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

Leading the News

AP Analysis: Keystone Becomes “Exhibit A” In Obama’s Environmental Legacy.

The AP  (11/8, Lederman) reports that despite spending years “chid[ing] Republicans and Democrats alike for treating the Keystone XL pipeline as a signal of whether the US would seriously fight global warming,” President Obama is now using his rejection of the project “as Exhibit A as he works to lock in his environmental legacy” with an international climate agreement. The AP says “rejecting Keystone…was the latest in a long and growing list of steps” Obama has taken to demonstrate American leadership in combating climate change. According to the AP, Obama “is counting on the climate treaty…to vault him into a category of his own” as the first president “to treat climate change as a top-tier issue” and the “secure” international commitments “needed to address the problem significantly.”

A 1354-word Los Angeles Times  (11/8, Yardley, Parsons) analysis piece reports that President Obama’s Friday rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline reflects a changing political and economic climate since the pipeline was first proposed in 2008. At that time, the Times contends, that Obama was “running to end wars” and the “nation was entering a devastating recession that would send the unemployment rate soaring to 10 percent.” Since then, however, the article indicates, the country’s economic reality has shifted and there is also greater “awareness of the serious costs of climate change.”

AP Analysis: Question Turns To Whether Oil Will Still Flow. The AP  (11/7, Gillies, MacPherson) reports that following the White House’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline, “the oil industry faces the tricky task of making sure the crude oil targeted for the pipeline still gets where it needs to go.” According to the AP, “the question becomes” whether enough “pipeline capacity” exists “to move the oil and keep costs from getting too expensive.” The AP says “At the moment, the biggest impediment to the flow of oil” from Canada “is low oil prices,” which are “making many projects in the Canadian oil sands uneconomical.”

Environmental Groups Seek Movement Against Fossil Fuel Production On Federal Land. The Hill  (11/7, Henry) reported that environmental groups that are backing a bill introduced on Wednesday by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley that would “block all future lease sales for coal, oil, natural gas and other energy development” are hoping to parlay this legal measure into a broader movement toward “ending future fossil fuel production on federal land.” While energy companies have “scoffed at the effort” to move the bill through Congress, environmental groups believe they may have a chance at achieving their goal.

USA Today: Keystone Warranted Approval. In an editorial, USA Today  (11/9) argues that the Keystone XL pipeline project “warranted approval,” and while President Obama said approving the project would have undermined US leadership before climate change talks in Paris next month, “putting a price on carbon pollution, a step thwarted by the Republican-controlled Congress, would be a far better way to demonstrate American leadership than the symbolic move of killing a pipeline project.”

In an opposing view, Bill McKibben co-founder of, writes in USA Today  (11/9) that Americans “finally beat Big Oil,” by fighting against Keystone. McKibben says that fight has “kept 800,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest oil on earth underground.” Best of all, the fight has “spawned a thousand similar battles” for every similar project “that attempts to prolong the fossil fuel age.”

Higher Education

Obama Administration To Remodel Post-Secondary Accreditation System.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/7, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports in continued coverage that President Obama is seeking to remodel the system of higher education accreditation in the next year, increasing its transparency but also changing what accreditation will be based on. The Journal indicates that part of this new accreditation will be based on post-graduation job placements and how well students do after college. The article also notes that regulators will be looking beyond universities to computer-coding boot camps, which are quickly spreading across the country. The Administration wants students to be eligible for federal financial aid to attend such schools.

ProPublica  (11/9, Waldman) also covers this story, quoting Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying, “Accreditation organizations are watchdogs that don’t bite.”

Duncan: Higher Education Faces “Real And Serious Challenges.”

In a piece for the New York Times  (11/9, Subscription Publication), Al Hunt of Bloomberg View writes that outgoing Education Secretary Duncan said in an interview that while the US has “the best system of higher education in the world,” it has “real and serious challenges.” While Duncan “is proud of the sizable increases in investment and aid during the administration of President Obama,” he “acknowledges that these have been outstripped by rising costs.” Duncan, Hunt adds, called for “several overarching changes: improving the share of students who graduate, which now stands at just 59 percent for four-year schools and 29 percent for two-year schools; greater transparency in higher education; and more creative innovations.”

Higher Education Has Become An Effective Lobbying Force.

In a front-page story, the Wall Street Journal  (11/9, A1, Mullins, Belkin, Fuller, Subscription Publication) reports on the growing lobbying strength of colleges and universities, noting that over the last 20 years, the higher-education industry has defeated proposals for stricter accreditation rules, to require the disclosure of more information on graduation rates, and successfully eliminated funding for state agencies that could close some schools.

State Policies On Undocumented College Students Vary.

US News & World Report  (11/6) reports on the “bureaucratic headache” faced by undocumented prospective college students, noting that while in some states, such students are entitled to in-state tuition, others “bar undocumented students from attending college locally or receiving financial aid.” The article reports that undocumented students often have no family history of college attendance or “the knowledge to guide them through the murkiness of admissions,” and notes that ED recently “released a 63-page guide for high schools and colleges on how they can support students who don’t have legal status.”

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-Funded Research Leads To Massachusetts Startup To Detect Food Going Bad.

The Christian Science Monitor  (11/8, Tokars) reports research funded by the National Science Foundation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to the creation of a startup based in Massachusetts. The company named C2Sense has developed a product that detects ethylene levels around food to determine when it is going bad. The company’s product could be used to help reduce food waste.

University Researchers Develop New Orthopedic Boot.

Philly (PA)  (11/9, Avril) reports researchers at the University of Delaware have developed a new orthopedic boot called the SmartBoot, which can signal to its wearers if they are walking the best way to help their foot or ankle heal. Patients wearing orthopedic boots need to reduce the amount of weight they put on that part of the body, and the new device uses LED lights of different colors to signal whether or not the patients are using the device properly.

Toyota Invests $1 Billion On Artificial Intelligence, Robotics.

Bloomberg News  (11/5, Trudell, Hagiwara) reports that Toyota Motor Corp. will invest $1 billion into “a research institute focused on artificial intelligence and robotics, as the world’s largest automaker looks to elevate its role in reducing traffic fatalities.” Toyota Research Institute Inc. “will start operating in January, and the Japanese carmaker’s five-year initial investment will set up locations near Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to a company statement,” the article reports. Toyota in September hired Gill Pratt, the former top robotics engineer for the US military as its new CEO. “Our target is really to make the fatalities from car accidents zero,” President Akio Toyoda said.

Mashable  (11/6, Jaynes) and Reuters  (11/6) also report.

3-D Computer Modeling System May Help Surgeons Choose Best-Sized Donor Heart For Children In Need Of Transplant.

HealthDay  (11/9, Preidt) reports that research suggests that “a new 3-D computer modeling system may help surgeons choose the best-sized donor heart for children who need a heart transplant.”


Report Highlights Talent Pools Of Top US Tech Firms.

ZDNet  (11/6, Dignan) provides coverage of a new report by Bernstein Research analyzing data from SignalFire. Notably, Google parent Alphabet has the largest quantity of high quality engineers, Twitter has the highest overall talent score, Facebook is building out its talent pool and has the best ad engineering team, and Uber has the best growth rate at scale. On the down side, Yahoo’s engineering talent as been degrading for years, is smaller, and on average less qualified than teams at Google and Facebook. Lastly, PayPal and eBay are decent; while PayPal engineers are not as qualified as other Internet giants, the company tends to go against traditional payment players instead.

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Steps Up On-Road Emissions Testing Of Diesel Vehicles.

The New York Times  (11/9, Hakim, Mouawad, Subscription Publication) reports that regulators in the US and Canada are “significantly expanding their on-the-road emissions tests to cover all makes and models of diesel cars” amid concerns that “cheating on vehicle emissions could be prevalent across the automobile industry.” In a “significant expansion of its testing regimen,” the EPA is conducting tests “randomly and in real-world conditions, rather than in traditional laboratory settings, to increase the odds of catching cheaters.” EPA director of the office of transportation and air quality Christopher Grundler “declined to describe the tests, except to say they will focus on 2015 and 2016 model year diesel cars.”

Texas Utilities Offer Free Overnight Usage Due To Abundant Wind Power.

The New York Times  (11/9, Krauss, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that wind farms in Texas are generating so much energy that more than 50 retail electricity companies in the state are offering free overnight power usage with the goal of encouraging customers “to turn down the dials when wholesale prices are highest and turn them back up when prices are lowest.” Wind is stronger “at night and is inexpensive because of its abundance and federal tax breaks.” Moving away from power use during “peak daytime periods means lower wholesale prices, and the possibility of avoiding the costly option of building more power plants.”

BP Engineer: Aggressive Prosecution Could Deter Future Disaster Response.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal  (11/9, Subscription Publication), Kurt Mix, a BP project engineer from 2006-2012, says he was wrongly targeted by the Department of Justice following his work to stop the 2010 oil spill. Two years after the spill, Mix faced two felony charges of obstruction of justice. After three years of trials, the DOJ extended an offer to drop the felony charges on the condition that Mix accept guilt of a misdemeanor for deleting text message conversations from his phone without BP’s permission. Mix said the DOJ had acted out of control, speculating that fear of prosecution could deter people from responding to disasters in the future.

DOT Awards $28 Million To Baltimore-DC Maglev Venture.

The AP  (11/8) reports that Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) has announced that DOT has awarded $28 million in seed money to Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, “a private venture that seeks to build a high-speed magnetic-levitation train between Washington and Baltimore.” The AP notes that the funds will be used for planning and engineering. The AP also points out hat Hogan “rode a maglev train during a visit to Japan earlier this year and has become a major booster of the project.”

The Wall Street Journal  (11/8, Pfanner, Subscription Publication) explains that the funds were granted by the Federal Railroad Administration to the Maryland Department of Transportation and Maryland Economic Development Corporation. Meanwhile, US, Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae applauded the commitment of taxpayer funds and said that the project “will be a great asset to the busy Northeast Corridor.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

University Of West Florida Hosts BEST Robotics Competition.

The Pensacola (FL) News Journal  (11/7) recaps the “BEST robotics competition” for middle and high school students, which was held on Saturday at the University of West Florida. Gulf Power is listed among the sponsors of the event. The Pulse  (11/9) also reports on the contest.

Florida School District Will Hold Eight STEAM Camps Next Summer.

The Pensacola (FL) News Journal  (11/8) reports Santa Rosa School District in Florida will be holding eight STEAM camps next summer for select students in fifth-grade and eighth-grade. The camps will focus on using the scientific method and teamwork to solve problems. Schools will nominate students who love science to attend the camps.

Interest And Support For Career And Technical Education Classes Growing In North Carolina.

The Burlington (NC) Times-News  (11/8, Groves) reports there is growing interest in career and technical education classes from high school students and also growing support for such programs from businesses and industries as the demand for skilled workers increases. The article quotes officials from several North Carolina districts and state offices talking about the growing interest in such programs.

OSUTeach Program Offers Accelerated Accreditation To Address Teacher Shortage.

The Oklahoman  (11/8, McNutt) reports that the OSUTeach program offers students earning a math or science degree the opportunity to earn a full teaching certification without additional time or cost of study in an effort to address teacher shortage in these subjects. Twenty-four students have completed the first year of the program, launched in fall 2014, and an additional thirty-five are reportedly enrolled in the first course this semester. Bret Danilowicz, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, commended the program, stating that it has the support of the faculty and students, who are afforded a broader education and career choices.

Friday’s Lead Stories

NYTimes, WPost A1: New York Probing ExxonMobil For Allegedly Misleading Public About Climate Change.
California University Stabbing Suspect Was Freshman Engineering Student.
University Of Texas At Arlington Researchers Developing SMART Bandage System.
Toyota Invests $1 Billion On Artificial Intelligence, Robotics.
Nation’s Aging Infrastructure Threatens Public Safety.
South Carolina Elementary School Teaching Students About Programming With Game.
Internet Pioneer Advocates For Greater Control Of Personal Data At NYU Lecture.

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