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

Leading the News

Rhode Island Governor Launches Public School Computer Science Initiative.

The Providence (RI) Business News  (3/7) reports that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has announced a new initiative called Computer Science for RI, designed “to help every public school in Rhode Island teach computer science classes by December 2017.” The program would be funded with $260,000 from her budget proposal, and “is being conducted in partnership with Microsoft,, and colleges and universities across Rhode Island.” The article reports Education Secretary John King “said Pres. Barack Obama’s budget includes funding for states and districts to increase access to computer science by providing training for educators, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships.” The piece quotes King saying, “By offering computer science in every public school and every grade, Rhode Island has become the latest state to lead the way in offering computer science for all.”

The AP  (3/7, O’Brien) reports the program “taps professional engineers to volunteer to help teachers and their students learn coding skills.” The universities and Microsoft “will introduce new courses in elementary through high school.” Raimondo said Monday that the program’s goals are to “prepare young people for jobs in the tech-driven economy and narrow racial and gender disparities in the field.”

The Providence (RI) Journal  (3/7, Borg) reports only “a handful of states” have implemented such programs, and quotes King saying via conference call, “I applaud Governor Raimondo and Rhode Island for putting in place one of the most comprehensive initiatives in this country. We’ve asked Congress to empower states with the resources they need … including $100 million to districts to increase access to computer science for all students.” WPRI-TV  Providence, RI (3/7) also covers this story.

Higher Education

ED Taking Steps To Reimburse Overcharged Military Borrowers.

The Washington Post  (3/7, Douglas-Gabriel) reports, “Acting Education Secretary John B. King Jr. told members of the Senate education committee Monday” that ED is working “to refund money to all military borrowers who were charged more than 6 percent interest on their federal student loans since 2008.” The Post calls the move a response to a letter from Senate Democrats demanding the action stemming from “an audit of the department’s student loan servicers.” The Post quotes King saying ED “initiated a process to conduct a data match and automatically provide credit for any servicemember who was on active duty since federal student loans became eligible for the benefit. This would provide the benefit to any servicemember who was on active duty, going back to 2008, whether or not they had applied for the benefit.”

Colorado Sees Slight Uptick In High School Graduates’ College Attendance.

Chalkbeat Colorado  (3/7) reports that the Colorado Department of Education has released a report showing that the “percentage of Colorado high school students enrolling in college right after graduation increased slightly in 2014,” rising to 55.8%. The article explains that several previous years had seen declines after a record high in 2009.

Texas Governor Launches College Affordability, Workforce Task Force.

The Dallas Morning News  (3/7) reports Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced “a new tri-agency task force that will study how to address Texas’ unique workforce needs” and college affordability issues. Abbott’s task force, made up of the heads of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Texas Workforce Commission, will “research how to make college more affordable and help students enter the workforce more quickly with marketable skills.”

California Bill Would Encourage Students To Earn Bachelor’s Degrees In Four Years.

The Contra Costa (CA) Times  (3/8, Murphy) reports that only around 10% of San Jose State students earn bachelor’s degrees within four years, noting that an extra year can cost students over $20,000. The paper reports that a bipartisan bill in the state Senate “would help more students finish in four years – and maybe entice them to do so – by offering tuition freezes and priority in course registration in exchange for a commitment to take five courses a semester.”

I-Corps for Learning Dear Colleague Letter
The I-Corps for Learning program recognizes recent discoveries and promising practices from STEM education research and development and promotes opportunities for their widespread adoption, adaptation, and utilization.

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

Research and Development

Livermore Physicist Among 2016 Presidential Science And Engineering Award Winners.

The Pleasanton (CA) Weekly  (3/7, Shuttleworth) reports that Lawrence Livermore Laboratory physicist Tammy Ma “is one of 106 people who have been chosen nationwide and one of 13 who work for the U.S. Department of Energy” who have been chosen “for a 2016 presidential early career award for science and engineering.” The White House said that Ma was selected because of her “innovation and leadership in quantifying hydrodynamic instability mix in the hot spot of inertial confinement fusion implosions on the National Ignition Facility (at Lawrence Livermore), key contributions to experiments demonstrating fusion fuel gains exceeding unity and broad educational outreach and service to the scientific community.” In a statement, Ma said, “I am incredibly honored to receive this award. My heart is filled with gratitude to all my mentors and advisers who have taught me so much and have continuously advocate for me, and for the amazing colleagues that I am humbled to get to work with every day.”

DARPA Plans Neural Implant Project.

CNN  (3/7, Browne) reports DARPA plans to design a neural implant to allow the brain to communicate with computers, and has announced it will spend up to $62 million under its Neural Engineering System Design program on the project. CNN says if the project succeeds, “cyborgs will be a reality,” and says experts believe the implant could have numerous applications, for example to control the military’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) exoskeleton under development through US Special Operations Command. CNN quotes cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, who cautions that he thinks success is unlikely because “we have little to no idea how exactly the brain codes complex information.”

CMU Robotics Center Back On Track After “Uber Crisis.”

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (3/7, Fontaine) reports that according to Carnegie Mellon University yesterday “its National Robotics Engineering Center is thriving a year after it lost 40 researchers and scientists to Uber when the ride-share giant opened a Lawrenceville research facility.” Officials now say the “Uber crisis” delivered a significant hit to the research activities at the NREC. Andrew Moore, dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, said the robotics center is back on a “growth pathway.” Carnegie Mellon said the center won “four federal research contracts in recent months that will amount to $11 million in the next three years. Three are Defense projects, while one is geared toward agriculture.” The article notes that one of the contracts that was recently landed is worth $4.2 million and “from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop technology allowing wheels to transform into tracks so vehicles can navigate a variety of terrains.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (3/7, Moore) also offers coverage of this story.

Industry News

Raytheon Faces $1 Billion Whistleblower Suit For Overbilling.

Reuters  (3/7, Stempel) reports Raytheon Co is defending against a whistleblower lawsuit accusing the company of overbilling in connection to its National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOOESS) work as subcontractor to Northrup Grumman Corp, specifically work developing the system’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite sensor. A US appeals court ruled Monday that engineer Steven Mateski could pursue claims against the company for the overbilling.

Engineering and Public Policy

Oklahoma Regulator Directs Reduction In Oil And Gas Waste From Well Operators.

The New York Times  (3/7, Wines, Subscription Publication) reports Oklahoma’s Corporation Commission is asking oil and gas well operators of 411 injection wells in a “Connecticut-size patch of central Oklahoma” to reduce waste they are injecting into the earth by 40%. The Times says the move signals “a far more aggressive effort to curb earthquakes that have grown in size and frequency” in the state as more of the oil and gas wastes have been “dumped into the ground.” The article reports the Commission’s directives “are technically requests,” but no well operators have chosen to contest them thus far.

The Oklahoman  (3/8, Monies) reports that OCC Oil and Gas Conservation Division director Tim Baker said, “This means a reduction of more than 300,000 barrels a day from the 2015 average injection volumes.” Reuters  (3/7, Brandes) reported that the OCC wants the cuts to be phased in over the next two months, and expects full compliance by May 28, while the AP  (3/7, Juozapavicius) reported that the OCC “plans to review the efficacy of the adjustments in about six months.” The Hill  (3/8, Cama) reports that Oklahoma has had more than 140 earthquakes above 3.0 magnitude so far in 2016, and eight above 4.0.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Clarence Middle School Team Headed To National Science Bowl.

The Buffalo (NY) News  (3/7) reports a Clarence Middle School team will participate in the 2016 National Science Bowl in Washington, DC, according to an announcement from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz yesterday. The team from Clarence “won its regional competition, one of 116 such middle- and high-school tournaments across the country.” The “teams in the national competition” will compete for “$1,000 each for their schools’ science departments.”

Obama, Trudeau To Announce Joint Efforts To Combat Arctic Climate Change.

The Globe and Mail (CAN)  (3/7, Fife) reports that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set later this week to endorse a joint approach to combating Arctic climate change “as part of a broad continental environmental strategy” when he meets President Barack Obama at the White House. According to Canadian officials, Obama and Trudeau are expected to announce measures to protect sensitive marine areas, boost wind and solar for remote communities, and lay out a process for mapping of shipping lanes and commercial fishing. Environmental groups hoped the two leaders would announce a moratorium on drilling in Arctic waters, but “officials say that is unlikely to happen.” Reuters  (3/7, Ljunggren, Rampton) reports Canada’s Foreign Minister Stephane Dion said Monday that Canada hopes to repair frayed ties with the US when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with President Obama in Washington this week. Dion said, “We want to strengthen our relationship with the United States at a time when it is key for our agenda of economic growth.”

Reynolds: US Power Grid Needs Cyberattack Preparation.

Author Glenn Harlan Reynolds argues in a USA Today  (3/7) op-ed that more should be done to prepare for a cyberattack on the US power grid. Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, quotes from the Ted Koppel book, “Lights Out”, in which Koppel wrote that agencies charged with preparing for and responding to a cyberattack disaster don’t agree on what’s involved. “The deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) believes that a major urban center would have to be evacuated. His boss, the administrator, does not. The administrator believes that a successful cyberattack on a power grid is possible, even likely. His deputy does not. The current secretary of homeland security is sure that a plan to deal with the aftermath of a cyberattack on the grid exists, but he doesn’t know any details of the plan. As of this writing, there is no specific plan.”

NRG Energy Completes Solar Farm In Southern California.

Bloomberg News  (3/7, Eckhouse) reports that NRG and NRG Yield Inc said in a statement on Monday that they had “completed a 20-megawatt solar farm” near Palmdale, California “on land mostly leased from the US Air Force.” The farm, Solar Oasis, was “jointly funded by” NRG and NRG Yield Inc. and “has a 20-year power purchase agreement” with Southern California Edison.

STEM Conference In South Dakota To Host 650 Female Middle, High School Students.

The AP  (3/7) reports that the South Dakota School of Mines is expecting “about 650 middle and high school female students” to attend its annual Women in Science Conference to learn about various STEM-focused careers. Students are from schools in South Dakota’s Black Hills, Wyoming, and home schools. The conference will showcase professional women “leading interactive exhibits and discussions” on a wide variety of STEM careers.

Virginia School District Considers Creating Career, Technical Focused High School.

The Washington Post  (3/7, Balingit) reports on program proposal in Virginia’s Arlington Public Schools (APS) to put “career and technical education at the center of” a school curriculum with “core academic subjects” “allowing students to take all their” high school classes at “Arlington Tech” in Arlington Career Center (ACC). Currently, courses at ACC are offered as electives and students come from “home” high schools, but APS Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy “has proposed spending $750,000 to start” a complete high school program in the “next school year with 40 students who would start their freshman year there.” The program would be open to students interested in either career straight out of school or pursuing higher education, and aims to offer college credit for some courses.

Female Participation In Michigan Robotics Fuels Growth Trends In Programs.

The Detroit Free Press  (3/7, Higgins) reports that organizers of Michigan robotics programs are seeing a trend of growing female participation in STEM robotics programs “at all levels” in both coed “and all-girls teams.” Gail Alpert, president of the state’s robotics association said she is “seeing an uptick” and girls are “taking on critical roles. They’re drivers. They’re coaches. They’re mentors.” The Free Press says Michigan invests heavily in promoting STEM education and various programs focus on engaging female students.

State Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Solar Ballot Measure.

The Miami Herald  (3/7, Klas) reports that during oral arguments Monday, the state Supreme Court appeared “divided” over whether the Consumers for Smart Solar ballot initiative should be allowed to appear on the ballot. According to the article, environmental groups argued that the measure is “unconstitutionally misleading because it lures voters into thinking it will increase access to rooftop solar when, in fact, it will reduce solar options,” while supporters claimed that the measure “is needed to make the right to install solar panels a constitutional right.” The article lists Gulf Power among the electric utilities in the state that have supported Consumers for Smart Solar.

Monday’s Lead Stories

Apple VP: FBI, DOJ Want To “Turn Back The Clock” On Encryption Technology.
Surviving For-Profit Colleges Working To Recover From Enrollment Crash.
OpenWorks Engineering Releases Counter-Drone Net Launching Device.
Nationwide Debate Over Net Metering Threatens Future Of US Solar.
Raytheon Donates Artificial Intelligence Tutoring System To US Schools.
Opinion: Intellectual Curiosity, As Exhibited in “Mythbusters,” Will Fuel Innovation.

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