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

Leading the News

Fight Over Flint Funding Threatens Energy Bill.

The Hill  (2/4, Cama, Henry) reports that the battle over the Flint water crisis “is threatening to tank the Senate’s broad energy reform bill.” Negotiations to attach an “aid package were increasingly breaking down on Wednesday, with one key Democrat warning her caucus could block the underlying legislation if it isn’t satisfied.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow said, “We want to do something that will help people that need help,” and warned that Democrats are “not going to support moving forward” without assistance to the people of Flint. Senate Democrats “want a $600 million aid package, with $400 million to match state funds to repair and replace old pipes in the city and the balance going to a research and education center on lead poisoning.” Republicans are hesitating “at the cost of the package and are irked at the threats to delay the underlying bill, which has had bipartisan support.”

The “Floor Action” blog of The Hill  (2/4, Carney) reports that Sen. Jim Inhofe has offered an amendment that would “pay for the emergency Flint funding that Democrats are pushing for by using rescinded funds from a Department of Energy alternative vehicles program.” But Stabenow said, “I personally feel it’s an insult. It’s being done to embarrass us,” adding that it is a “slap in the face.” The Michigan Democrat “said that while she and other lawmakers are negotiating in ‘good faith’ that she was ‘amazed that this would be offered.’” She stated, “Now we are hearing in an amendment to the people of Flint, well, you’ve got a choice. You can either drink the water, have safe water or you can have a job.”

The Hill  (2/4, Cama, Henry) also reports that the Senate is slated “to hold a cloture vote on the energy reform bill” today but the “late maneuvering over the Flint aid package could derail that vote.”

Energy Bill Aims To Protect Grid From Hackers. The Hill  (2/3, Bennett) reports the Senate energy reform bill being negotiated “includes a number of cybersecurity provisions” that supporters “say will help bolster the power grid’s lagging digital defenses.” A section of the bill “dedicated to cyber threats” would “empower” the Energy Department “to take swifter action in the event of a major hack, authorizing it to direct energy companies in a cyber crisis.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised “the cyber passages on Tuesday while encouraging his colleagues to vote for the bill, which is expected to pass sometime Thursday.”

Higher Education

King, Donovan Tout Pell Grant Improvements To Foster College Completion.

In commentary in the Huffington Post  (2/3), Education Secretary John King and OMB Director Shaun Donovan write about the Administration’s efforts to improve college affordability, saying that despite heavy investment and progress, “only 60 percent of those enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs complete their education.” To further improve college completion rates, the writers say the Administration is pushing for increased funding and other improvements for the Pell grant program.

Administration Increasing Pressure On College Accreditors.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/4, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports that ED is increasing regulation of college accreditors in an effort to move against colleges with low student performance. The Journal reports Under Secretary Ted Mitchell is calling on accreditors to focus their efforts more on underperforming colleges, quoting him saying, “Accreditors’ evaluations must increasingly put a premium on student outcomes.”

Student Loans Can Affect Mortgage Eligibility.

US News & World Report  (2/4, Mayotte) reports a person’s student loans debt can affect their eligibility for a mortgage. The article details how student loans can affect eligibility for mortgages from the FHA, Veterans Administration, or Department of Agriculture.

“Cambridge 2 Cambridge” Hackathon Will Be Competition Between US And UK College Students.

The Boston Globe  (2/2, Subbaraman) reports college students from Cambridge, Massachusetts and Cambridge, England will compete against each other in the “Cambridge 2 Cambridge” hackathon in early March. President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced the event last January while Cameron was visiting the US. The event will include a virtual “capture the flag” contest between college teams and the winner will receive a $70,000 prize.

From ASEE
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.

Research and Development

EasyJet Releases Plans For Hydrogen Fuel Cell Jet.

CNBC  (2/2, Frangoul) reports, “European airline easyJet unveiled its plans for a zero emissions hydrogen fuel system on Tuesday,” saying the system is “based around the idea of stowing a hydrogen fuel cell in the hold of the aircraft.” The company said its “zero emissions system” could reduce fuel use by 50,000 tons per year, and “would capture energy when the aircraft brakes during landing, and would then charge lightweight batteries while the aircraft is on the ground.” This energy would be used while taxiing, “negating the need to use its conventional jet engines.”

Government R&D Can Be A Catalyst For Technological Progress.

In The Hill’s  (2/3, Brooks, Contributor, Logsdon) “Pundits Blog”, Chuck Brooks and David Logsdon discuss the role government research and development funding plays as a catalyst for technological advances and economic growth. The story notes the National Human Genome Research Institute, “a $3.8 billion federal investment to launch the Human Genome Project, jointly conceived and executed by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy, has resulted in an estimated economic impact of $965 billion between 1988 and 2012.”

Carnegie Mellon Launches IARPA-Funded Effort To “Reverse-Engineer” The Brain.

CIO Magazine  (2/3, Noyes) reports that a new $12 million effort was launched on Wednesday looking to “reverse-engineer” the human brain. The five-year project “seeks to unlock the secrets of neural circuitry and the brain’s learning methods” and is led by Tai Sing Lee, a professor in Carnegie Mellon. The project is funded by IARPA “through its Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks (MICrONS) research program, which is working to advance President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative.”

Sandia Labs Developing Nondestructive Techniques To Analyze Damage In Composites.

Azom  (2/3) reports researchers David Moore and Timothy Briggs from Sandia National Laboratories are “creating nondestructive techniques to spot damage in composites with the aid of conventional medical inspection method,” which includes sonograms, X-rays, plus modern techniques like ultrasonic spectroscopy, infrared imaging and computed tomography. The research into composite material is “part of Sandia’s national security mission, which includes energy efficiency and performance optimization in wind turbine blades, or lightweight vehicle.”

Industry News

Auto Hackers Will Go After Money, Data.

The Detroit Free Press  (2/3, Snavely) reports as cars become more connected to other systems, hackers will have an easier time accessing and taking control over vehicles for lucrative purposes. This view was posited by Anuja Sonalker, VP of engineering for TowerSec, “who spoke Wednesday during a discussion on cyber security at an Automotive Press Association event in Detroit,” the article reports. “Connectivity means (your car) is connected to something else. So, your car might be connected to your financial network. Or if it’s an electric vehicle it’s connected back to the electric grid,” said Sonalker, whose firm develops cyber security technology for the automotive industry. Therefore, hackers could potentially infiltrate “your car … and springboard to another network from there and get access to financial information.” NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said in January, “The fact that industry, in cooperation with NHTSA, is working to address this threat before, and not after, Americans are directly at risk, is an example of proactive safety.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Some Ferguson Residents Denied Entrance To Public Hearing On DOJ Agreement.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch  (2/3) reports “roughly 75 people were denied entrance” to the first public meeting in Ferguson over the proposed agreement with the DOJ that the council will vote on next Tuesday. A second hearing on Saturday will be held at Ferguson Community Center, which “can accommodate a significantly larger crowd.” Some of those who attended argued that the city should sign the agreement to avoid the cost of litigation, while others say the “agreement went too far and that Ferguson lacked the financial ability to comply.” New City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said Tuesday that at “first blush,” the agreement would cost $1.5 million a year.

Activist Mckesson Files To Run For Baltimore Mayor.

The Baltimore Sun  (2/3, Broadwater) reports civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson entered the “crowded” contest for Baltimore Mayor “minutes before the deadline to file” on Wednesday night. Mckesson, who “gained widespread attention” in Ferguson protests last year, came to Baltimore in April to demonstrate against police brutality following the death of Freddie Gray. He has met with top White House officials and Hillary Clinton, who has called him a “social media emperor.” Mckesson says he plans to release a platform in the next week.

Judge Cites Racism Of Michigan Officer During Sentencing Over Assault.

Mic  (2/3, Cheney-Rice) reports Judge Vonda Evans on Tuesday “laid into” former Inkster, Michigan officer William Melendez as she sentenced him to 13 months to 10 years in prison for assaulting 58-year-old Floyd Dent, an unarmed black man, at a traffic stop in Jan. 2015. Evans “repeatedly emphasized the role of racism in the case in no uncertain terms.”

Legislation Proposed To Support Wind Research At DOE.

E&E Daily  (2/3, Subscription Publication) reports Rep. Paul Tonko has introduced legislation “to support wind research at the Department of Energy.” The “Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2016” directs the agency “to conduct a research-and-development program to improve the efficiency of wind generation capacity, optimize its design and reduce costs associated with permitting and other issues.” In addition, it “outlines a variety of wind technologies for department attention, such as offshore floating systems and ‘projects to assess and mitigate the impacts of hurricane wind flow.’” The bill “would authorize $200 million for each fiscal year from 2017 through 2021.”

Columbia Linguistics Professor: OJ Trial Showed Racial Divide Over Police.

In an op-ed for the New York Times  (2/3, Mcwhorter, Subscription Publication), John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia, says that amid continuous coverage of the OJ Simpson murder case, now being dramatized in a FX series, “America learned the difference between what the cops mean to black people versus what they mean to most others.” McWhorter said that during the trial, he saw “people ignoring the facts in favor of a kind of tribalism,” but now he realized that his view was because “my life had spared me from experiencing or even seeing police abuse.” He has found that “what prevents real racial conciliation and understanding in America is the poisonous relations between blacks and the police.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Utah STEM Bill Advances, Arts Bill Dies.

The Deseret (UT) News  (2/3, Franke) reports on the “second annual STEM fest” in Salt Lake City, Utah, “where companies and educators are gathering this week to showcase career opportunities in various STEM fields.” The piece explains that some parents believe that arts instruction ties STEM subjects together, but reports that while a bill to “earmark more than $2 million to expand computer science instruction in Utah schools” advanced in the state legislature this week, one to set a minimum amount to be spent on arts instruction did not.

Arizona Plans Budget Cut To Career And Technical Education That Could End Successful Programs Across State.

Tucson (AZ) Local Media  (2/3, Nintzel) reports Arizona education leaders are warning that many school districts will have to end their career and technical education programs if the state follows through with its plan to reduce funding for the programs by $30 million. The article mentions that the programs have been highly successful with a statewide graduation rate of 96% among program participants and quotes several education officials warning of the consequences if funding is cut. Pima County Superintendent Alan Storm says his district would likely have to end their program without state funding. The Tucson Metro Chamber CEO Mike Varney says local employers are “crying for qualified workers so they can grow.”

Two New Mexico Elementary Schools Going To Lego League World Festival In St. Louis.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (2/3, Devine) reports students from Oregon Elementary and Yucca Elementary in the Alamogordo First Lego League Jr. in New Mexico have been selected to attend the 2016 FIRST Lego League World Festival in St. Louis to be held in April. FIRST is a program that aims to help young people develop STEM skills through various programs. Yucca Elementary’s team is coached by Heather Kangas who says the competition is a great opportunity for the students to meet with STEM professionals and learn more about exciting STEM careers.

California Awards Career Technical Education Incentive Grants To Districts, Charter School In Lompoc Area.

The Lompoc (CA) Record  (2/3, Guista) reports California awarded Career Technical Education Incentive Grants to two high school districts and one charter school in the Lompoc area. The grants aim to help the development of career and technical education programs. The state awarded $1.1 million to the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District, $737,109 to the Lucia Mar Unified School District, and $82,6685 to Orcutt Academy High School.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

FBI Joins Probe Of Flint Contamination Ahead Of House Committee Hearing.
Prominent Public Universities Accepting More Out-Of-State Students.
University Of Tennessee Added To NNSA’s Nuclear Research Consortium.
Study: Battery-Powered Cars Beating Out Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles.
Johnson Defends EINSTEIN After Critical Audit.
Indiana High School Student Organizes Event To Get Elementary School Girls Interested In STEM.
High School Student Working Full-Time Job As Lead Engineer At Mobile App Startup.

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