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

Leading the News

Obama Proposes $4 Billion For Computer Science Education.

President Obama used his weekly address  on Saturday to introduce his plan for a $4 billion program to increase computer science education in American schools. Obama and White House officials said today’s students must develop the skill to compete in an evolving economy and allow the US to continue to lead the world.

The AP  (1/30, Superville) reports Obama indicated “he will ask Congress for billions of dollars to help students learn computer science skills and prepare for jobs in a changing economy.” The President said, “In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill. It’s a basic skill, right along with the three R’s.” Obama added, according to Bloomberg Politics  (1/30, Olorunnipa), “I’ve got a plan to help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science.”

The Christian Science Monitor  (1/30, Fedde) reports the “Computer Science For All” initiative “aims to reboot computer science education in public schools to better prepare kids for a future workforce.” The Seattle Times  (1/30, Day) says the initiative “target[s] students from preschool through high school, seeks to train teachers, expand access to instructional materials and create partnerships with organizations that can aid in computer-science teaching.”

The Washington Post  (1/30, Brown) reports Obama is seeking $4 billion for the program as part of his budget proposal and, if approved by Congress, the funds “would be doled out over a period of three years to any state that applies for the funds and has a well-designed plan to expand access to computer science courses, especially for girls and minorities.” The White House is also asking for another $100 million for a “competitive grant program for school districts with ambitious plans to reach more students, especially those who have been underrepresented in computer science classes.”

USA Today  (1/30, Korte) reports the US “faces a growing skills gap when it comes to jobs requiring computer programming skills – or even the soft skills of computer literacy.” White House Chief Technology Adviser Megan Smith said, “It’s not just working with computers, but developing the computational thinking, and analytical coding skills.” The Hill  (1/30, Hensch) “Briefing Room” blog quotes Obama as similarly saying, “Workers of all kinds need to be able to figure out how to break a big problem into smaller pieces and identify the right steps to solve it.”

According to the New York Times  (1/30, Shear, Subscription Publication), Administration officials indicated that “only a quarter of the elementary, middle and high schools in the United States offer computer science classes, with 22 states not allowing such classes to count toward a diploma.” The officials added that “only 4,310 of 37,000 high schools in the country offer Advanced Placement computer science classes…putting American children at a disadvantage.” The President said, “That’s what this is all about – each of us doing our part to make sure all our young people can compete in a high-tech, global economy.” Obama added, “They’re the ones who will make sure America keeps growing, keeps innovating and keeps leading the world in the years ahead.”

Wired  (1/30) reports “the plan also comes with a range of commitments from tech heavyweights.” According to Wired, Apple vowed to “expand coding opportunities for children” and Facebook indicated “it would double down on its outreach efforts.” Wired says Microsoft, Google, Qualcomm, Salesforce, and the advocacy group National Center for Women and Information Technology are also taking part. The National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service “said they will invest resources to support and train computer science teachers.”

The Huffington Post  (1/31, Klein) reports that the initiative is intended to rectify racial and gender disparities in computer science instruction, noting that in several states last year, “not a single African-American student took an AP computer science exam last year,” and “significantly fewer girls took the exam than boys.” The Post reports Education Secretary John King said that the plan “builds on progress already happening at the state and local level,” quoting him saying, “If all do our part we can create a movement that not only gets our students ready for the future, but gives them a voice in shaping that future.” US News & World Report  (1/30) quotes King saying, “The government will use all resources it has at its disposable.”

Other media outlets covering this story include TIME  (1/31), the Dayton (OH) Business Journal  (1/30, Subscription Publication), WRC-TV  Washington (1/31), and the Puget Sound (WA) Business Journal  (1/31, Subscription Publication).

Higher Education

WPost A1: Top US Public Universities Accept Larger Numbers Of Out-Of-State Students.

In an 1,879-word front-page article, the Washington Post  (1/30, A1, Anderson, Douglas-Gabriel) reports Federal data shows that across the US, top public universities “are enrolling record numbers of students from elsewhere to maximize tuition revenue as state support for higher education withers.” According to the Post, this is most “pronounced” at the University of Alabama, where just 36 percent of new freshmen in 2014 were from within the state, down from 72 percent in 2004.

In a separate article, the Washington Post  (1/30, Douglas-Gabriel) reports many state universities are increasingly turning to out-of-state and international students to boost funding because of a “shrinking pipeline of local high school students and dwindling state appropriations.” The article highlights the University of Oregon as part of this trend where in-state students have declined from 68% of freshmen students to 47% from 2004 to 2014. The National Center for Education Statistics says the number of college-age teens in Oregon is projected to continue declining until 2021. The article illustrates that there is a growing tension at many public universities to balance the ongoing expectations that they should focus on helping in-state students and the growing financial incentives to reach out and recruit out-of-state and international students.

Some Universities Court Out-Of-State Students, Others Shun Them. In a separate article, the Washington Post  (1/30, Anderson) explores whether students are more or less likely to be accepted as out-of-state students, reporting that at some leading state universities, “the gatekeepers are clear: It’s much tougher to get in if you live out of state.” Nevertheless, the Post reports its analysis has found that “in the past decade many prominent public universities turned increasingly to out-of-state enrollment,” often from “a need to grow tuition revenue.”

Some Pushback On Harvard Report Calling For College Admissions “Revolution.”

Boston  (1/31, Pohle) reports a week after the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a report calling for a “revolution” in college admissions aimed at leveling the playing filed, some people are asking whether the report’s recommendations are realistic. Carol Barash, the founder of an online educational company, says intentions along “can’t change the fundamental issues that create a system that’s vastly unfair” that leaves many high school graduates unprepared for college. The article notes there is an ongoing movement to make the college admissions process fairer for disadvantaged students, which have led some colleges to change their admissions process already by making admissions tests optional and changing admissions questions.

Many Veterans Attend For-Profit Schools Because Of Low Expectations And Lack Of Outreach From Other Schools.

In an almost 2,000 word article on its website, NPR  (1/29, Westervelt) outlines why many veterans attend low-caliber for-profit schools and why the institutions may not be “the best fit” for veterans students due to widespread allegations of fraudulent marketing, some specifically targeting veterans. The article explains that many for-profit schools market themselves heavily to veterans in order to obtain Post-9/11 GI Bill funding, which helps them meet the federal requirement that at least 10% of their funding come from sources other than ED’s Title IV financial aid. The article notes that many for-profit schools have been criticized and targeted by lawsuits for fraudulent practices, but also mentions that non-profit schools have often failed to reach out to veterans, perhaps because they fail to recognize what they have to offer.

Boot Camps Can Be A “Fast Track” To Better Jobs.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (1/30, Jackson) reports many people are enrolling in boot camps, accelerated-learning programs that teach students coding and other high-demand technology skills in a few months, as a “fast track to better jobs.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there over half a million IT job vacancies and the number is expected to nearly double by 2024. The article quotes several people who have attended boot camps and got new jobs with higher salaries than they had before by filling these vacancies.

International Association of Continuing Engineering Education
Call for papers for May 17-20 conference in Porto, Portugal. January 31 deadline.

Surmounting the Barriers
The joint NAE-ASEE report makes recommendations for breaking down long-identified barriers to diversity in higher education.

Accreditation and Professional Development

Ohio State Professor: Gender Disparities In Spatial Cognition Can Be Overcome.

Nautilus Magazine  (2/1) profiles Ohio State University engineering education professor Sheryl Sorby, an American Society for Engineering Education board member, who was “surprised to struggle” in her engineering graphics course during school. The article describes research indicating that “spatial cognition” is “one of the few areas where women do not perform as well as men,” noting that this has “controversially…been used to explain a gender imbalance in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) fields.” Sorby says, however, that “the plasticity of the brain allows women to improve and enhance their spatial abilities…once they’re given the right tools.” To address this disparity, Sorby and colleague Beverly J. Baartmans “developed a spatial visualization course to help her students develop their spatial cognition skills.”

Research and Development

MIT Students Take Top Marks In Hyperloop Design Competition.

The Boston Globe  (1/31, Annear) reports that MIT engineering students won “first place in a competition to design a ‘pod in the sky’ for the Hyperloop, a futuristic transit system proposed by space mogul Elon Musk.” The Globe reports that over 100 university teams from around the world “competed in the SpaceX ‘Hyperloop Pod Competition’ held this weekend at Texas A & M University.”

The AP  (2/1) reports MIT “was named the winner on Saturday after a competition among more than 1,000 college students.” The AP reports that Delft University of Technology from The Netherlands, the University of Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, and the University of California, Irvine rounded out the top five in the competition.

The Los Angeles Times  (1/29, Dave) reports that Musk “wants more people involved” with the project than students, and indeed “the competition has led hundreds of companies, organizations and, of course, parents to contribute what could easily reach millions of dollars to hyperloop research.”

Bloomberg News  (1/31, Hull) reports Musk made a “surprise appearance” at the event, and reports that he floated the idea of “a transportation system in which capsules hurtling on a cushion of air would whisk people at 700 miles (1,130 kilometers) per hour, traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour.”

University Of Maryland Researchers Use Carbonized Oak Leaf To Study Sodium Battery.

The Daily Mail  (1/29, Griffiths) reports researchers in the department of materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland have used a carbonized oak leaf infused with sodium to create the negative terminal of a battery. The piece explains that a sodium anode battery could hold more charge than one using lithium.

Gizmodo  (2/1) reports that a sodium battery would not take as many new charges as would a lithium battery, and that the research is intended to study how to overcome this deficiency.

North Dakota State To Research More Efficient Wind Power Transmission System.

The AP  (1/31) reports that with the support of National Science Foundation funding, North Dakota State University will research efforts to make wind power more widespread, reliable and efficient. The project will be led by Nilanjan Ray Chaudhuri who says that a direct current system could also help overcome the problem of fluctuating power over long transmission distances. Chaudhuri said the research needed for a national switch to direct current system will likely take 30 years or perfect.

“Gecko Gloves” Let You Climb Like Spider-Man.

Fast Company  (1/28, Grothaus) reports that Elliot Hawkes, a mechanical engineering graduate student at Stanford University, and a team of engineers have invented “gecko gloves” that allow the wearer to climb surfaces like Spider-Man. Mark Cutkosky, Stanford University’s Fletcher Jones Chair in the School of Engineering and senior author on the paper said “some of the applications we’re thinking of involve manufacturing robots that lift large glass panels or liquid-crystal displays. We’re also working on a project with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to apply these to the robotic arms of spacecraft that could gently latch on to orbital space debris, such as fuel tanks and solar panels, and move it to an orbital graveyard or pitch it toward Earth to burn up.”

USNA Partners With Virginia Tech On Nuclear Research.

The Augusta (VA) Free Press  (1/29) reported that the Naval Academy’s nuclear engineering program has partnered with Virginia Tech’s Nuclear Science and Engineering Lab to “launch research collaboration opportunities engaging faculty, students, and resources from both partners.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Court Orders EPA To “Begin Rulemaking” On Mining Cleanups.

The AP  (1/29, Biesecker) reports the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an order requiring the EPA to “begin the rulemaking process” intended to stop “mining companies from declaring bankruptcy to avoid pollution clean-ups.” According to the AP, “At issue is a 35-year-old edict under the federal Superfund program that requires mining companies to show they have the financial resources to cover the costs of cleaning up ongoing contamination from their operations as well as any potential spills of hazardous materials.” The court indicated that making claims of insolvency while protecting profits will force companies to “invest in minimizing pollution on the front end to avoid future liabilities.”

New Study Shows Economic Cost Of Air Pollution. A Washington Post  (1/29, Harvey) analysis reports a new “Energy Policy” study has “estimat[ed] the monetary damages caused by air pollution from energy production between 2002 and 2011.” Damages in 2011 amounted to $131 billion, a drop from the $175 billion in 2002. Using EPA data, the study created a model looking at the “monetary value on the health effects” to derive a “‘social cost’ of the offending omissions.” The study then used social costs “to calculate the total monetary damages produced by a certain amount of emissions in a given time period.” Lead researcher, Paulina Jaramillo, of Carnegie Mellon University, said, “The bulk of the cost of emissions is the result of health impacts – so morbidity and particularly mortality.”

Virginia Tech Researchers Played Key Role In Investigating Flint Water Crisis.

The AP  (1/31, Korth) profiles the Virginia Tech Flint Water Study team, led by “professor Marc Edwards, a nationally known expert on municipal water quality.” The team’s work, the Post reports, “resulted in national attention on water infrastructure, a state of emergency, resignations and a switch back to an old water system.”

PG&E Lost Original Records For South Bay Gas Lines.

The San Francisco Chronicle  (1/31, Van Derbeken, Subscription Publication) reports that in testimony before a regulatory judge at a recent California Public Utilities Commission hearing, “PG&E executives admitted that no one can find original paper records of gas-pipeline repairs made from 1979 to 1991 in the company’s De Anza division.” Missing De Anza records “were a likely factor” in a July 2013 incident in Mountain View in which workers damaged a gas line. PG&E senior gas engineer Alan Wong in September 2013 urged the company to locate the records, which the Times reports the company did not attempt to do until 11 days after a March 3, 2014 gas explosion.

Study: National Scale Power Grid Could Cut Carbon Emissions.

The Christian Science Monitor  (1/29, Botkin-Kowacki) reports that new research published Monday in the journal Nature suggests that renewable energy contributing to a continental US grid would distribute the burden of power production. The model would “make it economically feasible to cut carbon emissions significantly in the electricity sector” by leveraging “multiple power sources together on the national scale.” Jeff Deyette, assistant director of energy research at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that creating a national scale power system would “require a major shift in how we transmit and distribute power across the country.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Obama Invites Student With Perfect AP Calculus Score To White House.

The Los Angeles Times  (1/31, Branson-Potts) reports in a tweet Sunday, the President invited high school student Cedrick Argueta, “who made national headlines for his perfect score on his Advanced Placement Calculus exam,” to the White House Science Fair. The President wrote, “Way to go on your perfect score! How about you come by the next White House Science Fair?”

Missouri Holds Lego League Robotics Event For Students.

The Columbia (MO) Missourian  (1/30, Saunders) reports two student teams competed in the final round of the FIRST Lego League competition in Missouri held at the MU College of Engineering. The program challenges students to build robots using Legos to accomplish tasks and complete obstacle courses.

New Mexico Students Compete In Robotics Competition.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (2/1) reports students competed last Saturday at the VEX Robotics Competition at the University of New Mexico Continuing Education Center in Albuquerque. The middle school and high school students had to design robots to accomplish certain tasks and learned STEM skills in the process.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Senate Approves First Amendments To Wide-Ranging Energy Legislation.
National Science Foundation Gives University $4.2 Million To Adopt CyberCorps Scholarships For Service Program.
Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program Develops “Gigantic” Turbine Blades.
Westinghouse Awarded Nuclear Decommissioning Contracts In The UK.
Commercial Spaceship Builders Learn From Challenger Accident.
Kansas Court Hears Arguments On Coal Plant Emissions Limits.
Massachusetts High School Robotics Team Launches Initiative To Make Program Statewide.

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