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

Leading the News

Volkswagen, Senior EPA Officials To Testify Before Congressional Oversight Committee.

Reuters  (10/6, Morgan) reports that on Thursday the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality director Christopher Grundler and its Air Enforcement Division director Phillip Brooks will testify before the US House Energy and Commerce Committee regarding the Volkswagen AG emissions cheating scandal, according to a Tuesday announcement from the committee.

Bloomberg News  (10/6, Plungis) reports that a staff memo prepared by the committee asserts “Volkswagen AG waited two months after acknowledging a software abnormality in its cars to tell regulators the algorithm was designed to cheat emissions tests.” The staff memo says that at the hearing both Volkswagen and EPA officials will be questioned regarding what consumers can expect from the company in the future. The article notes that on Tuesday the Senate Finance Committee also “disclosed its own investigation into whether Volkswagen lied to the U.S. government in certifying its diesel vehicles as eligible for alternative motor vehicle tax credits.”

Senate Finance Committee To Investigate VW. The Detroit News  (10/6, Shepardson) reports that on Tuesday Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (OR) wrote to Volkswagen CEO Matthias Muller and its top US executive Michael Horn to investigate the scandal. The article lists the questions asked in the letter, including whether “Volkswagen make false or misleading assertions in any of the materials submitted to, or communications made to, the U.S. government regarding eligibility of Volkswagen vehicles for the lean-burn technology motor vehicle credit.”

Former EPA Director: VW Sought Tax Credits For Diesel Engines In 2011. The New York (NY) Times  (10/7, Kessler, Subscription Publication) provides background that in July 2011 VW officials opposed President Obama’s carbon emissions targets because, the company argued, diesel engines should “receive special fuel economy credits for their environmental friendliness, just as zero-emission electric cars” received. Former director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality Margo Oge said VW “did not just consider its clean diesels comparable to hybrids or plug-in electrics; it believed they were superior.”

VW CEO Muller Announces Recall To Start In 2016. Reuters  (10/7, Barkin) reports that Muller said in an interview for a German newspaper that the company would recall cars affected by the scandal in Jan. 2016, with fixes to be completed by 2016’s end. Muller asserted the company could “shine again” in a few years, after it underwent an “overhaul” of its structures, making the company “slimmer, more decentralized and giv[ing] the brands more responsibility.” Muller also contended he told financial markets about the diesel problems in a timely fashion, despite the announcement coming weeks after the company made disclosures to the EPA.

EIA Administrator Predicts Slight Increase In Oil Demand From VW Scandal. The Wall Street Journal  (10/7, Baxter, Subscription Publication) reports that on Tuesday US Energy Information Administration (EIA) administrator Adam Sieminski predicted the Volkswagen scandal could lead to higher gas use because light vehicles would switch away from diesel, which would increase the demand for crude oil. Sieminski called it basic economics that the falling price of oil would lead to increased gasoline consumption. Reuters  (10/6, Bousso) also quotes Sieminski’s statement at an industry conference in London anticipating “a little bit of increase in demand for crude oil.” Sieminski added that Diesel fuel consumption would also grow in the US in trucks, while US oil production would decline next year.

Higher Education

New Research Raises Concerns About For-Profit Colleges That Convert To Non-Profits.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (10/7, McIntire) reports former ED official Robert M. Shireman conducted research on for-profit colleges that converted to nonprofit organizations. Shireman found that some of the schools that converted act as “covert for-profits” when “their backers profits in ways that are not standard at traditional universities.” For example, some of the colleges paid board members, including family members of the colleges’ owners, whereas most nonprofit college board members are not paid. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities vice president for public affairs Noah A. Black dismissed the report saying, “There is no doubt about Mr. Shireman’s ideological opposition to our institutions, so this latest piece of ‘research’ sounds like it carries heavy bias and should invite skepticism.” The Washington Post  (10/7, Douglas-Gabriel) also covers the research, which looked at four schools: the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, Everglades College, Herzing University, and Remington Colleges. Shireman reviewed the school’s financial arrangements as well as their communications with the Internal Revenue Services when they changed from for-profit to nonprofit status. Shireman also found conflicts of interest when some of the owners loaned money to their own institutions.

South Dakota Mothballs GEAR UP Program Amid Suicide Scandal.

The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader  (10/6) reports that South Dakota schools chief Melody Schopp said that the state’s GEAR UP program “is on hold until further notice,” telling the state’s Native American Student Achievement Advisory Council that until ED “provided instructions, state educators should shelve the program aimed at helping Native American students go on to post-secondary education.” The article reports that an ED spokesperson didn’t respond to questions. The piece explains that the state announced last month that it “would not renew the $4.3 million Gear Up contract” held by Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, and reports that “hours later, Mid-Central’s business manager, Scott Westerhuis, is suspected of killing his wife and four children with a shotgun before setting fire to their Platte home and turning the gun on himself.”

The AP  (10/7, Nord) reports that the state is “waiting for word from” ED about the program’s future, noting that it is “under scrutiny in part due to an investigation into an apparent murder-suicide.” Schopp told the panel that the state has asked ED “about transitioning the GEAR UP program to a new administrator.”

Colleges Will Have To Return Perkins Loan Money Without Congressional Action.

USA Today  (10/6, Tumulty) reports almost 1,700 universities and colleges will be required to return billions of dollars in federal grants they received under the Perkins loan program, unless Congress soon passes legislation renewing the program, which expired on September 30. The House authorized a one-year extension of the program with a floor vote, but a floor vote in the Senate was blocked by Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Sen. Alexander plans to reorganize federal student aid by expanding the Pell Grant program and shutting down other types of aid. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “I would challenge Congress to redesign Perkins to make it larger, better targeted and more effective at helping students and families attend schools that offer a quality and affordable education, and I’d be enthusiastic about working with them to do that.”

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Cover: Chile overhauls 10 top engineering schools in a bid to join the world’s advanced economies.

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Research and Development

Carnegie Mellon And Boeing Announce New Lab To Study Aerospace Industry Data.

The Washington Post  (10/7, Basulto) reports Carnegie Mellon University and Boeing announced the creation of a new $7.5 million Aerospace Data Analytics Lab that will use artificial intelligence and big data analysis to gain real world insights into the aerospace industry. Boeing has collected a large amount of data on its operations and Carnegie Mellon professor Jaime Carbonell says that “recent advances in language technologies and machine learning give us every reason to expect that we can gain useful insights from that data.” Carbonell expects the research could be particularly helpful in the area of airplane maintenance. The data could show when planes actually need maintenance instead of just relying on heuristics.

NSF Awards $1.4 Million Grant To Purdue Professor To Study Barriers Women Face In Engineering Field.

The AP  (10/7) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $1.4 million grant to Purdue University Associate Professor Monica Cox “for her study of the barriers women often face in the engineering field.” The research will initially focus on analyzing the outcomes of tenure-track female faculty members at engineering schools across the country.

Analysis: Residential Energy Storage May Be The ‘Next Big Thing.’

The Utility Dive  (10/7, Walton) reports that while utility-scale energy storage projects have received much of the headlines recently, the residential storage market “has gone from feasible to home feature,” and according to Navigant Research, is “one of the fastest-growing markets for energy storage,” potentially growing to $16.5 billion market by 2024. Greentech Media senior analyst Omar Saadeh stated that the barrier for the “market has long been the high cost of the batteries;” however, the article adds that “new business models and leasing strategies, combined with the falling cost of storage,” are, in Saadeh’s words, “creating new options for advanced home energy systems.” The piece adds that although many residential storage projects “are tied to home solar systems,” the market and interest for “stand-alone storage for battery backup, aggregation and demand response” is growing.

Argonne Announces Program To Contract Battery Research.

Bloomberg News  (10/6, Parker) reports that on Tuesday, at the South by Southwest Eco conference, Argonne National Laboratory announced a program to work alongside private companies developing energy storage technologies, charging them by the hour for their help. Bloomberg News adds that the program will likely help smaller companies the most, allowing them to essentially outsource their research and development. Jeffrey Chamberlain, director of Argonne’s energy storage research, said “the timing is perfect for this capability…to be capitalized on.”

Industry News

Leidos Prime Contractor On $950M Air Force Contract For Architectural Engineering.

The Reston (VA) Patch  (10/7) reports the Air Force has awarded Leidos a prime contract on a $950 million contract “to perform architectural engineering services for a range of global programs.” A total of 18 organizations are “eligible to compete for work under the contract” for support of construction, modernization, and sustainment programs by the Air Force Civil Engineer Center.

Engineering and Public Policy

Two Groups Push Climate Change Initiatives In Washington State.

The AP  (10/7, Le) reports on two new initiatives in Washington state to combat climate change. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy announced plans on Tuesday to “put a climate initiative before voters” next November that will reduce emissions, price carbon pollution, and reinvest that money in clean energy and communities. Initiative 732, a competing effort, would tax carbon dioxide emissions at an annually increasing rate. Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy leaders oppose the carbon tax, citing polls that indicate voters would reject the measure and Initiative 732 does not properly address “the disproportionate impact of climate change on low-income and minority communities.”

Bloomberg Analysis: Wind And Solar Growth “Exponential.”

Bloomberg News  (10/6, Randall) reports that according to a new analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, wind and solar electricity production “has been rising at an exponential rate, and those two energy sources are now big enough to influence when coal and natural gas plants are kept running.” Bloomberg says “once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced.” Bloomberg adds that “wind power, including US subsidies, became the cheapest electricity in the US for the first time last year, according to BNEF.”

The Washington Post  (10/6, Mooney) reports that “it still depends greatly on where you are located,” for wind and solar costs to be competitive with those of fossil fuels. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, praised the findings in a statement, saying “the transition to a clean energy economy is going full speed ahead and pushing dangerous, dirty fossil fuels to the back of the line.”

California Governor To Sign Renewable Energy Bill.

The AP  (10/7, Blood, Lin) reports California Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to “sign an ambitious climate change measure” today “to increase California’s renewable electricity use to 50 percent and double energy efficiency in existing buildings by 2030.” Last month, Brown said in a statement, “We have the technological means and now we have the legal mandate to reduce carbon pollution.”

The Contra Costa (CA) Times  (10/7, Rogers, Hansen) reports the bill “sets in motion a green energy transformation for California over the next 15 years on a scale larger than anything any state has ever attempted.” Energy experts are concerned “that it won’t be easy to reach the legislation’s goals in a state with 38 million people and a $2 trillion economy.”

After Comments, Regulators Must Decide Rooftop Solar Rules.

The AP  (10/7) reports that the Public Service Commission heard testimony on proposed net metering rules for solar systems on Tuesday, where “supporters” claimed that the rules would be “a boon that will benefit all utility customers,” while electric utilities “expressed varying degrees of concern about the possibility of shifting costs” of infrastructure maintenance “to poorer customers.” According to the article, “Mississippi Power says some types of third-party financing arrangements could break Mississippi law about what constitutes an electrical utility,” though “proponents urged the commission to work around that concern.” At the hearing, the PSC “extended the comment period” for the rules, and the AP says that “it’s not clear when they will vote on the issue, which they’ve been considering since 2011.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Duncan Takes Part In Texas Education Tech Panel Discussion.

The San Antonio Express-News  (10/7, Nelsen) reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan took part in a panel discussion on digital technology in education during the Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology week at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, where he said that “even as the public and private sectors invest $10 billion to provide broadband service to 99 percent of students by 2018, perhaps as important to bridging the digital divide in underserved communities is access to devices.” Duncan said that districts’ money would be better spent on tablets than on traditional textbooks, and the paper quotes him saying, “I honestly believe when we buy textbooks, most of those textbooks are basically obsolete the day they show up in the classroom. I’d much prefer to see (school) districts put their money into devices.”

The McAllen (TX) Monitor  (10/7) reports that Duncan also focused on “the importance of preparing youth for careers in STEM” and on a “greater focus on blended learning.” Speaking about the event, Duncan said, “Seeing something like this was just an idea 13, 14 years ago, grow into something with this impact and power is extraordinary.” Duncan said they when students are exposed to technology, they should focus “on what goes into creating those products and working for those tech companies.” The paper quotes Duncan saying, “So much of what we have to do right here in this community, South Texas, and around the country is just to provide exposure. It’s hard to imagine doing something that you have no idea about.”

Kansas Education Commissioner Seeks To Make Education More Responsive To Employment.

The Kansas City (MO) Star  (10/7, Rose) reports Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson on Tuesday explained the state needs to find a way for schools to balance academics with developing “employability skills,” although “That message, he said, is far from the No Child Left Behind model that schools have operated under for the last decade, where states set academic benchmarks related to reading levels and math scores and teachers taught to those standards.” According to Watson, “We realize this means we may have to redesign school” but “Maybe education needs to focus on the individual student and not the system.”

New York City Mayor Unveils $81 Million Plan To Improve STEM Education.

The New York Daily News  (10/7, Chapman) reports New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to improve STEM education in the city’s schools. His $81 million plan would accomplish this by training teachers in STEM subjects, bringing in cutting-edge technology to classrooms, and moving the emphasis of computer classes from word processing to programming. De Blasio also wants to increase opportunities for students to work or intern in STEM jobs.

Hundreds Of Students Express Interest In Tomball ISD STEM Program.

The Houston Chronicle  (10/7, Kirk) reports Tomball Independent School District’s Project Lead the Way program “is attracting hundreds of students with an appetite for engineering.” According to the Chronicle, over 200 freshman students at the district have signed up for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program’s “introductory engineering courses during their eighth grade year.”

Ohio School District Starts STEM Education In Kindergarten With Fun Activities.

The Youngstown (OH) Vindicator  (10/6, Connelly) reports Canfield school district in Ohio starts STEM education in kindergarten with simple activities that are interesting to children. At Hilltop Elementary, kindergarteners play with connectable plastic blocks that make up different shapes in a STEM room. Kindergarten teacher Lisa Zetts says, “It looks like play, but you are hearing kids say rhombus and triangle. They’re very engaged. They’re very excited about learning.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

WPost Evaluates EPA’s New Ozone Regulations.
Lilly Endowment Foundation Pledges $50 Million To UNCF.
Mechanical Engineer Researches Permanent Damage To Hair From Straightening.
Startup Planning To Use Drones For “Precision Forestry.”
WSJournal Blasts EPA’s Rejection Of Pebble Mine Project.
Kentucky Joins Plan To Improve Career Preparation Programs In Schools.

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