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

Leading the News

Energy Department Launches Consent-Based Nuclear Waste Disposal Initiative.

The Hill  (12/22, Cama) reports the Energy Department “is formally launching its initiative aimed at establishing a disposal site for spent nuclear fuel.” DOE “said Monday that it is accepting input on the disposal plan, which centers on finding at least one place to store spent fuel, with the consent of the local community.” In addition, officials are “planning forums throughout 2016 to inform a more concrete plan for establishing a disposal site.” The Hill says it is “a key step toward rolling out what the Obama administration thinks is the best way forward for nuclear waste disposal.” In a blog post on Monday, DOE deputy secretary for science and energy Lynn Orr said, “The launch of our consent-based siting initiative represents an important step toward addressing this nuclear waste management challenge, so that we can continue to benefit from nuclear technologies.” Platts  (12/22) reports that “when asked if a consent-based process would mean support Nye County, Nevada, officials expressed for a repository at Yucca Mountain, located in the county, would be explored,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz “said the department would need to see ‘support and openness [to the process] at the various political levels,’ including the state level, from the start to pursue a consent-based process anywhere.” However, Moniz indicated that he “did not want to rule anything out,” adding that the DOE’s consent-based process would “need communities and states as partners to get across the finish line.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (12/22, Urban) reports DOE “plans to flesh out the approach in the next year and is asking for public comment to make it ‘fair and effective.’”

Higher Education

Companies Reaping Profits From Federal Student Loan Debt.

Noting that there are some 7 million former college students in default on some $115 billion in Federal student loans, Bloomberg News  (12/22, Lorin) reports that this “mountain of debt…has provided a stream of revenue to companies throughout the process.” Student loan servicers, refinance lenders, “firms that help former students stay out of default and for-profit schools” are all “part of a system feeding on federal student loans.” ED spokeswoman Denise horn “said the agency has been working to improve the experience of borrowers, hold servicers to higher standards and reduce costs.” Horn is quoted saying in an email, “The federal student loan program is a critical tool for keeping college within reach for millions of Americans. From the earliest days of the Obama administration, we have worked to improve the program for students and families, including by cutting out tens of billions of dollars in wasteful subsidies to private banks.”

Senators Call On Duncan To Prevent Student Debt Robocalls.

The Taunton (MA) Daily Gazette  (12/21, Urban) reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) have written to Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling on him to urge loan collectors to refrain from taking advantage of a new Federal law that will allow them to send robocalls to student loan borrowers. The letter says ED should direct servicers “not to use robocalls until implementing regulations are issued and the Department of Education demonstrates with ‘concrete evidence’ that robocalling is in the best interest of loan borrowers and taxpayers.”

Commentary: Competency-Based Education Could Benefit Skilled Workers Without Prestigious College Degree.

Jeffrey J. Selingo writes at the Washington Post  (12/22) “Grade Point” blog that recent research indicates that while employers increasingly want “to hire someone with a bachelor’s degree these days even for jobs that previously didn’t require them,” company recruiters trust diplomas less than in the past. He explores the notion that being able to demonstrate the earning of credit hours says little about a potential employees actual marketable skills. “That is one reason why the idea of competency-based degrees is gaining traction among some colleges and has the potential to change the value equation of a degree for students and employers alike.”

College Admissions Embracing New Strategies.

An over 3,500 word article in The Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle  (12/21, Goodman) explores the latest trends in the competitive world of college admissions. Some colleges, like the University of Rochester, are now using software like “Prospect Plus” to keep track of prospective students’ “demonstrated interest.” University of Rochester Vice Provost for Enrollment Initiatives Jonathan Burdick says, “We track each interaction a student initiates with us, including clicking email links, calling the admissions office, participating in online chats and even corresponding with the university via social media.” Other schools have begun offering “on-the-spot admissions” to prospective students they meet while representative visit high schools or attend college fairs.

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Research and Development

NSF Awards Grant To Luxury Jewelry Company To Study Biosensors.

The San Antonio Business Journal  (12/21, Mosbrucker, Subscription Publication) reports the National Science Foundation awarded an almost $150,000 grant to WiseWear, a technology startup, to study the commercial impact of biosensors, which have many potential medical applications. Gerald Wilmink in San Antonio founded WiseWear, a company that makes luxury jewelry equipped with a radio, after his grandfather fell down breaking his hip and was unable to get help. The jewelry includes a biosensor which can identify if the wearer is about to fall.


BLS Predicts No Job Growth For Electrical and Electronics Engineers Over Next Decade.

ComputerWorld  (12/21, Thibodeau) reports the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted there will be no overall job growth in the field of electrical and electronics engineering for the next decade and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) have said such predictions “are probably correct.” IEEE Government Relations Director Russ Harrison says the forecast for the field’s job prospects conflicts with the notion that the US is in dire need of skilled foreign workers, a claim often made by those who support raising the cap for H-1B visas.

Industry News

Samsung Struggling To Transition To Software And Services.

Reuters  (12/21, Wagstaff, Lee) reports Samsung is struggling to transform itself into more of a software and services company as it competes in the increasingly crowded market for smartphones. Samsung has a long running tradition of hardware engineering, and remains the top provider of smartphones, but with more competition, borderline customers are increasingly relying on friendly software and services to help them decide what phone to buy. The company launched Samsung Pay, a mobile payments service, and SmartThings, a platform to control Internet-connected devices, as part of a broader effort to demonstrate their competence in the software and services sphere of technology.

Engineering and Public Policy

AP: Weather Threat To US Grid Increasing.

The AP  (12/22, Mohr, Burke) reports in an investigative piece that data shows an increasing threat from extreme weather to the US power grid as utilities struggle to harden their infrastructure. Following Hurricanes Katrina, Irene, and Sandy, co-ops and investor-owned utilities have begun to elevate substations in coastal areas, but costs can be prohibitive. “A significant number of the minutes that customers experience having their lights out are still the result of big storms,” said Joseph Eto, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Experts Say Foreign Hackers Likely Able To Strike US Power Grid At Will.

According to the AP  (12/22, Burke, Fahey), in the last decade, “sophisticated foreign hackers have gained enough remote access to control the operations networks that keep the lights on,” about a dozen times, “according to top experts who spoke only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter.” While the breaches “have not caused the kind of cascading blackouts that are feared by the intelligence community” so many hackers “have stowed away in the largely investor-owned systems that run the US electric grid that experts say they likely have the capability to strike at will.”

Renewable Energy Development In US Facing Regulatory Roadblocks.

The AP  (12/22, Lieb) explores in a 1,400-word article how problems in developing transmission infrastructure are hamstringing the establishment of a renewable energy grid in the US. For example, regulators in Missouri – partly due to pressure from property owners – have “blocked the 780-mile-long Grain Belt Express power line from being built.” Renewable energy projects in Arkansas, Wyoming, and Arizona have also been blocked by regulators.

Virginia Gov. Releases Climate Panel Recommendations, Sets Solar Target.

The AP  (12/22, Szkotak) reports that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe released the recommendations of a state panel on climate change Monday “and set a three-year target for state government to draw 8 percent of its electricity from solar power.” The state agreement with Dominion Virginia Power calls for the development of 110 megawatts of solar power and McAuliffe “cast the move away from coal to cleaner renewable fuels as an economic issue.”

Politico Magazine Examines ConocoPhillips’ Push To Drill In Alaska.

In a nearly 8,000-word piece for Politico Magazine  (12/21, MacGillis), Alec MacGillis, a political reporter for ProPublica, describes how, after then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit negotiated a deal in 2000 to prevent drilling in Alaska’s western Arctic, the Obama Administration in 2013 granted ConocoPhillips the right to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, saying that how ConocoPhillips “overcame years of resistance from courts, native Alaskans, environmental groups and several federal agencies is the story of how Washington really works.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Indiana School District And 3-D Printing Company Form STEM Education Partnership.

The Shelbyville (IN) News  (12/22) reports 3-D printer company 1st Maker Space and Northwestern Consolidated School District in Indiana have formed a partnership to support STEM education in Shelby County schools. The partnership will allow students and teachers to learn more about STEM by using 3-D printing technology.

Iowa DOE Will Introduce Bill Mandating Computer Science Courses In All High Schools.

The Des Moines (IA) Register  (12/22, Patane) reports the Iowa DOE plans to introduce a bill in the state legislature that would require high school to offer a “high-quality computer science course” by the 2018-2019 school year. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and his STEM Advisory Council have both voiced support for more computer science courses in the state’s schools.

Monday’s Lead Stories

Foxx Commits DOT To Speedy Enactment Of FAST Act Provisions.
National Advisory Committee Recommends Denying Request From Western Regional Accreditor.
NSF Gives University Of North Dakota Aeronautical Technology Research Grant.
High-Speed Rail Gaining Interest From Private Sector.
Towns Along Southeastern Coast Weighing In Against Offshore Drilling.
Middle School Students Compete In Michigan Robotics Championship.
Scientists Taking Advantage Of Star Wars Popularity To Teach Public About Robotics.

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