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

Leading the News

GAO Report Criticizes Failure To Locate Abandoned Mines.

According to a Government Accountability Report (GOA) released on Friday, the government has no way of locating how many abandoned mines there are on Federal land, the Wall Street Journal  (9/12, Frosch, Berzon, Subscription Publication) reports. The report notes the possibility that thousands of unknown mines exist and pose an environmental and human health threat. Moreover, the report criticizes responsible government agencies for not failing to assess the pollution levels of those mines that have already been identified.

Analysis: Colorado Mine Incident Shows Difficulty In Cleaning Contaminated Sites. In an analysis piece, the Wall Street Journal  (9/12, Frosch, Berzon, Subscription Publication) asserts that the Colorado mine spill from last month demonstrates the difficulty that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program has in cleaning up contaminated sites. The Journal notes distrust among impacted communities and cuts to the EPA’s budget.

Mine Clean-up In Four States Suspended. The investigation and clean-up of 10 mining complexes in California, Colorado, Montana, and Missouri has been suspended, the AP  (9/13, Brown, Elliott) reports, “because of conditions similar to those that led to a massive wastewater blowout from an inactive Colorado gold mine.” Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus stated, “We want to take extra caution before we initiate any work.”

Higher Education

Obama: New “College Scorecard” Website To Provide “Reliable Data.”

President Obama on Saturday announced the rollout of the “College Scorecard ” during his weekly address, touting the new website as a tool that will provide students and their families with “reliable data” for making decisions about their education. Reporting characterizes the system as alternative to traditional college rankings and highlights that it provides information not previously available, such as graduates’ salaries and debt. While the major print dailies and Internet sources provide coverage, neither of the two broadcast networks to air news reported on the story.

The AP  (9/13, Kerr) reports Obama on Saturday “debuted a redesigned online tool with college-specific information about student costs, loans and potential earning power.” The “College Scorecard” offers “a snapshot of what former students of each school might earn,” their debt after graduation, and “what percentage can repay their loans.” The piece quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “Students deserve to know their investment of resources and hard work in college is going to pay off.”

The Hill  (9/12, Richardson) “Briefing Room” blog reported that Obama, during his weekly address, said, “Americans will now have reliable data on every institution of higher learning.” According to the Hill, the new system “will provide an alternative to traditional college rankings” and incorporate “direct input from students, family members, and advisers.” Obama said, “The status quo serves some colleges and the companies that rank them just fine,” adding, “But it doesn’t serve our students well – and that doesn’t serve any of us well.”

Obama, according to the Huffington Post  (9/13, Nasiripour), noted that as “college costs and student debt keep rising,” the choices made “when searching and selecting a college have never been more important.” The President said, “That’s why everyone should be able to find clear, reliable, open data on college affordability and value.”

The website’s unveiling, according to the Washington Post  (9/13, Anderson), “culminates a two-year effort to disclose more information” about educational institutions. During a August 2013 speech, Obama “asserted that the government would rate colleges for the first time on measures of access and value,” but the Administration this year “dropped the idea after college leaders and others complained” it was “unfair for the government to pick winners and losers based on sometimes-flawed data.” The Post concludes by noting that Duncan “said the new Scorecard represents a step forward,” quoting him saying, “We all know that there are far too many students who feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there.”

The New York Times  (9/13, Shear, Subscription Publication) reports the original plan, which called for all schools to receive “a ranking” was “bitterly opposed by presidents” of many universities. The website unveiled Saturday “does not attempt to rate schools with any kind of grade” and “falls far short of what the president had hoped for.” Bloomberg News  (9/13, Riley) reports that despite not including rankings, the website “does highlight groups of schools that do particularly well” in specific metrics, and the Wall Street Journal  (9/13, Belkin, Subscription Publication) notes higher-education institutions and organizations are not happy with the new website.

NPR  (9/12, Turner) reported on its website that the “Consumer Reports-style” ratings system “isn’t a scorecard at all,” but rather a “data dump of epic proportions.” NPR explained users “type in the name of a college” and receive information. The data includes “lots of old basics,” but “also lots of useful, new information.” Meanwhile, CNN Money  (9/12, Lobosco) reported on its website that the system “is not a ranking,” but “what sets it apart from other college lists” is the information about “how much graduates earn” and “the average monthly loan payment.”

The Los Angeles Times  (9/13, Gordon) reports Education Department officials “said the administration backed away from a ratings system because it proved too complicated to develop” and could cause confusion among those using it. According to the Times, “the new scorecard appears to be easier for families to search and navigate than the existing” Federal tools.

Vox  (9/14) also covers this story, quoting Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “We made the decision to not make clear, direct ratings, because we felt like the data was not supportive of drawing those kinds of conclusions. But we believe the data itself can drive decision-making, can drive further inquiries that students want to make.”

Other media outlets covering this story include the Chronicle of Higher Education  (9/14), USA Today  (9/13), CNN  (9/14), WTIC-TV  Hartford, CT (9/12), the Washington Examiner  (9/14), and WIMS-AM  South Shore, IN (9/12).

Obama Administration’s College Scorecard Web Site Will Not Include Rankings. The Christian Science Monitor  (9/13, Jackson) looks at why the Obama Administration opted to created a “revamped College Scorecard website” that does not include “its most buzzed-about feature: rankings.” Universities had “protested that measuring all of their diverse missions, student bodies, and resources with a single measuring stick would not accurately capture each campus’s value, or lack thereof.”

White House Says College Applicants Will Be Able To Apply Earlier For Financial Aid.

The AP  (9/14, Lederman) reports the White House said Sunday that “aspiring college students will be able to apply for federal financial aid three months earlier than now and submit a previous year’s tax return,” rather than having to “wait until January of that year to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.”

Alyson Klein writes at the Education Week  (9/14) “Politics K-12” blog that President Obama is “announcing some changes to the notoriously difficult” FAFSA process, noting that the revisions are “aimed at giving students information about how much aid they qualify for earlier on in the college-application process, and encouraging more low-income students to go after federal grants and loans.”

Study: For-Profit, Community College Students Driving Loan Defaults.

The Los Angeles Times  (9/11, Puzzanghera) reports that study by Adam Looney, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for tax analysis, and Constantine Yannelis, a Stanford doctoral student, found that “the recent rise in student loan defaults has been driven mostly by the increase in those attending at for-profit colleges,” but “students at community colleges also contributed to the big increase in loan defaults.” However, Looney and Yannelis also predicted that “the high default rates aren’t likely to continue,” as there is no longer “the surge in students” driven by the Great Recession’s labor market, as well as “increased scrutiny and policing of for-profit institutions.”

Michigan Working To Help Veterans Pursue Higher Education When They Return Home.

Crain’s Detroit Business  (9/14, Lane) reports t he Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency expects 30,000 to 50,000 veterans will leave the military and move to Michigan over the next few years. Jeff Barnes, the director of that agency, says he wants education to be a “key pivot point” for veterans returning home. Michigan is working with colleges across the state to coordinate efforts to help veterans enroll in college programs when they return. Phil Larson, director of the veteran military services program at the University of Michigan, says that going to college can help veterans as they make the transition back into civilian life. Larson said, “College gives people time and room to adjust to being a civilian.”

ASEE Annual Conference VIDEOS

Kai Kight
Dynamic speaker and violinist Kai Kight performs and talks about how he merges music and inspirtaion.

Maria Klawe
The Havery Mudd President’s keynote address focused on the school’s efforts toward diversity.

Research and Development

New York Boosting Upstate Tech Investment.

The AP  (9/12, Hill) reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials are “looking to revive long-lagging upstate regions” by placing “big bets in high-tech sectors” in order to “marshal big pots of public and private money to create a specialized technology hub.” The piece explains that the ultimate goal is “to transform upstate New York regions past their manufacturing heydays.” The article details the individual investments in different tech programs around the state.

NSF Grant To Assist With Sensor Use At Archaeological Sites.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette  (9/13) reported that the National Science Foundation recently presented a $277,264 grant to the University of Arkansas to “support the use of remote-sensing technology at archeological sites.” The award will support the Spatial Archaeometry Research Collaborations program, which was launched by the university’s Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies and Archaeo-Imaging Laboratory.

Industry News

Side-Slip Could Help Aircraft Turnaround Times.

The Denver Post  (9/12, Keeney) reports on the Side-Slip seat, an invention by Denver engineer Hank Scott that he believes could “save airlines millions of dollars, ease passenger aggravation and even make people want to sit in the middle.” After a button on the Side-Slip is pushed, the aisle seat “moves over the middle seat, increasing the aisle width from the standard 19 inches to 41 inches — wide enough for two people to stand side-by-side, and for a wheelchair to roll down the middle of the plane.” The product is “aimed at low-cost airlines that make multiple flights per day, most less than three hours long.” The Side-Slip is intended to help aircraft turnaround times by helping to get passengers off the plane faster. Field tests Scott ran improved efficiency “by 4.5 minutes, or 27 percent, for random boarding, and by 6.7 minutes, or 33 percent efficiency, for block boarding. … For an airline that runs 1,000 turnarounds per day, those 6.7 minutes translate to daily savings of $670,000, or about $245 million per year.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Study: Burning All Fossil Fuels Will Melt Entire Antarctic Ice Sheet.

In a 1,337-word article, the New York Times  (9/12, Gillis, Subscription Publication) reports that in a study released on Friday, scientists indicate that rising temperatures resulting from the “Burning of all the world’s deposits of coal, oil and natural gas” would melt the Antarctic ice sheet in its entirety and raise sea levels “by more than 160 feet.” According to the Times, the paper notes the ice sheets could be completely melted within 1000 years, raising sea levels at a rate 10 times faster than is currently happening. A researcher from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research located in Germany stated, “If we burn it all, we melt it all.”

WSJournal: Anti-Carbon Policies Disproportionately Harm Poor. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (9/12, Subscription Publication) says some California Democrats’ decision to vote against Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate change legislation is a recognition that anti-carbon policies harm the poor more than other parts of society.

Two Louisiana Firms Play Key Roles In Rhode Island Offshore Wind Farm.

The AP  (9/14, Thompson) reports “two Louisiana firms with roots in the oil and gas industry” are “playing a leading part in what could be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.” Once it is in operation, “Deepwater Wind’s Block Island project is in line to generate 30 megawatts of electricity” around “3 miles off Rhode Island’s coast.” The “massive steel foundations” for Deepwater Wind’s “five turbines were designed by Keystone Engineering, of Mandeville, and built by Gulf Island Fabrication in Houma.” The firms “were a natural fit for the project: Though destined for the East Coast, the foundations were modeled on offshore technology used by the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Regulators Find Pipeline Company Kept “Shoddy” Records.

The AP  (9/12, Press) reported that the Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline, which was responsible for an oil spill in Central California, “kept shoddy records on emergency training and how it would protect pristine coastline in the event of an accident.” On Friday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a report detailing six violations from inspections that took place in 2013.

In separate coverage, the AP  (9/12, Melley, Blood) additionally reported that Plains All American Pipeline “ failed to properly document pressure tests on tanks and failed to keep adequate records on how it would prevent spills in sensitive environmental areas, or respond if one did occur.” A University of California, Berkeley civil engineering professor Robert Bea stated that the report issued by regulators “speaks to a weak culture of safety and inadequate efforts to assess risk and prevent spills.”

Moreover, the Los Angeles Times  (9/12, Panzar) reported that regulators noted “two ‘probable’ violations of federal safety regulations during inspections of Lines 901 and 903,” by the Texas-based pipeline company, in addition to the more serious concerns over safety oversight. Inspectors found that Plains All American Pipeline was further unable to locate any records of safety evaluations that took place on segments of pipeline running from Santa Barbara to Kern Counties. The company has been “issued a warning for not adequately documenting its annual emergency response training program.”

FRA Urges Railroads To Disclose Structural Integrity At Rail Crossings.

The Stamford (CT) Advocate  (9/12, Cummings) reports that FRA “is urging Metro-North and other railroads to be open about the structural integrity of crossings.” Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg stated in a letter to railroad companies, “When a local leader or elected official asks a railroad about the safety status of a railroad bridge, they deserve a timely and transparent response.”

The Suffield (CT) Times  (9/12) reports that Feinberg’s letter “stops in need of requiring railroads to supply inspection stories to the general public upon request — one thing a invoice making its approach by way of Trenton might do.” One of FRA’s critics, however, a lawyer with the environmental group Hudson Riverkeeper, Sean Dixon, said that while “FRA has the authority to set requirements, demand engineering studies and prohibit use of bridges that haven’t been inspected,” instead the agency has alternately decided “to cover behind the business.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

ED’s King Laments Uneven STEM Opportunities For K-12 Students.

Liana Heitin writes at the Education Week  (9/14) “Curriculum Matters” blog about a recent event on K-12 STEM instruction hosted by the Washington Post, noting that ED special adviser John King took part in “an expert panel on closing education gaps,” asking “what grade the U.S. K-12 education system should get for STEM education.” The piece quotes King describing the disparity in STEM opportunities at schools across the country, saying, “The challenge is there are two grades. In some places, we should get an A, and in some places we should get a D.” King said that “while students in high-income schools are winning Intel competitions, doing college-level research, and creating apps and inventions, many schools with majority African-American populations ‘don’t even offer Algebra 2.”

Programming Boot Camps Growing Across The Country.

The Houston Chronicle  (9/13, Rumbaugh) reports programming “boot camps” are helping students across the country get ready for jobs as computer programmers. The industry has grown a lot over the past few years and is starting to mature attracting attention from the media and state regulators. More than 16,000 people are expected to graduate from boot camps this year compared to fewer than 7,000 last year.

University Of Maryland Will Host All-Female Hackathon In November.

USA Today  (9/11, Ohl) reports Technica, an “all-ladies” hackathon at the University of Maryland this November, is part of a growing national trend of all-female, on-campus hackathons. A hackathon is a “collaborative, marathon session of computer programming.” The article reviews the history of women and computers. There were many women in the field of computer science in the early 1980’s, but as the personal computer market expanded many came to associate computers with games played mostly by men and boys and fewer women chose to enter computer science as a result. All-female programming events like Technica are aiming to reverse that change.

Utah Testing New Program To Prepare High School Students For Jobs In Aerospace Industry.

The AP  (9/12, Jacobsen) reports the Utah Aerospace Pathways program is being piloted this year to “allow high school seniors to get paid internships, graduate with a certificate in aerospace manufacturing and immediately begin a career.” The program aims to help students get jobs in the aerospace industry in Utah. The program is being sponsored in part by aerospace companies like Boeing and Orbital ATK as well as Hill Air Force Base, located in northwest Utah. The pilot program will be implemented at 7 high schools across two school districts. Participants will take special courses, complete an internship, and enroll in classes at local colleges during their second semester.

Pilot Promotes Glider Project To Interest Students In STEM.

The Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune  (9/13) featured a profile of Miguel Inturmendi, a Sarasota, FL-based aviator and engineer with the Perlan Project, which plans to use a “one-of-a-kind carbon-fiber glider” to conduct high-altitude studies of Earth’s ozone layer. Inturmendi, the Herald-Tribune said, is also manager of the project’s cockpit simulator, which he “wants to introduce it into Sarasota schools as a permanent hands-on learning experience.” Inturmendi stressed the project and its ambitions are “how you get young people interested in science, and you design programs for different levels.”

Friday’s Lead Stories Part Of Larger Effort To Provide More Training In Coding.
More Students Enroll In Unconventional Majors.
Northeastern To Conduct Defense Research With US Army Research Laboratory.
Oregon Receives $3M In Federal Funds To Address Skilled Worker Shortage.
Bombardier CSeries Now Closing In On Certification.
Treasury Official: Insurance Companies Can Help Bolster Cybersecurity.
ED Approves State Plans For Teacher Equity.

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