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

Leading the News

Castro Pledges HUD’s Support For Flint; McCarthy Says Michigan Misled EPA.

The Detroit News  (3/14, Carah) reports HUD Secretary Castro on Monday said that lending from the Federal Housing Administration in Flint had not declined despite the “ongoing lead-tainted water crisis.” Castro was to meet with Mayor Karen Weaver and other officials. Castro said HUD would continue to work to “improve the quality of life for Flint residents.”

In a Washington Post  (3/14) op-ed, EPA Administrator McCarthy said Michigan “did not act as a partner” with the EPA as it should under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The state was “dismissive, misleading and unresponsive,” and as a result EPA officials didn’t understand the full scope of the Flint lead problem “until more than a year after the switch to untreated water.” McCarthy said she will speak to Congress next week about the Flint disaster, and hopes to use the national spotlight as a chance to “bring attention to this country’s much broader water infrastructure issues — especially in underserved low-income communities” that are “more vulnerable to the health effects of pollution” and “lack the tools and resources to do something about it.”

The New York Times  (3/14, Goodnough, Subscription Publication) reports on the prepared statement of former EPA official Susan Hedman, who was “in charge of the region that includes Flint, Mich.,” for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Hedman resigned in January, at least “partly” in response to “false allegations” regarding “scientist’s warnings about Flint’s lead problem” according to the statement.

WSJournal: Senators Should Stop Blocking Water Systems Agreement. The Wall Street Journal  (3/14, Subscription Publication) editorializes that Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) should stop trying to block a bipartisan agreement that appropriates $70 million in loan subsidies for water projects nationwide, while setting aside an additional $100 million in loans and grants to states where President Obama has declared a public health emergency. The Journal says the deal would benefit Flint and other troubled water systems. Furthermore, the deal would be offset by rescinding $250 million in subsidies for new Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loans.

Higher Education

ED Fires Law Firm In Charge Of Monitoring Turnaround Of Former Corinthian Schools.

The Washington Post  (3/14, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED is “dumping” Hogan Marren Babbo & Rose, “the law firm charged with overseeing the turnaround of dozens of campuses once owned by Corinthian Colleges.” The Post explains that when ECMC Group “purchased more than 50 Corinthian campuses and created Zenith Education Group to run them in November 2014,” ED required the firm to “select an independent monitor to make sure the new owner steered clear of the mistakes made by Corinthian.” ED approved ECMC’s choice of the firm, but was criticized because the firm is headed by former ED general counsel Charlie P. Rose. The Post reports that an AP investigation found that “by Zenith hiring the firm as legal counsel, it benefited from an attorney-client privilege that obligates the monitor to act in the company’s interest.” The piece quotes ED spokeswoman Dorie Nolt saying, “We approved Mr. Rose’s appointment as monitor because he has a unique understanding of our regulations and expectations. He’s also someone who was instrumental in crafting the Gainful Employment regulations. That said, we have informed Zenith and Mr. Rose that as we enter this next phase of Zenith’s development, we believe it is time for a new monitor with a different background and set of capabilities.”

The AP  (3/14, Horwitz) reports that ED said it is removing the firm “after the AP reviewed with senior agency officials its findings last week after a nine-month investigation examining the Obama administration’s response to Corinthian’s extraordinary collapse in 2014 amid allegations of mismanagement and fraud.” The AP quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “I’ve notified Zenith and Hogan Marren that we do not intend to approve renewal of Hogan Marren as the independent monitor. We believe we need a monitor with different capacities to serve in this next phase of Zenith’s development.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/14) explains that the firm “had established attorney-client privilege with Zenith, which caused it to act in Zenith’s interest.” The piece says the firm “had advocated on behalf of for-profit colleges like Corinthian, and even once argued that for-profits had a right not to inform prospective students about whether graduates got jobs.”

ED Considering Ban On College Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.

Inside Higher Ed  (3/14) reports that ED is considering banning “colleges from including mandatory arbitration clauses in their enrollment agreements with students,” and that ED officials “will include the proposal as part of the ongoing rule-making negotiations that are primarily focused on creating a new debt relief process for defrauded student loan borrowers.” Advocates say that such mandatory arbitration clauses “curb students’ legal ability to sue colleges for any wrongdoing.” The piece quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “The department is working to ensure that no college can dodge accountability by burying ‘gotchas’ in fine print that blocks students from seeking the redress they’re due. … We heard them and we agree.”

Think Tank Analyst Calls On ED To End Forced Arbitration. In commentary for The Hill (DC)  (3/14) “Congress Blog,” Alexis Goldstein, senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform, writes that even as for-profit colleges “have faced a steady stream of legal challenges in recent years,” students almost never sue them over their alleged abuses because “many for-profit schools force students to give up their right to sue the moment they enroll” through “forced arbitration” language. Goldstein argues that ED must “stop letting for-profit schools play this game.”

Study: Wealthy Black Students Have More Student Loan Debt Than White Counterparts.

BuzzFeed  (3/14, Hensley-Clancy) reports a study in the journal Race and Social Problems found that the burden of student loan debt “could sharply destabilize the black middle class, giving young blacks higher risk without the reward of being able to” protect their own children from debt. The Dartmouth-funded study conclude that white youth from households with a net worth exceeding $150,000 had “much less debt than their low-income and middle-class counterparts,” but it wasn’t true for black students. The root of the disparities between races, according to the study, is not just income, but also how black and white families differ in how they acquire wealth and pass it to their children. Wealthy white families tend to have wealth that can be “easily liquidated,” while wealthy black families “had only half of the financial assets and less equity in their homes.”

Maryland Program Jumpstarts Research Innovations At State Colleges.

The Baltimore Sun  (3/4) reports on the Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative, which “helps fund the establishment of endowed professorships at schools across Maryland.” Schools across the state are creating new scientific research programs through the initiative. The program “matches private donations to colleges and universities to create endowed professorships with an eye toward combining science with entrepreneurship.”

Some Elite Colleges Have Admissions Gender Gap.

The Washington Post  (3/14, Anderson) reports that there is a marked gender gap in admissions at elite US colleges, with men often being admitted at higher rates then women. However, colleges blame “the dynamics of the market — who applies, for what programs and in what numbers — not bias on the part of the gatekeepers.” The piece notes that the number of female high school students taking advanced math and science courses has increased in recent years, saying this will “produce more potential applicants” for schools like MIT in coming years.

I-Corps for Learning Webinar
Are you an engineering educator with an entrepreneurial mindset (or you’d like to be one)? The ASEE-managed I-Corps for Learning is seeking participants for the next cohort of this exciting project. NSF is holding a webinar this Friday to explain how you can join.Safe Zone Ally Workhsops
With funding from NSF, ASEE is offering online workshops to become a Safe Zone Ally.

$25K E4U3 Video Contest
The National Academy of Engineering has announced a video contest on Mega Engineering! Most of humankind’s biggest endeavors are mega engineering projects that provide solutions that span disciplines, geographies, and cultural boundaries.

Research and Development

UT Arlington Team Creates Synthetic Fuel Out Of CO2, Water.

The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram  (3/14, Cadwallader) reports that Texas University scientists at Arlington have discovered an “affordable and efficient,” one-step process, using carbon dioxide and water to create “liquid hydrocarbon fuels like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.” Although it’s a long-term hope the researchers feel confident that the catalyst and the idea works, and is also compatible with existing refining infrastructure. But the Telegram writes that the fuel cannot “be proclaimed a fully renewable energy source without an inexpensive and efficient means of capturing carbon dioxide,” and currently capturing CO2 is still very expensive according to Northern Arizona University Mechanical Engineering Professor Tom Acker.

Northeastern Student Develops App To Track Blood Samples.

The Boston Herald  (3/13, Kalter) reports that an Android app developed by Northeastern University first-year engineering doctoral student Murphy Wonsick “would vastly improve a tracking system” for blood samples and so help to combat epidemics. Wonsick explained that in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, “lost or misplaced vials of blood” meant that health authorities were “unable to isolate everyone who had been infected.” Her plan would be to equip vials “with a digital chip containing details about the patient that would be sent to Android phones or tablets.” She began the work as a master’s student in 2015 and her research was supported by “a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.”

Industry News

FireEye Research Shows Common Origins For Several Android Malware Programs.

eWeek  (3/15) reports research released by cybersecurity company FireEye shows that the “malicious Android program known as GM Bot…had enough similarities to two other programs, Slembunk and SimpleLocker, to establish a common origin.” eWeek points out that FireEye believes the programs “are likely the work of a single developer or the product of code sharing.” eWeek adds that GM Bot is used “to steal banking credentials from Android phones,” and notes that the source code “was posted to a Russian-language forum for cyber criminals in December 2015, according to an IBM report.”

Lockheed Martin Awarded $325 Million In DoD Contracts In Aviation, Missiles, Navigation.

Zacks Investment Research  (3/15) reports Lockheed Martin has been awarded $325.1 million in work by the Department of Defense for four contracts, including a $93.4 million contract to “design the Trident II Inertial Navigation Subsystem (INS)” and “provide technology development efforts” for Shipboard Systems Integration (SSI) Increment 8 and SSI Increment 13. A second contract for $92.4 million is a modification to its C-130J aircraft contract that covers foreign military sales to Israel, and a third contract for $73 million exercises an option for “the addition of 64 1-pack Missile Segment Enhancement missiles and reducing 64 Cost Reduction Initiative missiles in the PATRIOT.” The fourth contract, for $66.2 million, is for a technical solution to allow “full interoperability of the Distributed Mission Training potential” for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

Cybersecurity Analysts Blame Sophisticated Ransomware Attacks On Chinese Group.

Reuters  (3/14, Menn) reports analysts from Dell SecureWorks, Attack Research, InGuardians, and G-C Partners are studying a series of recent ransomware attacks on US companies, and they conclude that the level of sophistication indicates the hacker groups originated in China. Reuters adds that the analysts identified patterns in how the ransomware infected computer networks and linked the methods to previous Chinese state-sponsored attacks. Reuters points out that the analysts did not directly blame China for the attacks, but instead theorize that the hackers were previously employed by China for economic espionage and may be trying to supplement their income as China has pledged to reduce its state-sponsored cyberattacks.

Engineering and Public Policy

Study: Rising Methane Levels Caused By Farming, Not Fracking.

The Washington Times  (3/14, Richardson) reports a study released Friday in the journal “Science” found that rising global methane levels are caused by “bacteria, of which the most likely sources are natural, such as wetlands or agricultural, for example from rice paddies or livestock.” The research was conducted by scientists from New Zealand and Germany, along with US researchers from the NOAA and the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado. The Times says the fact that farming, and not fracking, was cited as the cause undermines President Obama’s announcement last Thursday of a pact aimed at cutting methane emissions from energy oil-and-gas producers.

Interior Expected To Withdraw Plan For Drilling Permits On Atlantic Coast.

The New York Times  (3/14, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports the Department of the Interior “is expected to withdraw its plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast,” in response to “opposition from coastal communities.” The “surprising” decision may be announced “as soon as Tuesday.” The action would be “a reversal of President Obama’s previous offshore drilling plans.”

The Washington Post  (3/14, Fears) reports the plan for drilling has been strongly opposed by “the Pentagon, which says the activity could hurt military maneuvers and interfere with missile tests.”

Solar Securities Deals Increasing, Poised to Beat 2014 Record.

Bloomberg News  (3/14, Eckhouse) reports that the country’s largest rooftop solar company, SolarCity Corp., “has raised more in the asset-backed securities market” in 2016 with $235 million in solar bond deals, than last year’s entire industry totals and “developers are poised to exceed the record” of $272 million set in 2014. Bloomberg writes that these “numbers show growing interest from developers in tapping the ABS market and increasing appetite from investors,” according to Marathon CEO Ted Brandt in an interview Monday, and he expects more companies to continue deploying large solar systems. Marathon says that these types of deals are “still evolving” and “facing growing pains” given the unsecured underlying assets and reliance on consumers’ FICO scores for risk evaluation, according to Bloomberg.

Massachusetts Top Officials Caution A Proposed Change In Solar Bill.

The AP  (3/14) reports that dozens of top Massachusetts officials warn that changing the state’s net metering program in a “key solar power bill could jeopardize planned municipal solar projects across the state.” Newton Democratic Mayor Setti Warren says the proposed change “could wipe out most of the $4 million the city hopes to save over 20 years by leasing 13 municipal sites to a solar developer,” according to the AP.

Elementary/Secondary Education

UC Santa Barbara Creates Computer Science Curriculum Used By Various Schools.

The Santa Barbara (CA) Noozhawk  (3/15, Potthoff) reports that researchers at UC Santa Barbara have developed elementary school grade specific versions of a computer science curriculum and California and Chicago schools are using the program. The program is 12 to 15 weeks and includes computer coding teaching. The article notes, “Grant funds for the program run out soon, but researchers are applying to others in the hope of expanding the program in different ways.”

Michigan Elementary Students Learn Computer Coding Through Google Science Program.

WXYZ-TV  Detroit (3/14, Russell) reports that elementary schools across Michigan are now participating in the “Google Computer Science First program” provided by Google to inspire students early to pursue future coding careers. The article says “Google provided schools with equipment, software, and training online,” so 4th and 5th graders can “learn to create animation, video games, and more.”

Kentucky Aerospace Program Aims To Encourage Career In Field.

WLKY-TV  Louisville, KY (3/15) reports that the Kentucky-based Air and Space Academy “is the largest aerospace education initiative in the nation” with “60 high schools involved in the program.” The program “goal is to prepare students for technical college or university for careers in flight, aircraft maintenance and advanced aerospace manufacturing.” Aerospace has been the number one manufacturing export in Kentucky since 2013, and officials are “hopeful this program will encourage” future career interest in aerospace or other STEM subjects.

Monday’s Lead Stories

DOE Funding Massive Wind Turbine Blade Project.
Kentucky College Suing ED Over Financial Aid Restrictions.
University Of Arkansas Student’s Research Could Lead To Faster, Smaller Fiber Optic Devices.
Google Funding Expansion Of Program To Aid Entrepreneurs Of Color.
WSJournal Analysis: Nation’s Drinking Water Supplies Not Free From Contaminants.
Wyoming Committee Seeks Public Input In Drafting New Science Standards.

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