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

Leading the News

DOE Issues Grants For Power Grid Security Center.

The AP  (10/13) reports the Energy Department “has awarded a $12.2 million grant for a new University of Arkansas research center focused on cybersecurity for electric power utilities.” Alan Mantooth, distinguished professor of electrical engineering, will “serve as principal investigator and director of the new national center that focuses on the issue.” He “says the center will focus on protecting the U.S. electric energy delivery system from cyberattacks.”

NBC News  (10/13) reports “another $22.5 million will be shared among the members of the University of Illinois Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium.” Both research efforts “will look into ways of protecting power grid elements – from the hardware that runs transformers to the software that power companies use – from cyberattacks.” In a press release DOE’s Patricia Hoffman said, “Cybersecurity is one of the most serious challenges facing grid modernization, which is why maintaining a robust, ever-growing pipeline of cutting-edge technologies is essential to helping the energy sector continue adapting to the evolving landscape.”

Higher Education

For-Profit Schools Accused Of Wrongdoing Continue To Receive Federal Funds.

The New York Times  (10/13, Cohen, Subscription Publication) reports that despite ED’s crackdown on so-called “bad actors” among for-profit colleges, the department “continues to hand over tens of millions of dollars every month to other for-profit schools that have been accused of predatory behavior, substandard practices or illegal activity by its own officials or state attorneys general across the country.” The Times says the ongoing “flow of money illustrates the quandary facing federal education officials.” While they are “trying to protect taxpayer funds and prevent students from falling deeply into debt without anything to show for it,” they must also “avoid running roughshod over private for-profit schools that have not been found guilty of wrongdoing.” The piece quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “What’s clear to all of us is that the best way to solve this problem is at the front end and not to let bad schools operate.”

California Governor Vetoes Bill To Help Former Corinthian Students.

The Vallejo (CA) Times Herald  (10/12) reports that California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill to offer state aid to students “left in the lurch” by the sudden closure earlier this year of colleges owned by Corinthian Colleges. Brown took issue with a state-funded program to give students seeking relief legal aid, saying that ED has already taken steps “to make it simpler for the students to clear their debts.”

ED’s Mitchell Leads Inter-Agency For-Profit College Regulatory Task Force.

Inside Higher Ed  (10/12) reports that in the face of a labyrinth of investigations into for-profit colleges, ED last year “announced the creation of an interagency task force that would formalize a partnership between federal agencies to oversee for-profit colleges.” Noting that the task force is led by Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, the article explains that it is meant to “build on the existing work already taking place by the department, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the Departments of Justice, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.”

Senators Introduce Bill That Would Allow Students To Refinance Federal Loans With Private Banks.

The Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail  (10/12, Speciale) reports Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Kelly Ayotte have introduced a bill that would allow college graduates to refinance federal loans through the private market. The bill would reverse a provision in the Health Care and Education Reconcilliation Act of 2010 that prohibited the federal government from subsidizing private student loans. Capito says his legislation, the Student Loan Relief Act of 2015 “will level the playing field for borrowers.” Some have criticized the bill for benefiting banks at the expense of students. Center for Responsible Lending senior policy counsel Maura Dundon said, “It’s like they’re cloaking this giveaway to Wall Street as an aid bill to students.”

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Research and Development

JD.com Opens Silicon Valley Facility.

South China Morning Post  (10/13) reports JD.com has opened a research and development facility in Silicon Valley, which follows last month’s opening of an office in Hong Kong. The new US facility will “focus on areas such as cloud computing, mobile applications and big-data infrastructure to improve the online retail experience” for its Chinese consumers. SCMP notes that efforts to expand internationally are also coupled with efforts to expand domestically in China in rural markets, which “heat[s] up competition with domestic market leader Tmall.com.”

Industry News

Leidos Selected To Compete Under $950M Architectural Engineering Contract.

In continuing coverage, Washington Exec  (10/13) reports Leidos announced last week that the US Air Force has selected the company to compete as one of 18 eligible organizations under a $950 million contract “to perform architectural engineering services for a range of global programs” for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. “Our support of the Air Force is long-standing, and our team is ready to use our breadth of proven engineering expertise to help AFCEC build cost-effective, sustainable installations of the future that are battle ready and built right,” said Leidos Engineering Group President Jim Moos.

Tree-Planting Drones Proposed By UK Firm.

The Independent (UK)  (10/11, Pells) reported that BioCarbon Engineering, based in Oxford, has proposed to plant trees using drones to counteract the effects of logging. The article reported that the team proposed to use drones to evaluate terrain for planting locations and then the drone would “fires a biodegradable seed pod at each position” to plant the trees. The Independent added that the firm estimates 10 times the number of trees could be planted at 15% of the cost of traditional methods.

On its website, the Discovery Channel  says that BioCarbon Engineering claims 1 billion seedlings could be planted each year. The company will begin planting at a plantation in South Africa this year.

Engineering and Public Policy

“Culture Of Badgering” Helped Cut California Water Usage.

The New York Times  (10/12, Richtel, Subscription Publication) reports that while California officials “credit their new conservation policies and the sting of thousands of warnings and penalties that they had issued to people for overuse,” for the state’s sharp reduction in water usage over the summer, “the most effective enforcers may be closer to home: the domestic water police,” including “moms and dads, spouses and partners, children, even co-workers and neighbors who are quick to wag a finger when they spot people squandering moisture.” The Times says this “culture of badgering has intensified since January 2014, when the drought led Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency and ask Californians to voluntarily cut water use by 20 percent.”

Electric Utilities Embrace Clean Power Plan.

The Wall Street Journal  (10/12, Smith, Subscription Publication) reported that as state governments prepare challenges to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, electric utilities are embracing the regulations as the market pushes them toward lower-carbon operations. “Everybody is moving in this direction anyway,” said Dominion Chief Executive Tom Farrell. Lower prices for natural gas and renewable infrastructure are enticing companies away from the coal-fired plants that will need closing under the plan. “Our coal assets are still running but they’re not making any money,” said Bob Flexon, CEO of Dynegy. “All the earnings are coming from our gas portfolio.”

Big Data Investments Optimizing Power From Wind.

Bloomberg News  (10/12, Hirtenstein) reports that Italy’s Enel, is investing “small sums of money” to tap significant savings by examining the data that comes from hundreds of power plants. Italy’s largest utility “already is squeezing more out of the wind farms it operates around the world” after operational data identified certain wind turbines had software that held back performance. CEO Francesco Starace “expects a deeper analysis of data to produce more savings and open new opportunities,” Bloomberg reports, adding that he sees big data explaining and predicting consumer behavior in the long term and “Information about their machines’ performance is immediately applicable in the short term.” Starace said that the Enel is “investing in batteries of all kinds, hardware and software management, plants with and without batteries, putting storage in people’s homes and electric vehicles.”

New Mexico To Have Three New Utility-Scale Solar Facilities By End Of 2016.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (10/13) reports that by the end of next year, “New Mexico will be producing another 165 megawatts of solar electricity from three large-scale generating facilities scheduled to come online near Roswell and Deming.” Southwest Public Service Co. “signed a long-term power purchase agreement with Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources to build and operate two 70 MW solar facilities near Roswell that, once operational in 2017, will be the largest such solar photovoltaic facilities in the state.” Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association “also announced a deal, with D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments LLC and Denver-based TurningPoint Energy for a 25-MW solar facility in Luna County, about 25 miles northeast of Deming.” The projects are attracting “attention in the renewable energy industry because of the low-cost electricity they will provide.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

High School Students Learning More About Cybersecurity To Meet Need.

US News & World Report  (10/12, Pannoni) reports high school students around the country are increasingly being taught about cybersecurity through “camps, classes, and after-school programs.” Cybersecurity experts say that students need to learn more about cybersecurity in order to browse the Internet safely without infecting their devices with viruses or malware. The article also gives tips on what parents and students can do to improve their own cybersecurity.

North Dakota School Requires Teachers To Learn New Technology Tool Each Month.

The Grand Forks (ND) Herald  (10/13, Johnson) reports teachers at Park River Elementary School in North Dakota have taken on a challenge to learn “one new technology tool per month to expand their knowledge and improve students’ collaboration and communication.” Teacher Brett Omdahl said students are learning to use the same technologies along with him. Omdahl said that he is working on incorporating what he’s learned into the curriculum.

Column: Chinese Physicist Creating Program To Teach Physics Like Sports.

In her Hechinger Report  (10/13) column, Jill Barshay highlights the work of Chinese physicist Zhongzhou Chen to create a program that teaches students physics by breaking down the field into smaller skills that can be practiced and perfected. Chen said he was inspired to create the program by the way children are taught to play sports, by breaking down a game into smaller parts and letting children practice the smaller parts separately before bringing them back together. Chen criticizes the traditional problem sets given to students to learn physics that require students to practice many different techniques at once without ever taking the time to master the individual techniques through repeated practice.

Florida Governor Pushing Workforce Skills Program.

The Miami Herald  (10/13) reports that Florida Gov. Rick Scott is “barnstorming” career and technical education schools around the state pushing for “a modest $20 million grant program called ‘a career in a year,’ to encourage centers to teach skills to match emerging needs in Florida’s workforce.” The article characterizes the push as part of Scott’s jobs emphasis.

The Florida Times-Union  (10/12) reports that Scott said that he “wants to spend $20 million to help technical schools respond quickly to employer needs,” noting that this likely is the first of a “stream of announcements about his upcoming budget proposal.” Under the plan, nearly 50 “technical colleges and centers would be eligible for competitive grants, which would be geared toward programs that could be completed in less than 52 weeks.” The plan “would include programs like licensed practical nursing, which takes 45 weeks and has 2,361 openings in Florida, and welding, a 39-week program that could offer a path to one of 583 jobs.”

The Bradenton (FL) Herald  (10/13), the Palm Beach (FL) Post  (10/12), and the Tampa Bay (FL) Times  (10/13) run similar reports.

Indiana High Schools Train Students To Fly Agricultural Drones.

The AP  (10/13, McCoy) reports a group of high school students in Newton County, Indiana are “spending the afternoons flying agricultural drones over cornfields.” A state grant has allowed local high schools to purchase “drones and tractors to train students in precision farming, which uses data to maximize crop yields.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

Appeals Court Halts EPA Water Rule Nationwide.
Defense Department Bans University Of Phoenix Recruitment On Military Bases.
UC San Diego To Unveil New Supercomputer.
City Council Approves Houston Spaceport Project Facility Purchase.
Amtrak Threatens Partial Shutdown If PTC Deadline Is Not Extended.
Acadiana High Schoolers Sign Up For Louisiana Oil And Gas Conference.

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