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

Leading the News

WPost Analysis: Solar, Wind Power Soaring Despite Low Fossil Fuel Prices.

The Washington Post  (1/2, Warrick) reports that even with the lower price of fossil fuels, wind and solar energy “soared in 2015” and “Orders for 2016 solar and wind installations are up sharply … all in defiance of stubbornly low prices for coal and natural gas.” The Post cites energy analysts, who say the solar and wind boom can be attributed partly to “improved technology,” making them more competitive with fossil fuels, and partly to “better financing, as well as major Wall Street investment houses adopt[ing[ a more bullish posture” toward both. Additionally, the policy environment has been more favorable for renewable energies, with “Congress and the White House” helping to “set the stage for continued growth.”

LATimes Analysis: Oil Companies “Safeguarded” Against Global Warming In 2015. A 2,397-word Los Angeles Times  (1/1, Lieberman, Rust) analysis piece published on Friday morning highlights the history of how oil companies were “quietly safeguarding billion-dollar infrastructure projects from rising sea levels, warming temperatures and increasing storm severity” even as they were challenging government attempts to establish “new regulations to address climate change.” According to the Times, “companies were raising the decks of offshore platforms, protecting pipelines from increasing coastal erosion, and designing helipads, pipelines and roads in a warming and buckling Arctic.” However, these same companies denied any contradictions between their “public relations effort[s]” and “internal decision-making.”

Job Posting

The NSF is seeking qualified candidates for a permanent full-time Program Director position in the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE), Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), Arlington, VA. The ideal candidate will have expertise in engineering education research, engineering and undergraduate education. For more information please review:

For nominations and questions please contact Gül Kremer at

Higher Education

Former California Official Calls For College Affordability, Support For Students.

In an op-ed in the Sacramento (CA) Bee  (1/4, Westly), former California state controller Steve Westly writes that a lack of college affordability is “unacceptable in California,” arguing that the state “must guarantee that every young person can afford to earn a college degree.” Westly calls for meeting this goal by controlling tuition rates, providing student debt relief, and pushing for improved college completion.

Virginia, Maryland Colleges Facing Enrollment Challenges.

The Washington Post  (12/31, Anderson) reports that new state data from Virginia and Maryland show that colleges in the states are having “significant enrollment challenges.” The article lists several colleges that have seen significant drops in enrollment, and lists the economy as “one of the biggest” reasons for the trend.

New York, Other States Looking To Help With Student Debt.

The Washington Post  (12/31, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that New York state is accepting applications for its “Get On Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program,” which will “cover up to two years of student loan payments for recent college graduates living in the state.” The Post reports that while this program “is unique in targeting lower-income graduates from any field,” a total of “45 states and the District of Columbia have programs that will wipe away some college debt for residents.”

Colleges Increasingly Offering Craft Brewing Business Courses.

The AP  (1/1) reports that as the craft beer industry grows, “more universities are offering online programs about the business side of craft beer.” The article lists several colleges that “have or are starting beer-business programs.”

Improve Your Federal Funding Efforts
This two-minute video explains the benefits of ASEE’s Engineering Research Concil meeting, March 7-9.

Read ASEE’s Capitol Shorts
This weekly newsletter keeps our members informed of important developments in Congress and federal agencies affecting engineering education and research.

Research and Development

National Science Foundation Grant To Help Research Brain Implant For Paralyzed Limbs.

Motherboard  (1/4) reports that the University of Washington Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering has received a $16 million grant from the National Science Foundation “for research that will hopefully lead to implantable tech that promotes brain plasticity and the reanimation of paralyzed limbs.” The devices “are known as bi-directional brain-computer interfaces” are would “be implanted in the brain where they would record and decode electrical signals that are formed when a person forms an intention to do something, such as walk or pick up a cup.”

UVA engineer designing more resilient wind turbines.

In continuing coverage, the Bristol (VA) Herald Courier  (1/2, Quizon) reported on efforts by UVA Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering chairperson Eric Loth to design a new wind turbine that can be positioned offshore and withstand hurricane-force winds. Loth and his associates are working with Dominion to help with the utility’s offshore wind power lease off of Hampton Roads. They plan to reduce the amount of material in the turbine blades and increase their output. “If we can pull this off, it would be transformative,” Loth said.

The Southside Daily (VA)  (1/1) cites the offshore project in its list of stories to watch in the Virginia Beach area for 2016.


Oregon Working To Fill Gap Of Middle Skilled Workers.

In a video report on its website, PBS NewsHour  (1/4) reports that there is a national shortage of middle skilled workers. The National Skills Coalition, based in Washington DC, says that 31% of jobs are high skilled, 15% are low skilled, but the majority, 54%, are middle skilled. The organization says the US only trains 44% of our workforce to be middle skilled, creating a 10% gap. Oregon has a lower gap for middle skilled workers than the national average, but is working to improve career and technical education programs to reduce that gap as many middle skilled workers are expected to retire soon.

Industry News

WSJournal: Reusable Rockets Prove America’s Economic Vitality.

The Wall Street Journal  (1/4, Subscription Publication) writes in an editorial that the second successful landing of a rocket after a space flight by SpaceX late last month is a tremendous feat of engineering, fulfilling engineers’ dream of reusable rockets that could make space travel more economical and reliable and make space commuting for commerce and exploration possible. The Journal says the developments in private space-flight are a sign of the US’ economic vitality and innovation and will also decrease dependence on Russian rockets.

Engineering and Public Policy

Hill Analysis: Offshore Drilling Plan Could “Tie The Hands” Of Next President.

In an analysis piece, The Hill  (1/2, Cama) reported the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in the next couple months will “move forward on setting a schedule for lease sales for offshore and natural gas drilling rights.” According to the Hill, this move may “significantly tie the hands” of President Obama’s successor with respect to energy policy. The plan will span the years 2017-2022 “and only lease sales scheduled in the plan can take place.”

WPost: 2015 Brought “Inspiring Highs” And “Disheartening Lows” On Climate Change. In an editorial, the Washington Post  (1/3) says 2015 “brought some inspiring highs – and disheartening lows” to the discussion of climate change. The Post praises the Environmental Protection Agency’s “landmark” carbon dioxide regulations and the Paris agreements while lamenting that the EPA’s rules “also inspired a race among Republicans to embarrass themselves” as well as a “nasty GOP reaction” in Congress. The Post ends by asking if Americans “want to build on 2015’s climate progress, or do they want more of last year’s climate buffoonery?”

Drone Privacy Rule Effort Facing Difficulties.

Politico  (1/3, Romm) reports that the Obama Administration has been attempting to work with tech companies and consumer groups to develop some basic privacy rules ahead of the development of commercial drones but that so far the discussions have only involved “broad suggestions for companies to be on their best behavior — with little in the way of penalties.” Meanwhile, the whole effort may fall apart due to the dissatisfaction of consumer groups. “I definitely think that a lot of privacy advocates have been discouraged by how the previous two [administration-led] processes have gone,” said Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown University Law School’s Center for Privacy and Technology. Politico points out that the FAA has “shied away from issuing its own privacy regulations,” leaving the process “in the hands of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which began an effort to build privacy guidelines by consensus after an order from the president in February.”

Google To Launch Service Analyzing Rooftop Solar Potential.

The AP  (1/4, Dalesio) reports that Google is rolling out a new online service called Project Sunroof that “quickly tallies up considerations of going solar and whether homeowners should consider buying or leasing photovoltaic panels costing thousands of dollars.” Interested potential customers are referred to solar-panel installers for further follow-up, cutting their marketing costs, according to Carl Elkin, the senior software engineer behind the service. “We at Google believe in solar energy. The solar industry needs our help,” Elkin said.

Westar Energy Reaches Deal For Wind Energy Near Wichita.

Drawing on coverage from the Topeka-Capital-Journal, the AP  (12/31) reports that Westar Energy “has announced a new wind power contract in south-central Kansas.” The electric utility “said Thursday in a release the company has a deal with an affiliate of NextEra Energy Resources to buy 200 megawatts of wind energy west of Wichita.” Bloomberg News  (12/31, Eckhouse) reports that according to Westar spokeswoman Gina Penzig, the utility signed an agreement to buy power from the Kingman Wind Energy Center.

Private Sector Investment Pushing Boundaries Of Fusion Energy Research.

The Chicago Tribune  (12/31) reported on the perpetual promise and “enormous potential of fusion energy, oft-promised but still unfulfilled.” Fusion offers the promise of plausible solutions for many current challenges “from the global to the Midwestern to the residential.” Supporters say fusion is the perfect fix for: dependence on oil; air pollution from coal plants; fears of climate warming; stockpiles of nuclear waste; and the “dangerous movement of oil by rail,” among other issues. There is a “slew of private-sector startup companies” and investors to carry the financial risks that are “energizing” what has been an otherwise “slow quest.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

SRS Contractor Promotes STEM Fields Among Young Students.

The Aiken (SC) Standard  (1/1, Asberry) reports that workers for Savannah River Site contractor Savannah River Remediation recently spoke to a group of young school children, explaining their work. SRR officials said the students enjoyed the “What Life Would Be Like Without Engineering” cartoons during the presentation, which was part of a program to promote interest in the STEM fields.

Georgia Auditors Urge Lawmakers To Reconsider Incentives For Math And Science Teachers.

The AP  (1/3) reports Georgia state auditors released a report urging state lawmakers to reconsider a program that provides incentives for aspiring math and science teachers. The program started several years ago to try to avoid a predicted shortage of math and science teachers in the state, but the auditors say the problem is worse in other parts of the US than Georgia and so the program might not be cost-justified. The state has already spent $90 million through the program, and it is scheduled to spend $15 million on the program this year.

More Schools Teaching Students How To Code, Including Chicago District.

The Chicago Tribune  (1/2) reports more students are learning about computer programming in school. The number of students who take the Computer Science AP exam has more than doubled since 2010. Chicago Public Schools has announced they intend to make computing a high school graduation requirement in the future. The article highlights Wells Community Academy in Chicago that gives all students the opportunity to try coding. One student at the school built a “Star Wars-themed program during a schoolwide coding event.” The article also highlights the work of, a nonprofit organization that is working to increase computer science education across the US. The founders want people to know more about how computers work, instead of it just being like “black magic.”

Career And Technical Education Programs Are In High Demand In Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Tribune  (1/4, Shamlin) reports demand is growing for Philadelphia’s career and technical education programs. The district received 11,000 applications for seats in the program in the fall of 2014, but were only 2,500 seats available. Swenson Arts and Technology High School received almost 2,500 applications, but only had room to admit 275 students.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

NASA Developing Scout Drones To Locate Shelter On Mars.
New York Launches New Student Debt Forgiveness Plan.
New Hampshire Aviation Students Working To Prevent Bird Strikes.
Study: San Antonio Facing Shortage Of Manufacturing Labor.
Analyst Says Tesla Is Seeing “Extremely High Delivery Activity.”
Congress Again Pushes Back Deadline For New Rail Safety System.
Illinois Principal Envisions “Green Lab” Where Students Can Learn About Food And Science.

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