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

Leading the News

Panel Highlights Competing Interests Between Generation, Transmission Owners.

The Platts  (10/1, Watson) reports that the Houston Import Project highlights the competing interests of generation and transmission owners within the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, adding, “attendees of a regional trade conference on Wednesday received a thorough briefing – but no resolution – of the issues involved.” Introducing the topic at the conference as a panel host, Ross Baldick, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas, said there is a growing tension between of interests owners of larger regulated transmission assets and those of relatively deregulated generation assets, asking, “How do we get those competing forces to play well?” Platts also notes subsequent discussion between panelists, highlighting the various perspectives on the topic.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer  (10/1, Pelzer) notes that the report stated, “The Study Committee believes that continuation of the Mandates will be too costly for Ohioans, and that the penalties for not attaining the Mandates are overly punitive.” The report additionally states, “As long as legal questions remain pending, the General Assembly should refrain from allowing escalating costs to be paid by Ohio ratepayers in the form of increased Mandates or making any significant changes to the State of Ohio’s energy policies without knowing whether the CPP will ever apply.”

Higher Education

ED: Federal Student Loan Default Rate Down.

The Washington Post  (10/1, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the number of people defaulting on their federal student loans within three years of exiting college is down, indicating that the government’s accommodating repayment plans are increasingly being utilized. Roughly 11.8 percent of student loan borrowers who began making payments in October 2011 defaulted by the same time in 2014, down from 13.7 percent in the previous year, according to the Department of Education. However, the department has admitted that such default rates are susceptible to “gaming” as schools encourage students struggling to make payments to enter forbearance or deferment. The article also notes the recently covered report by the CFPB accusing student loan servicers of making obstacles to repayment, increasing costs, and pushing borrowers into default with sloppy collection and application of payments. The Post quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “We are seeing real progress in helping students manage their debt. Although the reduction is welcomed, we know we have a long way to go to ensure that students and taxpayers do not bear the cost and the consequences of default.” Meanwhile, Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said that there is the potential for some schools to “game default rates by encouraging students suffering financial hardship to postpone payments through deferment or forbearance.”

The AP  (10/1, Kerr) reports that ED “says there’s been another drop in the percentage of people who are defaulting on their student loans in the first years of repayment.” The article quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “We’re seeing real progress.”

Bloomberg News  (9/30, Lorin) reports that the reduction in the default rate comes “as more struggling borrowers used programs that let them pay lower amounts based on income and fewer students enrolled at for-profit colleges.”

The Wall Street Journal  (10/1, Mitchell, Subscription Publication), Inside Higher Ed  (9/30), the Detroit Free Press  (9/30), CNN Money  (9/30, Lobosco), the Boston Globe  (10/1, Cloutier), and US News & World Report  (9/30, Camera) also cover this story.

Perkins Loan Reauthorization Dies In Senate.

The Washington Post  (10/1, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander killed a bid to reauthorize the Perkins Loan Program, which serves “the neediest college students,” on Wednesday, noting that “a bipartisan coalition in Congress had rallied around the program.” The piece notes that Alexander “objected to the extension of Perkins, a program he has long sought to eliminate in favor of consolidating all of the federal loan programs into one unsubsidized loan.” The Hill  (10/1, Becker) reports that the House had voted to extend the program on Monday. The piece reports that Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) “sharply criticized Alexander’s decision.”

Agents Who Recruit Foreign Students Suspected Of Fraud.

The Wall Street Journal  (10/1, Chen, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that many US colleges pay agents to recruit foreign students, but explains that some agencies are suspected of falsifying transcripts to increase the chances that their clients will be accepted. The piece explains that it is legal under Federal law to pay agents per-student commissions as long as the students in question are not eligible for Federal aid, and notes that the National Association for College Admission Counseling changed its ethics code to allow the process for foreign students in 2013.

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Research and Development

CU-Boulder To Receive $1.9M Grant For Drone Project.

The Boulder (CO) Daily Camera  (10/1, Brennan) reports “the University of Colorado will lead a $1.9 million federal grant to develop autonomous aerial robotic systems – drones – to facilitate new atmospheric science applications, including observing and better understanding the behavior of severe storms.” The three-year grant comes “from the National Science Foundation” and “is under the umbrella of the National Robotics Initiative.”

KETV-TV  Omaha, NE (10/1) reports other schools participating in the grant include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Texas Tech University, and Texas A&M University.

NSF Awards $3.8 Million Grant To UNLV To Research Soft Robotics.

The Las Vegas Sun  (10/1, Rothberg) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $3.8 million grant to the University of Nevada Las Vegas to fund research in soft robotics, “a sub-field that designs devices from pliable material.” The field could be used to develop new types of medical devices like an “exoskeleton for patients with severe neurological diseases” or “artificial muscles.”

NSF Awards Grant To University Professor In Texas To Research Engineering Creativity.

KYTX-TV  Tyler, TX (10/1) reports the National Science Foundation awarded an almost $300,000 grant to LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas to support “research on improving engineering creativity and problem solving.” The research project, “Understanding How Engineers Draw from their Knowledge and Experience to Solve Design Problems Creatively” will be led by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Ben Caldwell.

Northwestern Student Wins Young Researcher Award For Work In Civil Engineering.

The Foxborough (MA) Patch  (10/1, Tammaro) reports “David Vines-Cavanaugh, current Ph.D. student at Northeastern University’s College of Engineering, won first place for the Young Researcher Award at the International Symposium on Non-Destructive Testing in Civil Engineering (NDT-CE 2015).” Vines-Cavanaugh earned the award “for his presentation on the paper he co-authored with eight colleagues, ‘City-Wide Application of a Vehicle-Mounted Multi-Sensor Pavement Monitoring System.’”


Smith: Work Permit Application Change A “Coup” For Tech Industry.

Ian M. Smith, an investigative associate with the Immigration Reform Law Institute, writes in The Hill  (9/30) “Congress Blog” that “Lobbyists for the trillion-dollar tech industry pulled off a major immigration coup” by securing “potentially hundreds of thousands of work permits for their foreign tech staff in the US.” Smith says the deal “is breathtaking in how far it goes and how much it finesses our Congressionally-made immigration laws.” Smith describes how the application tracks for Indian nationals within and outside the US will be “conflated,” adding that “This change is happening precisely because the nation with the biggest employment visa backlog, India, also produces the greatest amount of temporary workers for the tech industry.” Smith speculates that tech firms back the change as an alternative to having Congress lift the annual cap on H-1B visas.

Shell Representative Speaks At “Females Fueling Our Workforce” Event.

The Houma (LA) Times  (9/30) reported on last Friday’s “Females Fueling Our Workforce” event at Fletcher Technical Community College, which “gave students from Assumption, Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes a chance to hear from women currently working in the industry and how they too could one day pursue such career paths.” Students heard from several women at the event, including Shelley Piehet, public awareness representative for Shell Pipeline Corporation, who “discussed her community outreach job duties.” Said Piehet, “Whatever degree you go to, you do have to work for it. … Look at everything you can do. Don’t underestimate what a career as an engineer is about or what a career as a geologist is about, or one with a business degree. My business degree has put me in a lot of great places and brought me to a lot of great jobs. It’s how you present yourself and what you want to do.”

Global Developments

Chinese Firms Using 3D-Printing For Construction.

Investors Business Daily  (10/1) reports that “additive manufacturing” using 3D printers is increasingly “going beyond small widgets and into…large-scale projects,” as seen in the construction of entire houses by Chinese firms. China’s Shanghai WinSun Decoration Design Engineering firm recently “mass-produced 10 houses in less than 24 hours with a massive 3D printer that it developed,” which makes 657-square-foot house for under $5,000 using recycled materials. While US 3D-printing firms have not attempted such large projects, Stratasys is currently collaborating with MIT on a “4D printing project” researching “self-assembly technologies for large-scale structures in our physical environment.”

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Imposes New Discharge Regulations On Steam Electric Power Plants.

The AP  (10/1, Daly) reports that on Wednesday, the EPA “imposed new standards for mercury, lead and other toxic pollutants that are discharged into the nation’s rivers and streams from steam electric power plants.” EPA Administrator McCarthy said the rules “will provide significant protections for our children and communities across the country, including minority and low-income communities, from exposure to pollutants that can cause…serious health problems.”

Federal Judge Blocks New Fracking Rules.

Bloomberg News  (10/1, Harris) reports that new federal fracking regulations were “blocked” on Wednesday by US District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Wyoming, “who said the government’s Bureau of Land Management lacks the authority to control hydraulic fracturing.” The ruling “puts on hold the most closely watched effort by the Obama administration to ensure that fracking doesn’t contaminate water supplies.” The Wall Street Journal  (10/1, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that Skavdahl wrote in his order, “Congress has not authorized or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing and, under our constitutional structure, it is only through congressional action that the BLM can acquire this authority.”

The New York Times  (10/1, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that the rules, which apply only to drilling on federal and tribal lands, were immediately targeted by oil and gas industry groups, who sued to block them.

FCC To Decide On Regulations For Prison Phone Calls.

The New York Times  (10/1, Williams, Subscription Publication) reports that the FCC will decide in October “whether to limit rates and service fees for phone calls made by prison and jail inmates, a senior agency official said on Wednesday.” The FCC is seeking to regulate “the $1.2 billion phone industry serving prisons and jails, which has been criticized for overcharging inmates’ families.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Chief Technical Officer Of US Says Parents Can Use Activities To Get Children Excited About STEM.

TIME  (10/1, Abrams) reports Megan Smith, the Chief Technical Officer of the US, says that parents can get their children excited about STEM subjects by using hands-on activities to explain mathematical and scientific concepts instead of just teaching facts. Smith says that schools with student-managed gardens have higher science scores. Smith says, “Science is really discovery – you don’t know the answer. We’re so busy teaching children the fact that have been discovered, we don’t teach them the scientific method.”

Ohio Elementary School Has Kindergarten Classroom Just For STEM Education.

WKBN-TV  Youngstown, OH (9/30, Bercik) reports Hilltop Elementary School in Canfield, Ohio has a kindergarten classroom dedicated to STEM. The classroom is set up for activities like building houses out of blocks to teach children STEM skills and how to work together in a group.

National STEM Enrichment Franchise Teaches Fashion Design Courses, Expanding Number Of Campuses.

US News & World Report  (9/30, Golod) reports Zaniac, a national STEM enrichment franchise, has six campuses that teach high school students STEM skills around the country. Simon Hopkins, a senior at Park City High School in Utah, took a course on fashion design from Zaniac and now works as an instructor there. In the class, Hopkins learned about fashion history and how to use Inkscape, a graphic design program, to design his own clothing. Zaniac’s campuses are currently located in Utah, the Northeast, and Miami, but are planning to open more soon. Zaniac decided to offer a fashion design course at all of their campuses to attract more female students.

Also in the News

White House Office Encourages “Citizen Science” With New Policies.

The Huffington Post  (9/30, Howard) reports the White House Office of Science and Technology Police released a memorandum and toolkit for government agencies to encourage “citizen science”, crowdsourced scientific observation. The director of the office Dr. John Holdren said, “I think citizen science is a perfect example of an approach that truly lies at the nexus of three important things – science, technology and policy.” Holdren directed government agencies to designate a citizen science coordinator and to catalog citizen science activities that are open to public participation.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Stofan Tells Congress That Mars Water May Not Be “Very Habitable.”
CFPB Explores New Rules On Student Debt Servicers.
Montana State Receives Grant For Nanotechnology Center.
Alion Awarded $49M Navy Contract For ISR Components.
TransCanada Looks To Delay Approval Decision On Keystone.
Indiana Students Learn About Manufacturing At Local Event.

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