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

Leading the News

EPA Letters Vow Stricter Oversight For Lead Water.

USA Today  (2/29, Spangler) reports the EPA on Monday sent letters to the nation’s governors and water regulators vowing more stringent oversight of rules protecting citizens from lead in drinking water. The letters ask states to confirm their water systems meet protocols and procedures set in the “complex” Lead and Copper Rule. They also say state regulators should more carefully review results of lead samples taken at homes and make attempts to locate all lead service lines. The article says that given how often the EPA has been criticized for overreach, “it was unclear how governors and state regulators would react.”

New Mexico Environment Secretary: EPA Failed In Handling Gold King Mine Spill. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal  (2/29, Flynn, Subscription Publication), Ryan Flynn, New Mexico’s secretary of environment, says the environmental disaster from Colorado’s Gold King Mine spill last summer continues in New Mexico and Utah due to the EPA’s botched response. Flynn says the EPA has tried to minimize the impact of the spill by using a recreational environmental standard instead of the more appropriate residential standard. It also released a chart showing lead levels in the Animas river to be close to zero, but used a linear scale instead of a logarithmic one. Flynn urges the EPA to join New Mexico and Utah in their efforts to monitor water in the area for pollution from the mine spill.

Higher Education

Illinois Governor Blames House Speaker For University Funding Crisis.

The Chicago Tribune  (2/29, Geiger) reports Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is blaming state House Speaker Michael Madigan “for the financial crisis facing some Illinois public universities, contending the Democratic leader is holding up a compromise to agitate voters ahead of the primary election.” A spokesperson for Madigan said the legislator “is working to collect votes to override Rauner’s recent veto of a bill that would release $721 million to fund community colleges and tuition grants for low-income students.” The funding crunch “threatens closures and layoffs at Illinois universities, including Chicago State and Eastern Illinois.”

The Chicago Sun-Times  (2/29, Ihejirika) reports Rauner accused Madigan “of manipulating leadership at state universities to withhold support of Rauner-backed solutions.” The AP  (2/29, Burnett) that Rauner accused Madigan of “prolonging a higher education funding crisis for political gain” and threatening “university leaders who might stand with the Republican governor on a fix.” However, officials “from two of the three universities that Rauner claimed had been threatened also denied that Madigan or his office had done so.” WLS-TV  Chicago (3/1) also covers this story.

Community College Advocate Calls On Four-Year Colleges To Facilitate Transfers.

A Chronicle of Higher Education  (2/29) video features an interview with Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, who “says one of the biggest barriers for low-income community-college students who want to transfer to colleges where they can earn a B.A. is the lack of financial support they get from the four-year institutions.”

White House Looks To Expand Pell Funding.

The Washington Post  (2/29, Douglas-Gabriel) reports this month marks the seventh anniversary of President Obama signing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which “doubled Pell funding by more than $17 billion” and made 800,000 more students eligible for grants. However, the cost of college has climbed faster than federal grant aid in the years since. According to the College Board, the average net price for public four-year schools has jumped 25 percent to $14,120 since 2008-2009. In response to this, the administration is launching several pilot programs to extend Pell to a wider population. Up to 10,000 high school students will be able to use grants starting this fall to take college courses through dual-enrollment programs. The President also is proposing increasing the maximum Pell award by $300 for students who take at least 15 credits a semester, putting them on schedule to graduate on time. The White House is also asking Congress to “reinstitute so-called year-round Pell, which would let full-time students receive the grants three semesters a year, instead of two.”

From ASEE
ASEE ED on NPR’s Air Talk
Norman Fortenberry discussed the efforts to make STEAM from STEM

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

Research and Development

Opinion: Zika Provides Opportunity To Promote Genetic Engineering.

In an op-ed in Agri-Pulse  (2/29, Matz), attorney Marshall Matz, a principal with OFW Law, argues “genetic engineering has an important role to play in” fighting the Zika virus and strengthening global food security. He explains “many of the drugs we consume are the product of genetic engineering.” Matz cites the IUSM’s AMPATH program, led by field director Dr. Joe Mamlin, as evidence for the “strong relationship between health care, nutrition and food security.” According to Matz, “The Zika epidemic can become a teachable moment for all forms of biotechnology.”

BIOtechNow  (2/29, Kennedy) also carries Matz’s op-ed.

BAE Systems’ HAASW UTAS May Increase Maritime Detection Capabilities.

Popular Mechanics  (3/1) reports on the game-changing prospect of using aircraft as “a drone mothership of sorts, sending out eyes and ears in all sorts of directions.” The article then profiles a variety of expendable drones, including BAE Systems’ contract to build a Magnetic Anomaly Detector for the Navy known as the “awkwardly named High Altitude ASW Unmanned Targeting Air System (HAASW UTAS).” Many of the details about the detector remain unknown, but “the new detector may be more sensitive than previous versions, possibly based on an Atomic Vapour Magnetometer that the Navy has been developing.”

Industry News

Industry Study Shows About Half Of Internet Traffic Is Encrypted.

The Hill  (3/1, Trujillo) reports that a study  (3/1) released yesterday shows about “49 percent of Internet traffic is encrypted,” up from only 13 percent in April of 2014. The data confirm other studies showing a rise in encryption, “with the increase predicted to continue.” The study “was conducted by Peter Swire, the former chief privacy counsel for President Bill Clinton,” and was “aimed at figuring out what kind of information Internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon, can gain from their customers’ Web histories.” Swire explained that his “research sought to dispel myths that Internet service providers have a comprehensive and unique ability to create detailed profiles of its users.” It was partially funded by Broadband for America.

Pundits: XO Deal Boosts Verizon’s Fiber Capabilities.

A few media outlets on Monday weighed in on Verizon’s $1.8 billion acquisition of XO’s fiber network, announced last week. Leo Sun of Motley Fool  (2/29) opines that the acquisition should “boost the speed of Verizon’s wireline connections for residential consumers, who generated 43% of the unit’s operating revenue last year. In urban areas, new fiber assets can help Verizon meet higher bandwidth demand from streaming video on mobile devices. That expansion will support the growth of its Go90 app, which excludes streaming videos from monthly data caps.”

Sean Buckley of Fierce Telecom  (2/29, Buckley) observes that the purchase “gives Verizon some much-needed fiber assets it can use to address two near-term needs: an expanded Ethernet service reach with a larger set of on-net buildings and wireless backhaul, particularly to accommodate small cells.” Having access to more fiber “will allow Verizon to better respond to business customers’ Ethernet needs,” and “reflects the growing use of higher speed Ethernet services to access other services like IP/VPNs and cloud.” Weighing in with Fierce Telecom on the deal was Rosemary Cochran of Verticle Systems Group, who said “in an email that the acquisition won’t have a great near-term effect on the telco’s standings in the research firm’s recently released U.S. Ethernet Leaderboard.” Verizon is still in third place, behind Level 3 Communications.

Engineering and Public Policy

DOT Issues Notice For Applicants For New FAST Act Freight Grants.

Engineering News-Record  (2/29, Ichniowski) reports that the DOT has released a notice for a new construction program called FASTLANE under the FAST Act, which established “the National Significant Freight and Highway Projects program, and authorized $800 million in fiscal year 2016 for the first year of the grants.” The notice writes that applications for the grants are due by April 14. The article suggests that like the DOT’s TIGER grants, the DOT may find itself receiving an overwhelming number of applications under this new program. The article mentions that Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx said, “We now have an opportunity to fund high-impact projects that address key challenges affecting the movement of people and freight.”

The Progressive Rail Roading  (2/29) adds that Foxx said, “Our nation needs a strong multimodal freight system to both compete in the global economy and meet the needs of consumers and industry.”

After Ukraine Cyberattack, US Warns Utilities.

The New York Times  (2/29, Sanger, Subscription Publication) reports DHS last week warned the nation’s “power companies, water suppliers and transportation networks that sophisticated cyberattack techniques used to bring down part of Ukraine’s power grid two months ago could easily be turned on them.” In interviews, US officials “said they have not completed their inquiry into who was responsible for the attack,” but Ukrainian officials have blamed Russia. “They could be right,” said a senior Administration official. “But so far we don’t have the complete evidence, and the attackers went to some lengths to hide their tracks.”

Forbes Op-Ed: Protecting Nation’s Electrical Grid Requires Oversight. In an op-ed for Forbes  (2/29) William Arthur Conklin, professor at the University of Houston, discusses the importance of the nation’s electrical grid, and the danger facing it today from the threat of cyberattack. Conklin identifies the attack on Ukraine’s electric grid last December as an example of the chaos malware can cause to a nation’s infrastructure. Conklin believes that a regulatory scheme covering the nation’s electrical grid that is focused on security objectives is the only way to attain a “unified comprehensive response” in the event of an attack.

House GOP Wants GAO To Examine Whether DOE Can Complete Yucca Mountain Project.

The Washington Examiner  (2/29, Siciliano) reports that House Republicans “want a government watchdog to probe whether the Energy Department can still complete the nation’s nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and if new funding is necessary.” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office “asking that it to investigate whether the Energy Department can still proceed with the formal application process to build Yucca, after the Obama administration scrapped the project in 2009, directing the agency to withdraw its application from the country’s nuclear power regulator.” The NRC continues to review the Energy Department’s application, but the “lawmakers want to know if they should still allocate federal taxpayer money to the Department of Energy to support its end of the application process.”

The Hill  (3/1, Cama) adds that the “Obama administration moved in 2009 to stop the formal process of applying” to the NRC to build the facility “and Congress stopped appropriating funds for the application.” But as “numerous nuclear power plants” are set to close soon, “Upton and Shimkus want to know what resources the Energy Department has in place for if it wants to restart the process.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

UT Austin Hosts “Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day.”

KXAN-TV  Austin, TX (2/27) reports that the University of Texas-Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering hosted over 5,000 female elementary and middle school students “for the 15th Annual ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering’ Day and Girl Day STEM festival” on Saturday. Volunteers helped the girls “engage in 130 plus engineering activities throughout the day.” Women in Engineering Program Director Tricia Berry said, “We have a number of science labs across the Cockrell school that are participating, we have a lot more computer science that is also out in full force today letting our students get to code, they’re getting to play with more robots today, we have a robotic garden that they’re getting to change the colors of robotic flowers, all kinds of interesting things coming out when you add in the science with the engineering and the technology.”

Wisconsin Specialized Manufacturer Career Training Is Approved By State Secretary.

The Racine (WI) Journal Times  (2/29, Feldman) reports that on Monday Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development secretary Ray Allen visited Gateway Technical College to review a partially state funded career training program, CNC Boot Camp. Allen showed great approval in the program which college officials and regional business collaborate to “provide skilled machinists and workers” saying, “It’s very satisfying to see a great return on our investment.”

Study Shows Disparities In STEM Knowledge Begins Before Kindergarten.

The Hechinger Report  (2/29) applies findings from a study titled “Science Achievement Gaps Begin Very Early, Persist, and Are Largely Explained by Modifiable Factors,” published in February by the Educational Researcher, to understanding “the ‘leaky STEM pipeline.’” The study found that many low income, black and Hispanic students enter kindergarten with diminished STEM and general world knowledge relative to higher-income white counterparts, and that the achievement gap in science between the groups has grown by eighth grade. The article reviews the consequence this has on students choosing alternative studies to STEM classes as they move through their education.

Tennessee Legislator Open Computer Science Elective Option To High School Students.

The Tennessean  (2/29, Ebert) reports that on Monday the Tennessee House of Representatives approved a bill that allows high school students to fulfill graduation elective requirements with a computer science course. The Tennessean notes the bill does not increase or decrease the number of classes required for graduation, but just opens up the option for students to take computer science as an elective, outside of the required minimum computer science classes. The bill is now pending Senate action.

Texas Area College Offers STEM Camps To Elementary- To High School-Aged Children.

The Houston Chronicle  (2/29, Vasquez) briefly lists programs offered in San Jacinto College’s STEM camps for elementary, middle, and high school students which offers activities “to explore the many careers available to them in STEM.” The article then lists and describes a number of STEM subject inspired camps for children ages seven to sixteen.

Hawaii Education Board Discusses New Science Education Standards.

The Hawaii Free Press  (2/29) features a February 19 news release from the Hawaii State Board of Education (BOE) on it’s recent approval an adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The release lists the new student performance expectations per the NGSS, and says the standards will be adopted over four years. The Office of Curriculum Assistant Superintendent Suzanne Mulcahy says, “Unlike previous content standards the NGSS is aimed to excite young people about science and engineering,” and encourage careers in those sectors.

Also in the News

Americans Increasingly Interested In Alternative Transit.

The Washington Post  (2/29, Emba) reports that Americans, especially the young, are increasingly shying away from obtaining driver’s licenses. More than 91 percent of young people, ages 20 to 24-years-old held a driver’s license in 1983, against about 77 percent in 2014. Meanwhile, big city populations are continuing to grow faster than the rest of the country. The article reports the Pew Research Center “found that 48 percent of Americans would choose walkable urban areas over suburbs, a number that is expected to grow.” It explains, “concerns about sustainability, safety and space have spurred a wave of innovations ranging from electric vehicles to self-driving ones, and a boom in car-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.” Public transportation use is growing, along with major metro areas’ investment in public transit. Walking and bicycle commuting have also grown over time, and interest in bike-sharing has also spiked, while suburb living has lost its luster for some.

Monday’s Lead Stories

Apple CEO Defends Company In FBI Dispute Over Encryption.
Embattled Accreditor Run by For-Profit Executives.
Utah State Biological Engineer Develops E.Coli-Based Replacement For Synthetic Dyes.
National Science Foundation Launches Million-Dollar Initiative To Improve Diversity In STEM.
Google Argues Against Steering Wheels In Autonomous Cars.
Fracking Waste Could Still Be Shipped On Ohio River Despite Coast Guard Proposal Withdrawal.
Obama Initiative Encourages Students To Visit Labs.

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