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

Leading the News

Obama Rejects TransCanada Request To Postpone Keystone Decision Until After Election.

The White House was quick to reject a request from Canadian firm TransCanada that a final decision about the Keystone XL pipeline be postponed until after the 2016 elections, and media reports cast the move as indication that President Obama wants to end the seven-year fight before he leaves office. Analyses also agree that this means Obama is likely to kill the pipeline, and some reports state that in so doing, he could be hurting next year’s Democratic ticket in key states.

The New York Times  (11/4, A17, Davis, Subscription Publication) reports the White House said the President “had no intention of bowing to a request” from TransCanada to delay a decision on the pipeline, “saying he wanted to take action before his tenure ends.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said there is ‘“reason to suspect that there may be politics at play’ in TransCanada’s request.” The Washington Post  (11/4, Eilperin) says Earnest’s comments “suggested that the administration…has come to see the project as a powerful symbol of what Obama could do unilaterally to keep fossil fuels underground,” even though other Administration policies “are likely to have a greater impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.”

PBS NewsHour (11/3, Ifill) reported, “The long-running debate over the Keystone pipeline has taken another sharp turn, as the company behind its construction asked to suspend a review of its plans, triggering many questions about whether the Obama Administration is planning to reject it anyway. … Earnest expressed skepticism today over TransCanada’s abrupt request.” Earnest: “There’s no doubt that this debate has been heavily influenced by politics, and the President is doing his best to try to shield the actual process that will consider the merits of the project from those politics.” The Globe and Mail  (11/3, Cryderman) says the White House “signaled its displeasure” with TransCanada’s request, which “was viewed in some quarters as a last-gasp effort to salvage a doomed project and by others as a strategic move to keep the pipeline to Texas alive.”

Bloomberg News  (11/4, Sink) reports the State Department said it will continue its review “even as it considers” the request from TransCanada “to pause its evaluation of the controversial project.” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said, “We’re going to get back to them; while that takes place we’re not going to pause.” Reuters  (11/4, Gardner, Wallace) says TransCanada’s unusual request indicates that the company considers ongoing uncertainty preferable to an outright rejection.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/4, Tau, Subscription Publication) says the President has been skeptical of the project, and environmentalists have been pressuring him to reject it. But TransCanada’s request would give the Administration a way to avoid a decision that could anger voters in some key states before next year’s elections. Fuel Fix  (11/3, Dlouhy) says allowing a delay could solve “a political quandary for the Obama administration.”

Higher Education

Analysis Looks At Role Of For-Profit Accreditors.

A ProPublica  (11/4) analysis explores the role of the accrediting agencies that that operate in the for-profit college realm, writing that while they are “supposed to make sure that schools provide students with a quality education,” but “rarely crack down, even when students are struggling.” The analysis focuses on students’ experiences, and reports that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools “stands out” among accreditors. Schools under the accreditor’s umbrella have low graduation rates, and “ACICS-accredited schools fare worse than at schools accredited by other agencies.”

UMass Lowell, Salem State Forgo SAT, ACT Requirement.

The Boston Globe  (11/3, Gans) reports that, starting with the fall 2016 applicant pool, UMass Lowell and Salem State University will no longer require applicants to submit SAT and ACT scores. Commenting on the change in policy, Kerri Johnston, director of admissions at UMass Lowell stated that, because of the testing requirement, “we were turning away some great students whose standardized test scores did not reflect their ability to succeed.” Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, lauded the change: “The test-optional movement empowers students to be able to put their best foot forward in the admission process and not have one bad test score branded on their file forever.”

Rate Of Tuition Increases Slowing.

The Washington Post  (11/4, Douglas-Gabriel) reports the rate of college tuition increases has slowed in recent years after “soaring” during the Great Recession. During the 2009-2010 academic year, tuition and fees at public colleges increased 9.5%, but during the current academic year prices only increased 2.9%. Although the rate of increase seems to be slowing, the total price paid by students today is almost three times as much as students paid in 1985. The article outlines how the way students and families pay for college has changed in recent decades.

From ASEE
October Prism Now Online – Members Only
Cover story – A sprawling telescope array has made South Africa a world leader in radio astronomy and produced a pipeline of specialized engineers.

The Best Part of ASEE Membership
Members weigh in in this short video from the Annual Conference.

Transforming Undergraduate Eduction in Engineering
Read the first report of this multi-phase project.

Research and Development

NSF Awards $5 Million Grant To University Of Michigan Team Researching Brain Circuits.

The AP  (11/4) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to a research team at the University of Michigan to “help unravel mysteries of the brain.” The research team includes experts in neuroscience, electronics, data analysis, and sensors who will attempt to “reconstruct neural circuits with computer simulations.”

University Of Illinois And Carle Health System Sign New 10-Year Research Deal.

The Urbana/Champaign (IL) News-Gazette  (11/2, Wurth) reports the University of Illinois “signed a 10-year research affiliation agreement with Carle Health System designed to spur new biomedical advances at the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine.” Carle also agreed to pay the university $1.5 million per year for services such as preparing grant proposals and overseeing compliance.

NSF Awards $4.5 Million Grant To Northwest Nanotechnology Infrastructure.

The Eugene (OR) Register-Guard  (11/4) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $4.5 million grant to the Northwest Nanotechnology Infrastructure, a partnership that includes Oregon State University and the University of Washington, to conduct nanotechnology research.

Global Developments

UK Spends $6.4 Million To Develop Infrastructure Monitoring, Repair Drones.

Popular Mechanics  (11/3, Bennett) reports that UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council awarded the University of Leeds $6.4 million to “develop small robots that are capable of identifying and repairing damaged street lights and utility pipes as well as filling potholes.” The article suggests that one of the challenges of the project will be “overcoming the payload limitation of drones,” which some researchers are already looking to address through the use of multiple drones that distribute the weight of heavy materials.

Industry News

Larry Page Speaks At Fortune Magazine Forum About Innovation.

The AP  (11/3, Liedtke) reports Larry Page, co-founder of Google, spoke at a forum sponsored by Fortune magazine about his hopes that his new company Alphabet, now the parent company of Google, will be a center of innovation for engineers and scientists. Page said he envisions Alphabet evolving into a holding company like Berkshire Hathaway with a focus on STEM fields.

VW Reveals 800,000 Additional Vehicles Impacted By Carbon Dioxide Issue.

ABC World News (11/3, story 5, 0:15, Muir) reported that Volkswagen’s internal investigation revealed that an additional 800,000 vehicles also have “irregular carbon dioxide emission levels” in addition to the previously reported totals.

The New York Times  (11/4, Ewing, Bowley, Subscription Publication) reports VW “said that most of the 800,000 vehicles affected by the carbon dioxide issue were diesels as well and that it discovered the problem while investigating the earlier software deception.” The company also said that “a recall would not be necessary to fix” the problem. The Wall Street Journal  (11/4, A1, Boston, Subscription Publication) reports on its front page that even though the company gave no details about which specific vehicles or engines are affected by the problem, industry analysts say that cars sold in Europe were likely most affected. NBC Nightly News (11/3, story 5, 0:15, Holt) reported that this discovery could cost the “company another $2 billion.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Analysis: Drone Delivery Faces Several Hurdles.

TIME  (11/3, Eadicicco) outlines the challenges facing companies’ attempts to employ drones as part of their delivery strategies, including safety, regulation of airspace, battery-related technology hurdles, and cost. Brian Kilcourse, managing partner at Retail Systems Research, added that the real question companies must answer is whether consumers want the service, stating that it is not “clear that consumers would pay for the privilege” of having their orders delivered by drone considering the associated costs. David Vanderhoof, the co-host of UAV Digest, a podcast covering unmanned aerial vehicle systems, argued that drone delivery “will probably happen,” but conceded that it would be “very optimistic” to think that drone delivery, even if the technology improves and the price falls, would be “as common as FedEx or UPS.”

White House Threatens To Veto Federal Water Quality Protection Act.

The White House has threatened to veto the Senate’s Federal Water Quality Protection Act, arguing the measure will cause “confusion, uncertainty and inconsistency” over clean water rules, Reuters  (11/3) reports.

Senate Democrats Block Measure To Force Withdrawal Of Clean Water Rules. The AP  (11/4, Jalonick) reports that Senate Democrats have blocked a measure to force the Administration “to withdraw new federal rules to protect smaller streams, tributaries and wetlands from development and pollution.” the 57-41 vote to stop debate and consider the measure fell short of the 60 votes it needed. Four Democrats, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, Claire McCaskill, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly, “voted with Republicans on the measure.”

Twenty-Three States Sue Over EPA Emissions Rules.

The Hill  (11/4, Henry) reported that 23 states, led by West Virginia, have filed suit against the EPA “over its emissions rules for new and modified power plants.” According to the states, the EPA “exceeded its authority when issuing the rules, which look to cut down on carbon emissions from future power plants around the United States.” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement, “This gamble proves far too costly for West Virginia. … EPA cannot rely on experimental and costly technology that threatens hard-working West Virginians whose livelihoods are dependent upon the coal industry.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Pennsylvania Elementary School Awarded Grant To Encourage STEAM Events, Learning.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (11/4, Panizzi) reports the Allegheny Intermediate Unit awarded a $20,000 STEAM grant to Kerr Elementary School in Fox Chapel Area School District in Pennsylvania. The grant is being used to fund events and programs to encourage children to enter STEAM fields. Recently, a local high school technology teacher demonstrated how to fly a small drone outside the elementary school with second-grade students watching. The drone took pictures outside of the school, which students will use to sketch possible redesigns of the playground area nearby the school.

West Virginia Education Summit Agrees To Expand Technology Access For Students.

The AP  (11/4) reports leaders meeting at the West Virginia Education Summit agreed that students in the state need greater access to technology at school. State Superintendent Michael Martirano said he wants all students from third grade to twelfth grade to have laptops or tablets that they can use at school and home. Martirano said the proposal is expensive, but could be partially offset by reducing or eliminating textbooks.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

White House: Obama Will Make Keystone Decision Before Leaving Office.
ED Releases New Financial Protections For College Students.
Opinion: Artificial Intelligence Creates New Ethical Questions.
Blackberry To Release Priv Smartphone Nov. 6.
White House Issues Cybersecurity Strategy And Implementation Plan.
Retired Entrepreneur Moves Back To Texas Hometown To Open Up Science Laboratory For Children.

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