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

Leading the News

EPA Could Be On Hook For Damages In Colorado Spill.

Bloomberg News  (8/10, Drajem) reports that the EPA and its contractors “may have to pay millions of dollars for damages after mistakenly releasing toxic sludge that tainted a Colorado river.” The EPA has “set up a claims process for losses from the 3 million gallons that leaked, three times more than initially estimated.” While rules generally exempt federal agencies in such events, those protections “are voided for negligence by employees or contractors, or if the clean-up crew releases new pollution.”

The spill continues to generate coverage on all three nightly news reports, which focused on the impact on local communities and the growing outrage among residents.

ABC World News (8/10, story 6, 1:45, Muir) reported on the ongoing impact, saying that “100 miles of the Animas River” is “glowing yellow” and the river was “closed after it was accidentally contaminated with three million gallons of waste, arsenic, [and] lead. The EPA [is] to blame, grossly underestimating the damage, three times bigger than we knew, and now headed to the Grand Canyon.” ABC (Sandell) said that the release is “threatening countless drinking water wells and wildlife.”

The CBS Evening News (8/10, story 2, 2:15, Pelley) reported that the EPA “says the plume of the spill has traveled more than 100 miles through parts of Colorado and New Mexico since Wednesday and is headed for Utah next. But the source of the spill, this abandoned gold mine, hasn’t been plugged yet and is spilling out at a rate of 500 gallons per minute, carrying high levels of toxic metals.”

NBC Nightly News (8/10, story 3, 2:30, Muir) reported that the EPA “is in a race to contain” the spill. NBC (Almaguer) adds, “Anger and frustration boiling over at community meetings because the EPA, the very agency tasked with protecting the environment, triggered the breach during a cleanup. Many get their drinking and irrigation water from the river.”

The New York Times  (8/11, Turkewitz, Subscription Publication) reports that the Animas River “is the cultural soul of this patch of southwestern Colorado, a sort of moving Main Street that hosts multiple floating parades a year and is typically bustling with rafters and kayakers.” However, since Wednesday, the river “has been grievously polluted with toxic water spilled from one of the many abandoned mines that pockmark the region,” for which the EPA has “claimed responsibility.”

White House Directing Questions To “Embattled” EPA. The Washington Times  (8/10, Wolfgang) reports that the “political fallout” from the spill “intensified Monday, with critics saying the incident has exposed clear hypocrisy within the Obama administration while threatening the credibility” of the EPA “at a crucial moment.” The Times says that instead of expressing “outrage as it has done in the wake of previous environmental disasters, the White House would not comment on the spill and instead directed all questions to the embattled EPA.”

Higher Education

Clinton Proposes $350 Billion Plan To Make College More Affordable.

The AP  (8/11, Lerer, Ronayne) reports that in New Hampshire on Monday, Hillary Clinton “unveiled a $350 billion plan aimed at making college more affordable and reducing the crushing burden of student debt.” Clinton “proposed steps to reduce the cost of four-year public schools, make two-year community colleges tuition-free and cut student loan interest rates, according to campaign aides.” The AP says that the proposal, which Clinton calls “a new college compact,” is centered around a $200 billion federal incentive system “aimed at encouraging states to expand their investments in higher education and cut student costs.”

The Washington Post  (8/10, Douglas-Gabriel) describes the plan as being in line with “popular tenets of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” noting that rising college costs are “a central issue in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.” The Post reports that Clinton’s “New College Compact” stops short of providing for debt free college, while the plans put forth by Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley do so. The Post reports that the plan incentivizes states to “guarantee ‘no-loan’ tuition at four-year public universities and community colleges.” Clinton would fund the plan by restoring “Reagan-era cuts on itemized tax deductions for high-income families.”

Bloomberg Politics  (8/10, Lorin) reports that the plan is one of the priciest planks in Clinton’s platform, noting that it expands on “many of the same ideas and advisers on which President Barack Obama built his college affordability agenda.” The plan includes “federal incentives for states to boost their spending on public higher education, options for students to graduate from state colleges and universities without taking out loans,” and provisions for current borrowers to refinance existing student debt.

USA Today  (8/10, Jones) also covers this story, noting that the plan seems to be “an attempt to appeal to the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which is rallying around Bernie Sanders.”

Other media outlets covering the story include the Los Angeles Times  (8/10, Memoli), Inside Higher Ed  (8/10), the Huffington Post  (8/10, Nasiripour), the Christian Science Monitor  (8/10), Politico  (8/10, Shah, Hefling), CNN  (8/10, Merica), Fortune  (8/10), CBS News  (8/10), Fox News  (8/10), TIME  (8/10, Miller), NPR’s All Things Considered  (8/10), Yahoo! News  (8/10, Pianin), and Reuters  (8/10, Becker).

Clinton Plan Includes Enticements For Silicon Valley. Forbes  (8/10) contributor Gretory Ferenstein writes that in addition to the plan’s focus on student debt and lowering college costs, it contains a “more subtle and disruptive” facet directed at vocational training and accreditation. The piece notes that the Clinton campaign “reportedly consulted the founder of online education provider” Udacity about “new rules for what counts as a college degree.” The piece notes that Udacity and other online higher education platforms “have been busy building unaccredited, vocationally oriented degrees.”

WTimes Analysis: Clinton Condemns For-Profit Colleges, But Bill Collected $16 Million From One. The Washington Times  (8/11, Howell) reports that on Monday, Clinton “sounded every bit the critic of for-profit universities.” However, she has “benefited to the tune of millions of dollars from that same industry in a business relationship her husband enjoyed as recently as this spring.” Bill Clinton “collected more than $16 million from 2010 to 2014 as honorary chancellor of Laureate Education, a for-profit company that runs 80 education institutions around the globe, according to recently released tax returns.”

Plan Includes Veteran Protections Targeting For-Profit Schools. CNN Money  (8/10) reports that Clinton’s plan would close a loophole in federal law that exempts G.I. Bill funds from the “90/10 rule” which prevents for-profit colleges from deriving more than 90% of their revenue from federal aid. The article notes that 10% of veterans using G.I. Bill funds for college education attend for-profit schools, and reports that for-profit schools have been accused of using disingenuous practices to lure veterans.

Plan Targets Schools With High Rates Of Defaulting Students. The Wall Street Journal  (8/11, Belkin, Nelson, Subscription Publication) reports that Clinton’s plan includes provisions that would hold colleges accountable if their students fail to find gainful employment, noting that this is a concept which is growing in popularity on the right. The piece quotes Clinton saying, “We will make sure colleges and universities have more skin in the game if they load students up with debt or programs that don’t lead to good-paying jobs.”

WSJournal: Expand Federal Subsidies, Drive Up College Costs. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (8/11, Subscription Publication) says that the irony of Clinton’s plan is that while it looks to make college more affordable, it expands the system of federal subsidies that have driven up college costs for decades.

NYTimes Praises Democrats For Releasing College Affordability Plans. In an editorial, the New York Times  (8/11, Subscription Publication) says that “every presidential candidate needs to explain what he or she will do to make higher education attainable for more Americans,” and praises Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders for releasing plans. The Times says that “regrettably,” none of the GOP candidates “have come up with anything comparable.” The Times says that the US “has a college affordability crisis. But only candidates from one party are taking it seriously.”

NSF Awards UMass Over $600,000 Grant For Transfer Engineering Students.

The AP  (8/11) cites reporting by the Greenfield, Massachusetts Recorder that the National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Massachusetts Amherst a four-year $632,369 grant “to support students transferring from community colleges to the College of Engineering” and further “help increase the success of low-income, academically strong students who are pursuing degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.”

Interview: UConn Unveils New Entrepreneurship Program.

In an interview with the Hartford (CT) Business Journal  (8/11), Michelle Cote, managing director of the University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and UConn business professor Timothy B. Folta, discuss the new entrepreneurship program at the UConn School of Business, Accelerate UConn. Cote and Folta note the program has received $100,000 from the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps “and is operated as a partnership between the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), Technology Commercialization Services and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CCEI).” Cote and Folta add the “NSF envisions the program as a first step towards additional federal support for further technology and customer validation.”

Commentary: Military Should Accept Officers Without Bachelor’s Degrees.

In commentary for the Wall Street Journal  (8/11, Luxenberg, Subscription Publication), Benjamin Luxenberg, a former first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, writes that there is traditionally a de facto requirement for officers in the United States military to have a bachelor’s degree. He writes that the military should expand its acceptance of officer candidates who do not have bachelor’s degrees, arguing that degrees are increasingly less indicative of intelligence or dedication.

NSF Gives Virginia College Minority STEM Grant.

WTVR-TV  Richmond, VA (8/10) reports that the National Science Foundation has given Virginia State University “a $400,000 grant to increase minority pursuit of science, technology, engineering and mathematics” majors.

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Research and Development

NSF Awards Rice Engineering Center $18.5 Million Grant To Develop New Water Treatment Systems.

The Houston Chronicle  (8/11, Berger) reports the National Science Foundation awarded an $18.5 million grant to Rice University’s new Engineering Research Center to “allow researchers and industry to develop portable, clean water systems and make fracking more environmentally responsible.” The Chronicle notes the NSF has funded 64 of the centers since 1985, of which over “80 percent have become self-sufficient…after 5 or 10 years.” According to the NSF’s Acting Division Director for the Division of Engineering Education and Centers Don Millard, “These awards are meant to develop the technologies of the future” and help “provide the nation with its competitive edge.”

NSF Awards $18.5 Million To Engineering Center For New Vehicle Electrical Systems.

The Arkansas Business  (8/11, Hosticka) reports the National Science Foundation has awarded $18.5 million to the Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS) engineering research center “to design and develop vehicle electrical systems that are more powerful, efficient and heat-resistant,” which will help “make cars more fuel efficient and extend the range of electric cars.”

The Fort Smith (AR) City Wire  (8/11) notes the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the project’s lead institution and researchers at the University of Arkansas are assuming a secondary role. Howard University, Stanford University, University of Sao Paolo in Brazil, and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden are also participating. The article adds the “goal is to increase the power density in vehicles by 10 to 100 times.”

Researcher Makes Suitcase-Sized Device To Detect Counterfeit Medicines.

NPR  (8/11, Yang) reports in “Goats and Soda” that Boston University biomedical engineer Muhammad Zaman “has designed a suitcase that detects” counterfeit medications. The device, called PharmaChk, is about the size of a carry-on, and when it is opened and a medication placed “into the designated spot, it tells you whether the drug is real or not.” Zaman intends for the device to help those in developing countries detect fake medicines.

DARPA Awards Boeing, Northrop XS-1 Concept Development Contracts.

IHS Jane’s  (8/10, Malenic) reports that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced on Friday an award of $19.5 million to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Masten Space Systems to continue developing concepts for the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane. DARPA “plans to hold a Phase 2 competition among the three teams next year for the follow-on production order,” IHS Jane’s notes. This award follows DARPA’s announcement last week that Northrop received a $6.5 million contract for Phase 1B of the program.

The ExecutiveBiz  (8/10, Hoffman) blog notes that DARPA also granted Boeing and Northrop $4 million contracts last summer for design work. According to the blog, the program aims to create a reusable unmanned launch vehicle that can fly ten times in ten days and carry 5,000 pounds of payload into space for under $5 million per mission.

University Of Texas At Austin Engineers Develop New Smart Glass Technology.

MIT Technology Review  (8/5) reports on the development of a new type of electrochromic window glass by chemical engineers at the University of Texas at Austin which”changes color in response to the addition or removal of electronic charge.” The technology “can selectively block the heat-producing component as well as the visible light.” The piece explains that the technology uses “a ‘framework’ of nanocrystals made of an electrically conductive material, embedded in a glassy material.”


Survey Shows Significant Corporate Opposition To Expanding H-1B Program.

The Washington Times  (8/11, Harper) reports that a CareerBuilder/Harris Poll of about 2,300 “hiring and human resources managers” shows broad opposition to raising the cap on H-1B visas, which allow skilled immigrants to work in the US. According to the survey, 73% of “US employers oppose issuing more H-1B visas,” and 55% “of this group say focus should instead be on re-skilling American-born workers.”

Jesse Jackson Steps Up Efforts To Promote Silicon Valley Diversity.

USA Today  (8/10, Guynn) reports from San Francisco that the Rev. Jesse Jackson “is escalating his campaign for more racial and ethnic diversity in Silicon Valley.” Jackson “called on technology companies to accelerate hiring of African-Americans and Latinos in a letter sent Monday. ‘It’s time to take stock of what has been done: what has worked and what hasn’t,’ Jackson wrote in the letter that he shared with USA TODAY. ‘Are the pledges and commitments matching real results? Are any tech companies making a real difference and, if so, how? If not, why not?’” Jackson is asking 27 technology companies, “from giants such as Apple and Facebook to start-ups such as Airbnb, Dropbox and Uber, for more detailed information on diversity, including the release of federal diversity data and of the affirmative action plans that federal contractors must file with the government.”

Global Developments

Indian E-Commerce Firms Scaling Up Workforce.

The Economic Times (IND)  (8/10, Dasgupta) reports e-commerce companies Amazon India, Snapdeal, Paytm and Flipkart are in midst of a hiring spree due to the sector’s growing user base and “wider availability of merchandise online as opposed to brick-and-mortar stores.” Saurabh Nigam, vice president of human resources at Snapdeal, said the company is hiring from “the top engineering colleges,” with a goal of doubling its current headcount of 5,000 by fiscal year 2016. Amazon India is also “getting aggressive” about scaling up operations. It is hiring in many departments, including software development, quality assurance, and product and marketing.

Engineering and Public Policy

Michigan Senators Look To Force Delay On Canadian Nuclear Waste Project.

The Detroit Free Press  (8/11, Spangler) reports that Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters announced new legislation on Monday that would “force” the State Department to “negotiate a delay with the Canadian government” over a plan for a Canadian power company to bury nuclear waste “within a mile of Lake Huron.” The bill would call on State to push Canada to delay the project “until the International Joint Commission, a bi-national organization which helps settle boundary disputes, completes a study also called for by the legislation into whether the proposed facility is safe.”

“Rogue” Drones An Increasing Problem.

The Washington Post  (8/11, A1, Whitlock) reports on its front page that “rogue drone operators are rapidly becoming a national nuisance,” but federal regulators are “largely powerless to stop them.” FAA head Michael P. Huerta said, “I’m definitely getting much more concerned about it.” He “said the FAA was particularly worried about a surge in reports of drones flying dangerously close to airports.”

WSJournal: States Subsidizing Wealthy Drivers’ Electric Vehicles.

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (8/11, Subscription Publication) criticizes state policies that subsidize charging stations for plug-in electric cars. The Journal says research shows that owners of such vehicles tend to be wealthy, and the subsidies cause everyone else to pay for them.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Sailing Camp Provides Education To Young Boston Students In Summer.

In a more than 1,400-word article, WBUR-FM  Boston (8/10, Balonon) discussed Courageous Sailing’s five-week “Swim, Sail, Science!” summer camp, which since 2012 has been focused on giving low-income “soon-to-be fourth- and fifth-grade Boston students…lessons in swimming, sailing and science – all at no cost to their families.” WBUR-FM noted Boston Public Schools and Boston After School & Beyond include the Charlestown Navy Yard-based program among 79 others this year within their “Boston Summer Learning Project, a citywide push to combat summer learning loss for Boston youth” by incorporating classes in English Language Arts, math, and science.

Virginia Education Secretary Hails Summer Camp As Launch Pad For Hi-Tech Careers.

The Delmarva (MD) Daily Times  (8/11, Watterson) reports that Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton on Friday hailed the Virginia Space Flight Academy summer camp, which provided over 170 middle school students with an opportunity to learn “how to build and launch rockets and build and program robots” as well as take tours of the Wallops Flight Facility as well as “nearby NOAA and Navy facilities.” the article adds that during her speech at the Academy’s commencement, Holton “praised campers for their demonstrated desire in the STEM field.”

Virginia High School Prioritizing CTE Program.

The South Boston (VA) Gazette-Virginian  (8/11, Hodge) reports that starting this year, juniors at Halifax County High School will be required to earn a certification in at least one Career and Technical Education class in order to graduate while incoming “seniors also are being encouraged to take these STEM-H related courses, and all students are urged to earn as many certifications as they can.” The article discusses the many STEM-H classes available at the school.

Monday’s Lead Stories

Emergency Declared In Colorado After EPA Accidentally Pollutes River.
Clinton To Release College Tuition Plan.
NASA To Test UAV Air Traffic Control System.
Obama Says Diversity In Tech Startups A Recipe For Success.
FRA: Most Railroads Won’t Meet Speed Control Deadline, Subject To Fines.
California Teens Take Part In College STEM Camp.

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