) reports in its “Politics K-12” blog, on the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Senate education committee chairman Lamar Alexander and ranking member Patty Murray announced “bipartisan working groups to draft” a bill, in the areas of “accreditation, accountability, affordability and financial aid, and sexual assault and safety.” Alexander has identified “eliminating unnecessary red tape, saving students money, and removing obstacles to innovation” as goals for the bill. On the House side, education committee chairman John Kline and his fellow Republican members have identified as their goals: “empowering students to make informed decisions, simplifying and improving student aid, promoting innovation, increasing access and completion, and ensuring strong accountability while limiting the federal role.”

Private Colleges Increase Effort To Recruit Community College Transfers.

The Hechinger Report  (5/28, Marcus) reports on the efforts by small private colleges to recruit transfer students from community colleges. That effort includes having offices on site at community colleges; “working with community colleges to align their course requirements;” and offering “degree completion” courses and programs on nights and weekends. It is also not just the individual schools involved, but the Council of Independent Colleges has “a national initiative to increase the number of community college graduates transferring to its member schools.” Earlier studies and data from the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that many community college transfer students “lose nearly all of their credits in the process.” That was also more true of private colleges that public colleges, and despite these efforts by schools and the association there is still “only a trickle” of community college students transferring to private colleges. The story also appears on the website of US News & World Report .

Rural Oregon Students Found Less Likely To Start College Or Stay.

Education Week  (5/28, Mader) reports in its “Rural Education” blog, on a study commissioned by the Institute of Education Sciences finding that public school graduates from rural schools in Oregon were “less likely to enroll in postsecondary institutions and less likely to persist to the second year of postsecondary education” than were students from urban and suburban schools. While the study found that 55 percent of students from rural schools enrolled in college, 63 percent of urban and suburban students did, and while 78 percent of rural students “returned for the second year,” 83 percent of nonrural students did.

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Research and Development

NASA Seeking Tech Research Proposals From Universities.

The Christian Science Monitor  (5/27, Lindsay) reports that NASA’s Early Stage Innovations team is seeking “proposals from American universities for technology that would benefit NASA’s space program and the wider aerospace community.” Around a dozen research teams will share $500,000 in grants to support “researching and developing their product over the next two to three years.” The Monitor quotes NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk saying, “We are looking for innovative ideas where top researchers from US universities can help solve the toughest space technology challenges as we look to begin our journey to pioneer our solar system. The areas of focus we selected align with our Space Technology Roadmaps, which reflect the National Research Council’s review of these roadmaps.”

Kent State University Assistant Professor Receives $1.84 Million Grant To Develop ‘Nanobombs.’

In continuing coverage, Crain’s Cleveland Business  (5/28) reports that the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research has awarded assistant professor Min-Ho Kim at Kent State University a five-year, $1.84 million grant to “develop ‘nanobombs’ — a nanotechnology-based therapeutic platform that can treat biofilm infection in chronic wounds.” Moreover, “Kim will lead a research collaboration with three other research laboratories.”

Air Force Research Laboratory Commander Confirms CHAMP Is Operational.

Digital Trends  (5/27, Chang) frequently references Hollywood’s depictions of EMP weapons as it notes that the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project has been confirmed operational by Air Force Research Laboratory commander Major General Tom Masiello. Only five of the weapons have been commissioned, though others may be underway soon.

Newsmax  (5/27, Hughes) adds that the weapon is “something akin to what Hollywood screenwriters dreamed up for ‘Ocean’s 11’ and ‘The Matrix’” and is reported to have been used covertly in Libya to knock out electronics.

Industry News

Michigan Business, Government Leaders Launch Driverless Car Initiative.

Bloomberg News  (5/27, Naughton) reports that a coalition of business and government leaders in Michigan including Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and General Motors Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra called the MICHauto group has launched an initiative “to promote Detroit and Michigan for development of a new generation of mobility, including self-driving cars.” The piece reports that the effort is meant to counter “Silicon Valley’s growing automotive influence as companies such as Google and Apple develop driverless vehicles alongside electric-car maker Tesla Motors.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Coal’s Supporters Will Fight Clean Power Plan.

An analysis by Politico  (5/28, Samuelsohn) of responses from supporters of the coal industry finds that they have many arguments in favor of keeping coal as a major source of US electricity. Among these are that it will help keep the US energy independent, is most abundant, and supports jobs in economically depressed areas. Advocates like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say that they will pursue legislative, litigative, and political tactics to protect the industry.

Sen. Manchin Gives Interview On Coal’s Challenges. In an interview with the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch  (5/28, Roberts), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that he’s had sharp words with President Obama over his “demonizing” of the coal industry and failure to produce cost-effective clean coal technology. Manchin also criticized the private sector for backing away from research and development in the field, but says that the state’s universities hold promise as centers of research that can help save the coal industry.

Sen. Manchin Gives Interview On Coal’s Challenges.

In an interview with the Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch  (5/28, Roberts), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said that he’s had sharp words with President Obama over his “demonizing” of the coal industry and failure to produce cost-effective clean coal technology. Manchin also criticized the private sector for backing away from research and development in the field, but says that the state’s universities hold promise as centers of research that can help save the coal industry.

Wheeler To Propose Broadband Subsidy Plan To Aid Poor.

A front-page story in the New York Times  (5/28, A1, Ruiz, Subscription Publication) reports that in the FCC’s “strongest recognition yet that high-speed Internet access is as essential to economic well-being as good transportation and telephone service,” agency officials say Chairman Tom Wheeler today “will circulate a plan to his fellow commissioners suggesting sweeping changes to a $1.7 billion subsidy program charged with ensuring that all Americans have affordable access to advanced telecommunications services.” According to the officials, Wheeler “will propose potentially giving recipients a choice of phone service, Internet service or a mix of both.” The Times says the plan “is likely to secure the support of the FCC’s Democratic majority in a vote next month,” but is “almost certain to also set off fierce debate in Washington.”

Wall Street Says New Financial Regulations Could Increase Energy Costs.

The Washington (DC) Examiner  (5/28, Siciliano) reports that Wall Street has made it clear to the Commodity Futures and Trading Commission that new regulations being unveiled this summer could result in higher energy prices for consumers as swap market regulations intended to reduce the same type of high-risk trading that contributed to the 2007 financial meltdown may affect how energy companies do business. Those companies use the swap markets to trade in energy contracts to lock down prices. If they see reduced access to the market, their business costs increase and those costs will be shifted to consumers. The CFTC says it has taken action to preserve access, with Commission Chairman Timothy Massad saying that “These companies, which keep the lights on in many homes across the country, must access these markets efficiently in order to provide reliable, cost-effective service to their customers.”

Analysis: Power Grid Is Not Prepared For Looming Changes To Energy.

Politico  (5/28, Heuser) reports that a survey of energy analysts and professionals finds that many are worried about the state of America’s electric grid, believing it to be aging and unprepared for the future of electricity generation. “Whether it is cyberterrorism, natural disasters or natural gas and electric generation interdependencies, our current power grid is vulnerable,” wrote a utility CEO. The survey also found that respondents see a major political fight looming over the Clean Power Plan, doubt that the Paris summit will render a treaty, think the Keystone XL pipeline will eventually open, and predict more stringent carbon regulations by 2030.

Legislation Killing State Support For Wind, Solar In Texas Appears “Dead.”

The Dallas (TX) Morning News  (5/27, Osborne) reports that legislation introduced by Texas state Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) to end a program extending transmission lines to solar and wind farms and freezing the state’s renewable energy credit does not appear likely to become law. The legislative session is nearing its end, and Fraser’s original bill has not been moved upon in six weeks and an amendment to an energy bill including some of its provisions has a bleak outlook as the House sent a companion energy bill to the senate without Fraser’s amendment. According to the Texas director of the environmental group Public Citizen, the attempt “might be dead.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

California Vocational Program Awards $250 Million.

The AP  (5/28, Leff) reports on a $1.4 billion, five-year vocational education program that it says shows California is “betting big” on reviving getting high schoolers into “career pathways.” The state awarded $250 million in grants Wednesday to dozens of programs in healthcare, agriculture, IT, and manufacturing, all of which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said face a dearth of skilled labor. Torlaksan added that the program will “better prepare California students for college and careers in the 21st century.”

Florida DOE Grant Funds Miami Robotic Program.

The Miami Herald  (5/28, Rabines) reports that a $1.95 million Florida DOE grant will be funding the EV3 Robotics Program at North Miami Middle School and the Edison K-8 Center, which will work with Florida International University to develop STEM programming. Students that are part of the program will receive a partial scholarship if they later are admitted into FIU. FIU vice provost for Student Affairs and Success Jaffus Hardrick “played a key role” in creating the program. The two and a half hour program includes a half-hour of homework help and then programming and building partnerships.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Amtrak To Install Inward-Facing Cameras In Locomotives.
ED Investigation Finds Little Evidence Loan Servicers Are Fleecing Troops.
Science Fiction Can Help Inspire Future Missions.
IDC: Expect Slowdown, Few Changes In Global Smartphone Market.
New FAA Rules Allow Blanket Authorizations For Certain Drones On All Test Sites.
Maine Governor Vetoes Next Generation Science Standards Bill.

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