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

Leading the News

Rogers Warns China, Russia Can Launch Crippling Cyberattacks.

The Washington Times  (4/7, Gertz) reports US Cyber Command Commander Rogers warned a Senate hearing this week “that Russia and China now can launch crippling cyberattacks on the electric grid and other critical infrastructures.” Rogers told the panel, “We remain vigilant in preparing for future threats, as cyberattacks could cause catastrophic damage to portions of our power grid, communications networks and vital services.” According to Rogers, “unlike other areas of military competition, Russia is equal to the United States in terms its cyberwarfare capabilities, with China a close second.”

USNA Cybersecurity Researcher Wants Encryption For All. NextGov  (4/6, Sternstein) reports that USNA cybersecurity researcher and former NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis wants to expand encryption to more consumer technologies, asserting at the Billington Cybersecurity International Summit Tuesday that encryption is “essential and I think that we have to actually apply this as a public good, not something reserved for the government.”

Connecticut Utility Agency Releases Plan To Improve Cybersecurity. The Hartford (CT) Courant  (4/6, Hladky) reports the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has released a 27-page plan “to strengthen protection of water, gas and electricity systems in Connecticut through voluntary, cooperative efforts with utilities.” The Courant interviews PURA’s chairman Arthur House, who discusses the importance of utility cybersecurity and the steps being taken to ensure that sensitive information discussed at proposed annual meetings will not be leaked.

As Bureau Struggled With Farook’s iPhone, Requests To Open Locked Phones Flooded In. USA Today  (4/6, Johnson) reports that as the FBI worked to crack the iPhone of San Bernardino attacker Syed Rizwan Farook, the agency received a deluge of requests from state and local authorities seeking assistance in efforts to unlock hundreds of damaged or encrypted devices tied to unrelated criminal probes. “Requests involving more than 500 such devices streamed into the bureau’s Computer Analysis Response Team and the agency’s Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory programs during a four-month period beginning last October,” USA Today says, citing the FBI. In a statement the FBI said it was responding to requests for assistance “on a case by case basis,” but could “not always able to accommodate the requested assistance.”

Apple Officials: FBI iPhone Hacking Method Unlikely To Remain Secret. Network World  (4/7, Heisler) reports in continued coverage that according to senior Apple engineers, the FBI’s method for hacking iPhones is unlikely to remain secret. Once the method is exposed, Network World says, Apple will be able to patch the holes in iPhone security.

Higher Education

Over 40% Of Federal Student Loan Consumers’ Accounts In Arrears.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/6, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that a quarterly report on ED’s federal student loans shows that some 43% of Federal student loan debtors are either behind on their payments or have stopped making them altogether. The amount owed in question totals $200 million, and raises concerns that some of them may never repay their debts. At the end of the article, the Journal reports that ED has faced criticism for not revealing data about its debt collection efforts, and quotes ED spokeswoman Dorie Nolt saying, “The singular goal of our student loan program is to help all students get a degree that sets them up for success, and we take the treatment of our borrowers—particularly historically underserved students—very seriously.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune  (4/7) also covers this story following on the Journal’s article.

Remedial Courses Cost Students $1.5 Billion.

The Washington Post  (4/6, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the think tank Education Reform Now has released a study indicating that remedial courses in college cost “families nearly $1.5 billion.” Noting that such classes do not count toward degrees, the Post reports that they delay students from graduating on time, adding that this “expensive solution to sub-par K-12 education exacerbates the problem of college affordability.”

NPR  (4/6) reports in its “NprEd” blog that remedial courses are often associated with community colleges, but the new report “broadens the lens,” indicating that some 45% of remedial students “come from middle- and high-income families.” Inside Higher Ed  (4/6) also covers this story.

Paper Points To Faults In Tying College Funding To Performance.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (4/6) reports that 30 states now at least partially tie state funding for higher education to “colleges based on achievement measures.” However, “the evidence has been mixed on whether such models actually drive the improvements.” Meanwhile, Robert Kelchen has released a paper that concludes that “colleges subject to performance-based funding…brought in significantly less Pell Grant revenue per student than did colleges that were not, an indication they may be seeking higher-income students.” The article includes a Q&A with Kelchen.

From ASEE
Engineering Informing Liberal Arts Education
ASEE and education expert Sheila Tobias have launched a series of case studies on engineering habits-of-mind enhancing a liberal arts education.  Funding came from the Teagle Foundation.

Research and Development

Georgia Tech Hosts ACC InVenture Entrepreneur Competition.

The AP  (4/6, Phillips) reports Georgia Tech hosted the ACC InVenture competition this week in Atlanta, in which undergraduate entrepreneurs’ ideas for innovations compete for $30,000 in cash prizes. Among five finalists, “local favorites” from Georgia Tech Tyler Sisk, 20, and Zachary Brown, 21, pitched FireHUD, “a real time monitoring system that displays biometric and environmental information on a small screen inside firefighters’ helmets” in order to help prevent cardiac arrest. The article outlines other team’s proposals, including a non-surgical male contraceptive, a “wearable sensor that monitors imperfections in biomechanics,” a real-time music application, and a “charity-based invitation and gift purchasing platform.”

NSF Grants Murray State $250,000 For Women In STEM Research.

WPSD-TV  Paducah, KY (4/6, Stevens, Barnes) reports on its website that the NSF granted $250,000 to Murray State University “to research recruitment, retention, and advancement of women faculty in STEM fields in west Kentucky.” University mathematics professor Dr. Maeve McCarthy expressed bewilderment at “why the number of men in STEM outweighs the number of women to such a degree.” At the conclusion of the study, “McCarthy will present potential changes to Murray State and hopes other rural colleges will follow suite” to promote women in STEM fields.

Industry News

GE Set To Open $39M 3-D Printing Facility.

The AP  (4/7) reports General Electric is set to open a $39 million plant near Pittsburgh to develop “3-D printing and other high-tech manufacturing processes.” The company says the plant “will employ 50 high-tech engineers” and be used by “all eight of the company’s manufacturing divisions…to test new designs and ideas.”

Engineering and Public Policy

ODOT Has New Plan For Bridge Inspections Following Earthquakes.

NPR  (4/6, Wertz) reports the Oklahoma Department of Transportation “has changed its post-earthquake bridge-inspection plan after a year-long study showed no structural damage from seismic activity.” ODOT’s new plan, effective April 1, will inspect bridges only if a magnitude 4.7 or greater quake hits. ODOT chief engineer Casey Shell said, “We were conservative in our approach to bridge inspections, but now we have the science to know with more certainty that 4.0- to 4.6-magnitude earthquakes present no danger to transportation infrastructure in the state.” She added, “This change in protocol allows the department to better focus its resources.”

Road Diets Under Scrutiny.

The Lafayette (LA) Daily Advertiser  (4/6, Dickerson) reports more than 3,000 signatures were collected in Lafayette opposing a plan to change the four-lane Moss Street to a three-lane road. The article adds US DOT traffic studies “show that for the most part, these lane reductions – known as ‘road diets’ – have few negative trade-offs in comparison to the reduction in crashes and fatalities.” Streets similar to Moss that underwent changes saw a decrease of 65 to 70 percent in collisions. DOTD traffic engineer Nick Fruge said “This is the only way to get such a dramatic decrease in accidents.” He added, “Unfortunately, this situation is an example of increased costs associated with the continued decay of pavements and the lack of resources necessary to address the pavements on accepted industry resurfacing cycles.”

“Frustration” Continues Over Stalled Flint, Energy Bill.

The Hill  (4/6, Henry) reports “frustration” is being expressed by lawmakers “as talks over an aid package for Flint, Mich., and a broad energy reform bill stall in the Senate.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan “said this week that Sen. Mike Lee has so far refused to lift his hold on the measure despite a budget office report showing it would not add to the federal deficit.” The Utah Republican’s “office said it sent Stabenow a new offer on the deal Monday but wouldn’t give specifics.” On Tuesday Stabenow said, “It’s bipartisan, completely paid-for, includes deficit reduction. For me, this is about helping 9,000 children in Flint who have lead poisoning, as well as the entire community, and I don’t understand.” If Lee ends “his hold on the $250 million package to pay for water infrastructure repairs in Flint and elsewhere, senators will have cleared a major hurdle to resuming consideration of an energy reform bill.”

E&E News PM  (4/6, Subscription Publication) reports Lee wants the new spending fully offset by cuts elsewhere in the Federal budget and points to an EPA liability fund that could be tapped for aid. Lee said, “I have my own strong opinions about what the role of the federal government is” which don’t necessarily align with “the Washington political establishment.”

Colorado Lawmakers Continue Fight Over Clean Air Funding.

The AP  (4/6, Anderson) reports, “A partisan tussle over the Obama Administration’s stalled clean power plan dominated early debate as Colorado’s Republican-led Senate on Wednesday considered a $27 billion state budget.” Republicans previously stripped Colorado’s air quality enforcement unit of $8 million in funding, and on Wednesday the state Senate restored all but $367,000 being spent on the EPA plan. An amendment tells the state Department of Public Health and Environment it has no authority to spend “on a plan the Supreme Court has told us to stop,” said state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

Senate Strikes Deal On Renewable Energy Tax Breaks In FAA Bill.

The Hill  (4/6, Zanona) reports that Sen. Bill Nelson announced during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on Wednesday that leaders struck an agreement on renewable energy tax breaks in the Federal Aviation Administration legislation. “Looks like we’re going to be able to proceed without that controversy,” he said. Democrats say tax breaks supporting investments in fuel cells, geothermal and biomass were unintentionally left out of a tax extenders package Congress passed last year.

Wind, Solar Faring Much Better Than Fossil Fuels.

In an analysis, Bloomberg News  (4/6, Randall) reports that renewables have been “thriving” while “two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries.” Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said at the BNEF Summit on Tuesday, “We’re in a low-cost-of-oil environment for the foreseeable future,” but renewable energy investment has not slowed. The story includes six charts illustrating trends shaping power markets, including government support for renewables, declining costs, and mounting oil sector debt.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Ex-Lockheed CEO: New Science Standards Necessary To Prepare Children For STEM Roles.

In a Baltimore Sun  (4/6) op-ed, former Lockheed-Martin CEO Norman Augustine supports Maryland Next Generation Science Standards for science education, and says that students need STEM education that trains them “how to think like a scientist” and will prepare for the careers as engineers, researchers, mechanics, technicians, and others in the future economy.

Bayer Funds Asset STEM Education.

The Pittsburgh Business Times  (4/6, Tascarella) reports that Bayer USA Foundation contributed $500,000 to Asset STEM Education “to improve science, technology, engineering and math education for all learners, pre-kindergarten through career.” The funding will also be used for teachers’ professional development and learning materials in the STEM subject areas.

White House Event Eyes Gender Stereotypes In Toys, Promotes STEM For Girls.

The Washington Post  (4/6, Eilperin) reports on a Wednesday White House event titled “Helping our Children Explore, Learn and Dream without Limits: Breaking Down Gender Stereotypes in Media and Toys,” which “aims to encourage more girls to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math by rethinking both the products companies make for kids and the media these children consume.” The gathering of “toy, media and retail executives along with activists, parents, academics and youth group leaders” was intended to “eliminate the gender divisions that define the media and toy market for young Americans.” WBUR-FM  Boston (4/6) also covers this story.

Alabama High School Enables Students To Explore Careers Earlier.

The AP  (4/6, Mcdaniel) reports that Hartselle City Schools offers “subject-specific” electives to high school students who “may not plan to attend college,” enabling them to earn vocational certifications prior to graduation. The program is a reaction to Alabama’s Plan 2020, a 2012 mandate to ensure that “every student graduates either ready for college” or for a career, according to the school’s superintendent. Even prior to the mandate, Hartselle revamped its electives and added “career academies” to enable students to earn free college credits in partnership with local community colleges and universities, according to the AP.

California Schools Attempt To Close STEM Diversity Gaps.

The Riverside (CA) Press Enterprise  (4/7, Wall) reports on sustaining gaps in STEM education, both from female students who face bias in engineering classes and nationwide, as a report by Change the Equation says that Latino and black students are “less likely” to pursue careers in STEM fields now than in 2001. In spite of these numbers, the number of STEM schools and programs in California has increased significantly in the past decade, fueled by shortages in those industries “as older workers retire.” Programs stress hands-on education, particularly before third grade, and diverse mentorship opportunities.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

DOD Admiral Tours Cal Poly CubeSat Lab.
Lumina Foundation Chief Calls On King To Push For Higher Education Equity.
ONR Gives Colorado Mines $1.75 Million Grant To Study Atomic Components Of Steel.
Raytheon, DRS Technologies Receive $56 Million For Army FLIR System.
California Energy Agencies: Southern California Could See Several Summer Blackouts.
UC Davis Releases 1-12 Computer Science Curriculum.

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