Leading the News
Outside Auto Safety Experts To Strengthen NHTSA Defect Investigations.
The Automotive Fleet (6/8) reports “An outside team of auto safety systems experts will spend the next year advising” the NHTSA on how to implement “new reforms to strengthen its defect investigations,” DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said. The story says NHTSA has also “launched an Internal Risk Control Innovations Program” which brings together NHTSA staff to address emerging safety risks that “cut across NHTSA’s enforcement, vehicle safety and behavioral safety efforts.”
The Motor Authority (6/8, Coyle) reports the Safety Systems Team (SST) has “already identified needed changes in the agency’s workflow, and will work in tandem with the new Risk Control Innovations Program to allow it to respond to dangerous situations more quickly.” According to Foxx, “With the SST, we are enlisting three of the most experienced and knowledgeable safety professionals in the world to help us implement these changes.”
Politico (6/8, Scholtes) “Morning Transportation” blog by Jennifer Scholtes reports that NHTSA’s new safety team consists of “Joseph Kolly, NTSB director of the office of research and engineering; former NASA researcher J. Victor Lebacqz; and James P. Bagian, director of the Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety at the University of Michigan and a former astronaut.” On Friday, Foxx complemented the new team, “These three folks, who come from a variety of disciplines, would be at the top of anyone’s list of safety experts.”
Commentary: Manufacturing Is A Crucial Part Of Engineers’ Education.
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California, writes in a Forbes (6/8) commentary piece that the US still produces “many goods,” and manufacturing is a key driver of engineering education at higher-education institutions such as hers. She notes that many “colleges and universities are not educating enough students to fill even the current available positions in manufacturing.” The Society for Manufacturing Engineers says there is a “serious skill gap in the U.S. manufacturing workforce,” and estimated that 600,000 manufacturing jobs were unfilled from 2009-12 due to a lack of skilled professionals. Klawe also discusses how her college is taking steps to “incorporate more manufacturing concepts and knowledge into the general engineering program.”
ED To Make It Easier For Former Corinthian Students To Have Debt Forgiven.
The Wall Street Journal (6/9, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that on Monday, the Administration outlined steps by which the Federal government may forgive significant student loan debts help by Americans who attended colleges that have fallen afoul of regulators. The steps outlined by ED are designed to make it easier for former students of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit university that has gone bankrupt, to discharge their debt. ED said that it will appoint a special master to develop a system for students at other universities that engaged in deceptive practices. The Journal quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “It is impossible not to be moved by the stories of students whose futures were damaged by the institutions they once believed were setting them on a path to a better life. These processes will offer them real and badly needed help.”
The New York Times (6/9, Lewin, Subscription Publication) reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced his department would “forgive the federal loans of tens of thousands of students who attended Corinthian Colleges.” He “also said the department planned to develop a process to allow any students — from Corinthian or elsewhere — to be forgiven their loans if they had been defrauded by their college.” Noting that the plan could cost some $3.5 billion over several years, the Times reports that Duncan “stressed the plight of students who took on debt and ended up with a degree that meant little to employers, or no degree at all.” Duncan is quoted saying, “You’d have to be made of stone not to feel for these students. Some of these schools have brought the ethics of payday lending into higher education. This is our first major action on this but obviously it won’t be the last.” Duncan said that students who were defrauded should receive full compensation, saying, “We will make this process as easy as possible for them, including by considering claims in groups wherever possible, and hold institutions accountable.”
In its report, the AP (6/9, Flaherty) describes the plight of former Corinthian students who were impacted by the firm’s implosion, which was brought about by allegations that its officials “charged exorbitant fees, lied about job prospects for their graduates and, in some cases, encouraged students to lie about their circumstances to get more federal aid.” The piece notes that House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline “issued a joint statement with House Democrats applauding the decision.”
The Washington Post (6/9, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that despite ED’s announcement, “there is still a high bar of proof for some borrowers who may not receive any help,” leading to questions about whether ED “is doing enough to clean up a mess they say could have been prevented.” The piece explains that under the current plan, ED will let students apply if they attended a Corinthian school as far back as June 2014, instead of the previous standard of having attended within 120 days of the schools’ closure.
Bloomberg News (6/8, Lorin) reports that former Corinthian students “may be eligible for refunds if they attended a Corinthian school as of June 2014, when the department began limiting federal aid to the company.” This piece notes that Mitchell said that some 15,000 former Corinthian students could qualify.
USA Today (6/8, Toppo) reports that in its announcement Monday, ED said that most Corinthian campuses “were acquired by the nonprofit Zenith Education Group,” allowing “most Corinthian students to continue pursuing their education.” This article notes that the move comes after members of Congress pushed Education Secretary Arne Duncan to act to offer the former students relief.
Other media outlets that covered this story include the Los Angeles Times (6/9, Kirkham, Masunaga), the Chronicle of Higher Education (6/9), Reuters (6/8, Brown, Heals), the International Business Times (6/9, Glum), the Chronicle of Higher Education (6/9, Read), the Miami Herald (6/9), ABC News (6/9), BuzzFeed (6/9), the Riverside (CA) Press Enterprise (6/9), Time Warner Cable News (6/9), the Orange County (CA) Register (6/9), CNN (6/8), the Stockton (CA) Record (6/8, Writer), and US News & World Report (6/8).
Plan Sparks Criticism. The AP (6/9, Flaherty) reports that the plan “raises serious questions about whether the White House or Congress should have done more to prevent the debacle,” noting that some are “questioning the latest approach.” The article quotes Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander saying, “Students have been hurt, but the department is establishing a precedent that puts taxpayers on the hook for what a college may have done.” Alexander also noted an “inherent conflict of interest with having the Education Department provide loans and regulate colleges.”
Minnesota Delegation Has Mixed Reaction To Plan. The Minneapolis Star Tribune (6/9, Sherry) reports that Minnesota’s members of Congress “had mixed reactions Monday” to the plan, noting that while Rep. John Kline (R-MN) “issued a joint statement with House Democrats saying he was pleased with the decision,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) “said the Department of Education didn’t go far enough.” Meanwhile, Sen. John Kline (D-MN) “said Monday he was pleased, but was going to continue to reach out to Corinthian students.”
Numerous Factors Contributing To For-Profit Sector’s Decline.
NPR’s Morning Edition (6/9) reports on the factors that are contributing to the decline of the for-profit college sector, noting that ED’s looming gainful employment rule is “far from the only monkey on the sector’s back.” The piece notes that enrollment is declining, and that many firms are downsizing or shutting down. The segment cites “government crackdowns” from such agencies as ED and CFPB, and notes that the criticism of student activists has also had an impact. Moreover, market forces and public awareness play a role. A text article of this story can be seen here (6/8, Johnson).
ED Stepping Up Enforcement Of Ban On Recruiter Bonuses.
Inside Higher Ed (6/9) reports that ED is set to “more aggressively pursue colleges found violating the federal ban on paying bonuses to recruiters,” noting that Administration officials said Monday that they have “repealed a 2002 Bush administration memorandum that largely restricted the department’s enforcement of the incentive compensation ban to using fines rather than tougher penalties like limiting a college’s access to federal aid.” A memo signed by Under Secretary Ted Mitchell “instructs department employees to claw back all the federal funds a college received while breaking the rules instead of imposing a fine, which in most cases would be lower.”
Virginia Tech Returns NSF Funds After Audit.
In continuing coverage, the AP (6/9) reports that “Virginia Tech has repaid more than $64,000 in federal grant money to the National Science Foundation following an audit” by the NSF Office of the Inspector General. The IG report, finalized in April, examined “more than 190,000 transactions related to 685 individual NSF awards to Tech between January 2010 and December 2012.”
Research and Development
Cutting Edge Clothes Dryer Being Developed At ORNL.
The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel (6/8) reports that at Oak Ridge National Laboratory “a new-age clothes dryer under development” uses “micro-vibrations instead of heat to remove the water from the laundry, dramatically reducing the drying time and potentially saving energy on a grand scale.” ORNL research engineer Ayyoub M. Momen “said his invention was inspired by a commercial humidifier that used high-frequency vibrations to convert water into tiny droplets — forming a cool mist.” Momen believes that “by eliminating the heat needed to evaporate water in clothes, there’s a tremendous energy savings” because “about 5 percent of a typical American home’s energy use is attributed to the clothes dryer.”
Israel Suffering Software Engineering Shortage.
Bloomberg News (6/8, Ackerman) reports computer companies in Israel are finding it difficult to obtain qualified workers. The shortage could get worse as “fewer students sign up for the most advanced math classes, the building block for tech careers.” About 250 multinational companies has established development centers in Israel by 2014. Now, “10,000 engineers are needed on top of the current 20,000 to ensure that the sector can grow, says Yoav Chelouche, co-chairman of Israel Advanced Technology Industries.” The Central Bureau of Statistics says there “weren’t enough qualified software developers to fill all job openings in 2013 and 2014.”
Airbus Testing Partly Reusable Space Launch System.
The Engineer (6/8) reports Airbus Space and Defense is carrying out preliminary tests on Adeline (ADvanced Expendable Launcher with INnovative engine Economy), a “partly reusable space launcher system, which could return the main engines and avionics of potentially any launcher to Earth.” In contrast to other reusable systems, Adeline “seeks only to reuse thew most costly parts of a launcher system, sacrificing the fuel tanks.” It will also be compatible with Ariane 6, the forthcoming version of Europe’s launcher system. Airbus has been working on the project since 2010 “and believes it could help it compete against other reusable launcher concepts, such as the Falcon 8 system currently being developed by Space X.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Federal Railroad Administration Touts Safety On Curves.
The Wall Street Journal (6/8, Tangel, Subscription Publication) reports that the Federal Railroad Administration will press passenger railroads nationwide to step up safety measure at potentially dangerous curves in a bid to avert derailments such as the May 12 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, according to a Federal official. The Federal regulator is expected to issue a safety advisory this week after it issued an emergency order detailing required safety procedures for Amtrak. The new document would cover the country’s 28 commuter railroads and urge them to espy track segments that require a speed limit drop of more than 20 miles an hour, according to the official. The document will also recommend that railroads put in place signals to automatically decrease the speed of their trains should engineers driving them fail to do so at those locations. Federal Railroad Administration’s acting administrator Sarah Feinberg told a congressional committee last week that her agency was working on security measures despite the regulator’s limited options.
The AP (6/9) reports that the Federal Railroad Administration has recommended commuter railroads “adjust their automatic train control safety systems to prevent trains from going too fast” at curves. “If automatic train control isn’t available then the train should have a crew member besides the engineer who’s familiar with the route and briefings about where speeds are reduced,” the article reports. The Federal regulator also called for more warning signs about speed to be posted.
WPost: EPA Report Shows Fracking Needs To Be Regulated, Not Banned.
In an editorial, the Washington Post (6/9) says that in the fight over fracking, “the loudest voices try their best to obscure this essential point: The controversial drilling technique doesn’t need to be banned; it needs to be well regulated.” That’s particularly true in the wake of the release of the EPA’s assessment on fracking’s impact on drinking water, which “supports neither side.”
DOE, Electricity Utilities To Focus On Plug-in Vehicles.
The Hill (6/9, Henry) reports electric utilities and the Federal government “are looking for ways to boost plug-in electric vehicle production in the United States.” The Energy Department and the Edison Electric Institute “have signed a deal to increase the use of electric vehicles by ‘bringing utilities directly into the fold,’ DOE announced on Monday.” DOE and EEI “will conduct a study on the economic impact of electric cars and the best ways for utilities to invest in them.” DOE says that Federal agencies and states will be asked to work together on ways to “break down barriers to electric-powered driving and expand electric vehicle opportunities in communities across the country.” In a statement Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “Today’s announcement enhances the kinds of private-public partnerships needed to remain at the forefront of advanced vehicle technologies that reduce our emissions and provide safe, reliable transport for the American people.”
Musk Tells Utilities Not To Fear His Battery Systems But To Buy Them.
Bloomberg News (6/8, Chediak, Hull) reported that at the Edison Electric Institute conference in New Orleans on Monday, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk “told electric utility owners they shouldn’t fear that his battery systems will put them out of business – instead, they should buy them.” Musk said most U.S. customers will use Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system as backup, and that Tesla’s electric cars will help triple power demand over the next few decades with Musk “seeing less than a third of that served by distributed generation like the battery storage system and solar panels Tesla backs.” Musk “was questioned by Ted Craver, Edison International chairman, president and CEO, which has signed a deal to use Tesla’s batteries with its solar installations.”
Oklahoman FIRST Robotics Competitors Profiled.
The Edmond (OK) Sun (6/9, Miller) reports on the FIRST robotics participants from the Edmond, Oklahoma area, and notes that five local schools’ students took part in the STEM competition. The article profiles several students working on the project and notes the foundation of the event in 1989.
Chicago Area School Hosts Solar Car Rally.
The Daily Southtown (IL) (6/8, Neuzil) reports that over 260 fifth-grade students at Chelsea Intermediate School in the Chicago suburbs took part in a “unique” solar energy STEM project. The project, called “Engineering Design with Solar Cars,” was funded by an Ecolab Foundation Visions for Learning Grant. Grant proposer and Chelsea teacher Christine Meade conducted the project. The school held a rally over two days that let students test their cars, redesign them, and compete.
Bill Nye The Science Guy Interviewed On Keeping Students Interested In STEM.
US News & World Report (6/8, Pannoni) interviews Bill Nye, the star of the Bill Nye the Science Guy series from the 1990s, in its High School Notes blog. The blog notes Nye has been working with the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision K-12 science competition for a number of years. Topics include the difficulties with keeping teens interested in STEM subjects, advice for teachers, the role of parents in motivating children, the consequences of a loss of interest in science and math, and the draw of competition and its effect on student interest.
Science Teachers Use Solar Panel Roofs To Teach About Climate.
Capital New York (6/8, Weill) reports that public school roof gardens in Manhattan, New York are incorporating solar panels, which are being used by some science teachers as “an invaluable teaching tool for lessons on climate change.” New York City and state have put $28 million towards solar panel construction on 24 public school buildings.
Pennsylvania County Schools Offering Art Robots, STEAM Program.
The Greene County (PA) Observer-Reporter (6/9, Speer) reports that schools in Washington County, Pennsylvania are working with robots under a new Spark Grant for Early Learning. The drawing machines are incorporated into a STEAM program and was created under the leadership of the Sprout Foundation, the McGuffey School District, and the Claysville Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization.
Monday’s Lead Stories
• Korean Team Wins DARPA Robotics Challenge.