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

Leading the News

US Sues Volkswagen Over Emissions-Cheating Devices.

USA Today  (1/5, Woodyard) reports that the Justice Department filed a civil complaint on Monday against Volkswagen, “alleging nearly 600,000 cars with diesel engines in the U.S. violate emissions laws and that many were imported in violation of the Clean Air Act.” The lawsuit was filed in a Detroit federal court on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, “which worked with the California Air Resources Board in exposing the violations last year.” Volkswagen “has admitted to rigging cars with 2-liter diesel engines, and the EPA found violations in vehicles with 3-liter diesels as well.”

The Washington Post  (1/5, Warrick) reports that the complaint “seeks unspecified damages stemming from the car company’s use of ‘defeat devices’ on more than 600,000 diesel engines sold in the United States under the Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche brands. ‘Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,’ John C. Cruden, the attorney general for the department’s Environment and Natural Resources, said in a statement.” The suit “alleges that the defeat devices allowed Volkswagen models to emit far higher levels of nitrogen oxide than the law allows, violating the Clean Air Act and resulting in ‘harmful air pollution’ in the United States.”

The AP  (1/5, Biesecker, Tucker) reports that Volkswagen “is in the midst of negotiating a massive mandatory recall with U.S. regulators and potentially faces more than $18 billion in fines for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.” The AP adds that the automaker “and its executives could also still face separate criminal charges, while a raft of private class-action lawsuits filed by angry VW owners are pending.”

The New York Times  (1/5, Davenport, Hakim, Subscription Publication) reports that “despite a pledge by the Justice Department in September to go after executives responsible for corporate wrongdoing, federal prosecutors stopped short of criminal charges and did not single out individuals.” Federal prosecutors “did question Volkswagen’s efforts to restore its credibility, accusing the company of being uncooperative – even recently – with regulators.” The complaint “said the company had ‘impeded and obstructed’ regulators’ inquiries and provided ‘misleading information.’” The Times notes that “since the scandal broke, the company’s chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, has resigned, nine employees have been suspended, and the company has begun the twin tasks of designing fixes for the vehicles and containing consumer outrage and litigation.”

The Wall Street Journal  (1/5, Viswanatha, Subscription Publication) reports Volkswagen has discussed ways to fix the cars with EPA officials, but the talks have not resulted in a settlement. EPA enforcement official Cynthia Giles is quoted saying, “Recall discussions with the company have not produced an acceptable way forward. With today’s filing, we take an important step to protect public health by seeking to hold Volkswagen accountable for any unlawful air pollution, setting us on a path to resolution.”

Higher Education

ED Increases Number Of Colleges On Financial Watch List.

The Wall Street Journal  (1/5, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that according to new data posted by ED, the number of higher education institutions facing heightened cash monitoring increased from 499 to 540 over the past three months. The article describes the types of schools on the list and explains the problems that can get them there, quoting Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “Heightened cash monitoring is not necessarily a red flag to students and taxpayers, but it can serve as a caution light. It means we are watching these institutions more closely to ensure that institutions are using federal student aid in a way that is accountable to both students and taxpayers.”

Colorado Cosmetology School Removed From List. The Fort Collins (CO) Coloradoan  (1/4, Garcia) reports that the Hair Dynamics Education Center in Fort Collins, Colorado “lost its ability to accept student aid in November,” but was informed this week that ED has “restored” this privilege. ED had dinged the school for failing to report a change in ownership.

APSCU Calls On King To Work With For-Profit Colleges.

Inside Higher Ed  (1/5) reports that Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities President Steve Gunderson has written to Education Secretary John King “to request a ‘constructive collaboration’ between the for-profit sector and the department during the Obama administration’s final year.” Gunderson “asked King to work with for-profits in the run-up to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act” and “pointed to steep enrollment declines many for-profits have experienced in recent years.” Gunderson also “criticized the department for its aggressive scrutiny of for-profits.”

University Of Michigan Offers Alternative To Affirmative Action.

The New York Times  (1/5, Hartocollis, Subscription Publication) reports that a year after Kedra Ishop began her new job as enrollment manager at the University of Michigan, the university “increased the number of minority students in the 2015 freshman class by almost 20 percent, to the highest percentage since 2005.” The Times adds that African-Americans “gained the most,” and notes that “it was a significant change at an institution where minority enrollment plunged after Michigan voters banned affirmative action in 2006. ‘It’s a courtship,’ Dr. Ishop said, explaining the strategy.” The Times adds that Ishop “may be showing the way forward for many colleges as the Supreme Court considers a challenge to the affirmative action policy of the University of Texas,” and that “the case could result in a decision that applies narrowly to the Texas process, or it could take the bigger leap of ending the use of race as a factor in college admissions.”

Report: US Has Highest Spending, But Not The Best Performance In Higher Education.

Inside Higher Ed  (1/4) highlights a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics that found the US spends the most on higher education compared to other G-20 countries, measured by per-student spending and as a percentage of GDP, but does not have the best performance in education among the G-20. The article concludes despite US spending, “its performance on many attainment measures does not lead the pack.”

Foreign Students Studying Abroad May Decline, Hurting US Colleges And Universities.

Hechinger Report  (1/5, Krupnick) outlines how certain foreign developments could reduce the number of foreign students attending US colleges and universities, and those institutions that have depended on increase their number of foreign students could be hurt financially by that change. Many colleges have made money enrolling international students in recent years. According to the Institute of International Education, foreign students spend almost $31 billion per year in tuition and other costs while studying here, and almost a third of foreign students are from China. The article posits that China’s recent economic downturn may reduce the number of Chinese students studying abroad and points out that the growth in enrollment of Chinese students at US institutions has already declined and may have peaked. India is another prominent source of foreign students, but the country is currently spending $3.4 billion to further develop their own higher education system by establishing 278 new universities and 388 new colleges.

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This weekly newsletter keeps our members informed of important developments in Congress and federal agencies affecting engineering education and research.

Research and Development

University Of Texas-Arlington Researcher Developing Nanotech To Monitor Blood-Glucose.

BioNews Texas  (12/4, Henriques) reports that the Texas Medical Research Collaborative has given University of Texas-Arlington professor Kyungsuk Yum a $100,000 grant for his research into “developing a life-changing nanotechnology to easily monitor blood-glucose levels.” Yum, who works in the university’s Materials Science and Engineering Department, will use the funding “to develop an internal, nanoscale device that continuously analyses blood level and subsequently transmits the readings to a hand-sized scanner.”

China, SpaceX Spacecraft Design Similarities Explained.

Popular Science  (1/5) reports that China’s recently unveiled spacecraft designs “looks strikingly familiar,” noting that, aside from a few exceptions, human spaceflight design has not changed significantly since the Apollo missions. According to the article, SpaceX, Boeing, and NASA all design similar space vehicles “because of three competing variables that spacecraft designers have to contend with,” including weight, space, and heat. Notably, aerospace engineer Pasquale Sforza, author of the recent book Manned Spacecraft Design Principles, remarked, “Weight is the number one problem,” explaining, “Everything has to be really strictly fashioned for the weight.” In addition, the article also highlights other aspects contributing to the fairly uniform design elements of spacecraft.

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


BLS Expects Rising Demand For Biomedical, Civil Engineers.

The Houston Chronicle  (1/5, Burns) reports that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “two engineering disciplines that are expected to offer substantial growth in the coming years are biomedical engineering and civil engineering.” The Bureau is projecting a 27% increase in employment of biomedical engineers by 2022, owing to the fact that “an aging population is likely to need more medical care, and also because of increased public awareness of biomedical engineering advances and their benefits.” Meanwhile, there is expected to be a 20% increase in the number of civil engineers over the same period, given aging infrastructure and rising water needs.

Engineering and Public Policy

Oklahoma Orders Reduction In Water Used For Fracking Process.

On the CBS Evening News (1/4, story 9, 1:55, Pelley), Mark Strassmann reported that Oklahoma had more than 900 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher last year, and many geologists say those earthquakes are tied to fracking. Because of this, the state on Monday ordered oil drillers to “reduce the amount of waste water they inject into the ground during” the fracking process.

Urbanization Possible Cause Of Increased Mississippi River Flooding.

Fox News  (1/4) reports that levee building and higher than normal rainfall have caused increased flooding of the Mississippi River. According to Bob Criss, an earth and planetary science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, cites urbanization, levees and floodwalls as the cause of major flooding. Supporting this theory, Bob Holmes, a Missouri-based hydrologic engineer for the U.S. Geological Survey, said “Farm fields will soak up water,” but paving over it will create “a very efficient conduit right into the streams and you get increased flooding.”

Green Group Touts New Jersey’s Offshore Wind Potential Ahead Of Vote On Permitting.

The AP  (1/5, Parry) reports that a report released Monday by the Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center “says carbon pollution equal to 1.1 million cars could be eliminated by 2020 with a rapid expansion in wind power off the Jersey Shore.” The group’s director Doug O’Malley said that “offshore wind’s potential off the Jersey Shore is still incredibly strong,” adding that potential off Atlantic City “remains an untapped jackpot.” The report comes ahead of a vote by state lawmakers that would “permit – but not require – the state Board of Public Utilities to approve a wind project off the coast of Atlantic City.” The AP reports that a proposal by Fishermen’s Energy for a demonstration project has been rejected three times by regulators.

Energy Efficiency Among Regulations Being Pushed By Obama Administration.

In an article about regulations being pushed by the Obama Administration, Politico  (1/4, Noah) reports that energy efficiency is one of the Administration’s “better bets.” The Department of Energy “is working on dozens of new or updated efficiency standards for computers, gas furnaces, dishwashers, pool heaters, air conditioners, walk-in coolers and freezers, vending machines, ceiling fans, fluorescent lamp ballast, boilers, ovens, and hearths.” Politico says that efficiency measures do not normally “generate much attention because they’re, well, just a little bit boring,” but they are “expected to save consumers a lot of money, and also – along with already-completed rules on ice makers, industrial lamps, electric motors, and other products – to generate roughly half the carbon emissions cuts that the Obama administration pledged to deliver before the Paris climate talks.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Schools Reintroducing Arts Instruction Via STEM Focus.

Utah Business Magazine  (1/5) reports that though arts education has been on the decline in recent decades, educators are reintroducing arts instruction “through an unexpected source: STEM.” Schools are “incorporating arts education with core classes—and especially science, technology, engineering and math classes,” and educators “hope to give students a foundation not only to survive in the tech-heavy jobs of the present and future, but to thrive with creativity and innovation in those fields.”

Illinois School’s Underwater Robotics Club Students Build Skills.

The Wilmette (IL) Life  (1/4) describes the activities of the Underwater Robotics Club at St. Francis Xavier School in Wilmette, Illinois. Students at the elementary school solder electronics and help to build a remotely operated underwater vehicle. Teachers say students are “taking science, math and other concepts out of their classrooms and into the real world.” Students have “mastered skills from 3D printing to electrical wiring, and become confident about those skills – especially female students who might in the past have shied from science and technical challenges.”

Early Understanding Of Numbers May Play Role In Later Math Skills.

The AP  (1/5, Neergaard) reports that new research suggests that early understanding of numbers at the beginning of first grade appears to “play a big role in how well” children do in “everyday calculations later on.” For the study, researchers at the University of Missouri tested 180-seventh graders and found that those experiencing difficulty in core math skills “needed to function as adults,” were also the kids who “had the least number” fluency as first graders. Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which is funding much of this research into math cognition, said that the study shows that its not simply a matter of whether a person can perform in school but instead about “how well can you in your life.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

WPost Analysis: Solar, Wind Power Soaring Despite Low Fossil Fuel Prices.
Former California Official Calls For College Affordability, Support For Students.
National Science Foundation Grant To Help Research Brain Implant For Paralyzed Limbs.
Oregon Working To Fill Gap Of Middle Skilled Workers.
WSJournal: Reusable Rockets Prove America’s Economic Vitality.
Hill Analysis: Offshore Drilling Plan Could “Tie The Hands” Of Next President.
SRS Contractor Promotes STEM Fields Among Young Students.

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