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

Leading the News

Lawmakers Reach Agreement On Five-Year Transportation Bill.

House and Senate negotiators have come to agreement on a $305 billion, five-year transportation bill. The AP  (12/2, Lowy) says agreement on the bill is “a legislative feat that lawmakers and President Barack Obama have struggled throughout his administration to achieve.” In a report published before the agreement was announced, Politico  (12/2, Caygle, Gardner) called the bill a “victory for Republican leaders, hungry to show they can govern both chambers after a tumultuous year,” and an “especially big-ticket win for [House Speaker] Ryan, who can point to the five-year package as emblematic of his promise to return the House to regular order.” The Wall Street Journal  (12/2, Hughes, Page, Subscription Publication) casts the deal as an agreement by lawmakers to move away from the idea that those who use federal transportation systems should pay for transportation projects and predicts a negative reaction from outside groups, especially conservatives.

The New York Times  (12/2, Herszenhorn, Subscription Publication) says architects of the bill from both sides of the aisle “hailed it as a major achievement in an era that seems to be defined by small-bore governing,” but adds that “despite the bipartisan enthusiasm, the bill still fails to address a chronic shortfall in financing for the Federal Highway Trust Fund.” The Washington Post  (12/2, Halsey) describes negotiations over the bill as “contentious,” and notes that the agreed upon measure “protects funding for transit from those who argued it should be cut loose from the highway bill, increases money for pedestrian and bicycle programs that also have come under attack,” and “includes nearly $200 million to speed installation of a critical railroad safety feature known as positive train control.” In addition, it “lays to rest for five years the question of how to pay for transportation,” as negotiators “settled primarily on a House plan to use money that the Federal Reserve Bank uses as a cushion against losses and a Senate proposal to reduce the amount of interest the Federal Reserve pays to banks.” Noting the reduction in the dividend the Fed pays to large banks, the AP  (12/2, Lowy) calls the banking industry “one of the bill’s losers.” Bloomberg News  (12/2, House, Hopkins), meanwhile, reports that “several House members said they weren’t happy” with the funding method.

According to Reuters  (12/2), the bill, which would renew the Export-Import Bank’s charter through Sept. 30, 2019, has support from leading members of both parties, and is expected to reach the floors of both chambers by Friday.

Higher Education

Warren, Durbin, Blumenthal Criticize EDMC Deal.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (12/1, Moore) reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have written a letter to ED and DOJ saying they are “profoundly dissatisfied” with a deal the agencies reached last month with Education Management Corp. “to pay about $96 million in fines, just 1 percent of the federal student loan money it was accused of using to defraud students and taxpayers.” The Senators write that the agencies should “use the full weight of their authority to recover student loan debt from the…for-profit education company, which operates the Art Institutes, Argosy, Brown Mackie and South University.” The article states that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in November that “EDMC’s actions were ‘not a misrepresentation to students. It was breaking the law and lying to us.’” The Senators’ letter “calls Mr. Duncan’s thinking ‘logically absurd’ and said it ‘makes little sense in the context of the allegations against EDMC.’”

The Springfield (MA) Republican  (12/1) reports that the letter argues that the settlement “lacked accountability for company executives, as well as adequate relief for students.” The Senators called on ED to give students “the full, immediate debt relief afforded by law.” Inside Higher Ed  (12/2) also covers this story.

NYTimes Analysis: Campus Protests Could Weigh On Affirmative Action Case Before High Court.

The New York Times  (12/2, Liptak, Subscription Publication) reports that as the Supreme Court prepares to hear a case about race-consideration in admissions for colleges and universities, “the justices are almost certainly paying close attention to the protests” on college campuses across the country, which the Times says “may alter the legal dynamic” during arguments next week. The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, could have “three basic” outcomes, including the confirmation of existing policies on affirmative action and “limited consideration of race,” ending the practice entirely, or striking down only the University of Texas system of race consideration.

Study: CTE Degrees Improve Earnings Gains At California Colleges.

eCampus News  (12/1, Devaney) reports the findings of a study conducted by the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis which indicates that students who earn degrees in Career Technical Education at California community colleges may expect to see an earnings increase of approximately 25 percent. According to the authors of the study, “Declining real wages and record high unemployment for those without college degrees, combined with cuts to many state programs…make it essential to understand what programs can be most effective.”

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Research and Development

Ohio State University Researchers Develop New Welding Technique Saves Energy, Creates Stronger Bonds.

The Akron (OH) Legal News  (12/2) reports researchers at Ohio State University have developed a welding technique that consumes 80% less energy, but creates bonds that are 50% stronger compared to common bonding techniques. The new technique called vaporized foil actuator welding could have a major impact in the automobile manufacturing industry. The research was funded in part by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Italian Firm Develops Bone Implants From Wood Native To South Asia.

The Sci Dev  (12/2) reports Italian firm GreenBone has demonstrated that bone implants can be made out of rattan wood. The firm has already completed successful trials with sheep and expects the implants could be available for people by 2019. Rattan wood is native to south Asia and “has the same strength, flexibility and porosity as bones.” Researchers from the Italian National Research Council’s Institute of Science and Technology for Ceramics developed a process that converts the wood into hydroxyapatite, a mineral found in human bones.


NSF Awards $400,000 Grant To Study Experience Needs For Photonics Careers.

The Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle  (12/1, Brooks) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $400,000 grant to two professors at the Rochester Institute of Technology to look into how to teach people photonics. The professors applied for the grant because the new American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics is expected to bring thousands of jobs in the field to the Rochester area. The professors will interview professionals currently working in the field of photonics to determine what education and training are necessary for people to enter the field.

Global Developments

Aerospace Sector Surging In UAE.

The Telegraph (UK)  (12/2, Wentling) reports that in just about a decade, the United Arab Emirates has become a leader in the global aerospace sector, leveraging “its booming airline and airport companies” to expand “into manufacturing and servicing airplane components, gaining partnerships with the world’s biggest aviation players.” The article notes that in 2002, Abu Dhabi “established Mubadala as a principal agent to drive economic diversification” throughout a range of different industries, adding that five years later, “Mubadala announced that it would support the development of a sustainable aerospace industry for Abu Dhabi.” Notably, Homaid Al Shemmari, CEO of Aerospace & Engineering Services at Mubadala, “said investing in the aerospace industry was a deliberate plan to facilitate growth and innovation.” Moreover, Al Shemmari stated, “Our education and training initiatives are generating employment opportunities for Emiratis, and investment in research and development projects are pushing the industry to new heights.”

Engineering and Public Policy

New York City To Switch Many City-Owned Vehicles To EVs.

The New York Times  (12/2, Grynbaum, Subscription Publication) reports that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office on Tuesday announced a plan to replace about 2,000 sedans owned by the city with electric vehicles over the next ten years. The plan would switch roughly half of the city’s fleet of nonemergency vehicles to electric vehicles, officials said, and would involve a $50-80 million capital investment through 2025 in order to create necessary charging infrastructure. De Blasio spokesperson Amy Spitalnick said the savings from fuel would offset other costs and the plan “is projected to help cut the city government’s vehicle emissions by about 50 percent by 2025,” according to the Times.

Gates Joins Moniz To Promote Clean Energy Fund.

E&E Publishing  (12/2, Koss) reported Bill Gates joined Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in lobbying Congress “to sell the plan” to establish a clean energy fund. The fund, “announced in Paris yesterday by President Obama and spearheaded by Gates, includes a pledge by 19 nations to double clean energy research and development funding to $20 billion, with 28 major companies putting up billions of their own in aid.” According to the article, “Moniz emphasized that Mission Innovation and Breakthrough Energy Coalition are unprecedented efforts in terms of size and approach,” saying, “This is not just more venture capital.”

House Votes To Block Administration Rules On Power Plants Emissions.

The AP  (12/2, Daly) reports that as President Obama pursued a global agreement on climate change, congressional Republicans “moved to block his plan to force steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants.” The House passed resolutions on Tuesday that “disapprov[e] Obama’s power-plant rules,” while also “rendering them inoperative.” According to the AP, the votes come after the Senate “approved identical motions last month under a little-used law that allows Congress to block executive actions it considers onerous,” but the bills now “face almost-certain vetoes.” The Hill  (12/2, Cama, Marcos) adds that “the legislation would permanently block the main pillar of Obama’s climate agenda and of his pledge to the international community for the accord world leaders are writing in Paris.” The Washington Post  (12/2, Demirjian), the Wall Street Journal  (12/2, Harder, Subscription Publication), Politico  (12/1) and the Financial Times  (12/2, Subscription Publication) also offer coverage of the House vote.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Opinion: STEM Education Is Important For Our Future.

In an opinion piece in The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer  (12/2, Miaoulis and Moore), Boston Museum of Science President Ioannis N. Miaoulis and Wake County Public School System Deputy Superintendent for Academic Advancement Cathy Moore outline the importance of STEM education sharing examples of schools that have turned around by focusing on STEM. Miaoulis and Moore also say that “STEM fields are key to innovation in today’s competitive economy.”

North Dakota Elementary School Science Lab Uses Collaboration, Hands On Learning To Teach.

The Tioga (ND) Tribune  (12/2, Killough) reports science teacher Nikki Holte at Central Elementary School in Tioga, North Dakota “takes learning science out of a textbook and turns it into a collaborative activity.” Holte’s science classroom includes “pingpong balls, hula hoops, solar panels, and a plastic skeleton” all used to help students learn science through hands on activities. Holte teaches students in all grades at the school.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Duke To Supply Renewable Energy To Google.
DOE Grant Supports UT Graduate Program.
Duquesne Light Microgrid Experiment Could Offer New Platform For Electricity Supply.
Hyperloop Finalists To Present At Design Weekend In January.
FRA Looking To Equip Trains With Locomotive Alerters.
Chicago High School Engineering Students Craft Prosthetic Hands For Children.

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