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

Leading the News

ED Launches Website For Student Loan Borrowers, Pushes Repayment Options.

The AP  (4/28, Freking) reports that ED has launched StudentLoans.gov/Repay, a “new website to help people with student loans find a repayment option that best suits their needs,” as part of the Administration’s push to “enroll an additional 2 million people into repayment programs such as the Pay As You Earn program, which caps monthly student loan payments at 10 percent of income.” The AP reports that Education Secretary John King told reporters he still has student loan debt from his graduate studies, and “said the debt can be daunting, but is not necessarily a bad thing because college is the single best investment people can make for their future.” The piece quotes King saying, “It’s debt that pays you back. At the same time, we know costs are rising too fast and too many Americans are struggling to pay back their loans.”

Inside Higher Ed  (4/28) reports that ED said Wednesday that “it wants to enroll an additional 2 million federal student loan borrowers in income-based repayment programs in the next year.” ED says it plans to “boost its efforts to target borrowers who would be most helped by the plans.” Meanwhile, ED officials said “they planned to revamp and standardize how federal student loan servicers provide information about borrowers to credit reporting agencies” and “set clearer standards for how it wants loan servicers to collect federal loans.”

Politico  (4/28) reports in its “Morning Education” blog that ED announced its bid to “enroll 2 million more student loan borrowers in income-based repayment plans and improve servicer communication and performance with new resources announced today,” but had no timeline for when the programs would go into effect. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (4/28, McGurran) reports that the new website features “five simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions” that could help borrowers learn about their repayment options. This piece reports that ED’s Office of Federal Student Aid and the US Digital Service developed the website “primarily for borrowers who know they want to lower their payments, but don’t know how to get started.”

The Wall Street Journal  (4/28, Mitchell, Subscription Publication), the Fiscal Times  (4/28, Herron), WNYT-TV  Albany, NY (4/28), Kansas City (MO) infoZine  (4/28, Kansas City (MO), InfoZine), KXAS-TV  Dallas (4/29), the Washington Examiner  (4/28, Drucker).

Higher Education

Napolitano Places UC Davis Chancellor On Leave.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/27, Watanabe) reports that University of California President Janet Napolitano has placed UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi on administrative leave and ordered an investigation into “her involvement in campus jobs for family members, possible misuse of student service fee revenue and misstatements about her role in social media contracts.” The Times reports that Katehi, “a renowned scholar in electrical and computer engineering,” has been criticized “for questionable moonlighting activities and spending to cleanse the Internet of unfavorable publicity about the pepper-spraying of peaceful student protesters by campus police in 2011.” In suspending Katehi, Napolitano “outlined several new issues that the president said would be examined by an independent outside investigator.”

The Washington Post  (4/28, Barbash) reports that the move comes amid “reports that the school paid at least $175,000 to consultants to clean up the school’s online reputation,” but adds that Napolitano “said there was a wider investigation underway…into possible conflicts of interest, among them, allegations of special treatment and large raises for her son and daughter-in-law, who are employees of the university with the son reporting directly to his own wife.”

The AP  (4/28, Leff) reports that a UC spokesperson said that Napolitano “felt compelled to remove” Katehi “after documents contradicted the campus leader’s contention that she did not have any dealings with contractors that were hired to bolster the school’s image online.” Katehi’s attorney said she “expects to be fully cleared.”

Report: For-Profit Colleges Shouldn’t Use Mandatory Arbitration.

The Washington Post  (4/28, Douglas-Gabriel) reports on the use of mandatory arbitration clauses in for-profit college students’ contracts, explaining that this practice is “a popular way for career schools to protect their financial interest by tucking in clauses that bar students from filing class-action lawsuits or otherwise taking their grievances to the courts.” The Post reports that a new Century Foundation study says such clauses “have no place in higher education.” The piece quotes Century Foundation senior fellow Robert Shireman saying, “These clauses let companies engage in questionable activity, feel more comfortable with aggressive recruiting. Most students when they’re signing up for college are assuming this is their ticket to a great future. They are not considering the possibility that what the college has been telling them is exaggerated or untrue.” The piece notes that ED is considering restricting such clauses, quoting Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying in March, “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.”

NSA Designates The Citadel As A National Center Of Academic Excellence In Cyber Defense.

The Charleston (SC) Post and Courier  (4/28) reports The Citadel’s “fledgling cybersecurity program is getting a big boost of credibility,” as it earned a National Security Agency designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense.

From ASEE
SPECIAL SECTION: Prism Magazine on Whistleblowing
ASEE’s Prism magazine features engineering educators using their expertise to challenge authority when needed.

Online Workshop
Applying Evidence-Based Teaching Practices in Computing Education will show how such practices can be effectively used when teaching graduate and undergraduate students. The workshop will be held June 1 and lasts for 3 hours. Registration is $50.

Research and Development

University Of Washington Students Invent Gloves That Translate Sign Language.

The Huffington Post  (4/29) reports that two University of Washington undergrads have won a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize “for their invention, SignAloud gloves, which can translate American Sign Language into speech or text.” The gloves have “sensors that record movement and gestures then transmit the info wirelessly to a central computer” which translates recognized gestures to a speaker.

NASA Enlists Northeastern, MIT For Humanoid Robot Research.

The Christian Science Monitor  (4/28) reports that NASA has sent prototype R5 humanoid robots to researchers at MIT and Northeastern University “for further research and development,” noting that the robots “could someday be among the first to demonstrate humanoid robot models’ usefulness for distant space missions.” The piece quotes ASEE member Taskin Padir, an engineering professor at Northeastern, saying, “Frankly, we thought that it would be difficult to get both robots in Boston, but that says something about how big of a powerhouse Boston is in robotics. It’s a big deal. We’re very happy and the students are excited.”

Radioactive Hot Spot Near St. Louis Homes Concerns Researchers.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/28, Emshwiller, Subscription Publication) reports there is a radioactive hot spot containing thorium levels hundreds of times above federal safety guidelines only a mile from St. Louis County homes, but there are no plans to clean the area because the US Army Corps of Engineers has deemed the area inaccessible and not a threat. However, a group of private researchers says its studies show contamination from the hot spot is entering Coldwater Creek and traveling into the yards of homes. The Corps said the contamination in the yards was carried by the creek from other radioactive sites that have since been cleaned, but the research group is still pushing for the hot spot to be removed.

Global Developments

China Conducted Seventh Successful Flight Test Of Hypersonic Warhead.

The Washington Free Beacon  (4/27, Gertz) reported that China has conducted its seventh successful flight test of its DF-ZF “high-speed maneuvering warhead” last week, shortly after Russia conducted similar tests. The Chinese hypersonic glide vehicle “was monitored after launch Friday atop a ballistic missile.” The glider is believed to be aimed at delivering nuclear weapons “through increasingly sophisticated missile defenses,” but could also carry conventional strategic strike munitions.

Popular Mechanics  (4/28, Mizokami) carries a similar piece based on the Washington Free Beacon report.

Engineering and Public Policy

The Hill Analysis: Moniz Has Become A Key Player On Energy And Foreign Policy Issues.

In an interview with The Hill  (4/25, Cama), Energy Secretary Moniz, who “has quietly become a top player on President Obama’s team – both on energy issues and foreign policy,” discussed “why he cares about energy research and development, the impact of the Iran deal and more, including the criticism surrounding Energy Department loan programs and the $536 million loan guarantee given to solar power technology company Solyndra Corp., which went bankrupt in 2011.”

Colorado Republicans “Blasted” EPA Over Funding Halt To Gold King Mine Spill.

The Washington Times  (4/28, Richardson) reports Colorado Republicans “blasted” the EPA on Thursday after the Durango Herald reported EPA Superfund remedial program director Bill Murray “nixed some of La Plata County’s proposed cooperative agreement for $2.4 million in spill-related costs over 10 years” related to the Gold King Mine spill. Murray on Wednesday told a board of county commissioners meeting that the agency had to halt reimbursement for response costs after stopping its emergency-response activities Oct. 31. Sen. Cory Gardner said the news was “outrageous” and “yet another example of the Washington double standard,” while Rep. Scott Tipton described it as “par for the course with the EPA.”

WPost Opposes Energy Bill’s Biomass Provision.

In an editorial, the Washington Post  (4/28) says while “there is a lot to like” in the energy bill passed last week by the Senate, it has “at least one glaring flaw that must be changed before President Obama considers signing it.” Noting that the measure would “command” the EPA to “‘recognize biomass’ — that is, plant matter such as wood harvested from forests — ‘as a renewable energy source’ because of its ‘carbon-neutrality,’” the Post says this is “a rank example of Congress legislating science rather than allowing agency experts to make determinations based on facts, and the results could be very bad for the environment.”

US Orders Rewrite Of Phone-Number Database Amid Security Concerns.

The Washington Post  (4/28, Nakashima) reports the Swedish-owned firm Telcordia is being compelled to rewrite a sensitive phone-number database “to assuage concerns” from FBI and FCC officials after the company violated a federal requirement that only US citizens work on the project. The database tracked almost every number in North America, and officials fear that if other nations have access, “they could reap a counterintelligence bonanza, learning the targets of US law enforcement and espionage investigations.” Several foreign citizens helped with the project, but it was a “Chinese engineer who raised red flags for officials.” In addition, a former Telcordia worker’s lawsuit made public this week claims he was fired for blowing the whistle on the foreign worker, a claim Telcordia spokeswoman Sharon Oddy said is without merit.

Dakota Access Pipeline Opponents Holding 500-Mile Relay.

Drawing on coverage from the Bismarck Tribune, the AP  (4/28) reports, “Plains American Indians and others are taking part in a 500-mile spiritual relay to show their opposition to a proposed $3.8 billion oil pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois.” Dakota Access Pipeline opponents “are running from Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, to the US Army Corps of Engineers district office in Omaha, Nebraska, where they will deliver a petition asking the Corps to conduct a more thorough environmental study of the planned pipeline.” The relay started on Sunday and “is expected to end next Tuesday.”

Series Of Small Earthquakes Causes Hilcorp Fracking Shutdown In PA.

The NPR  (4/28, Phillips) “StateImpact” website reports Hilcorp Energy shut down its fracking operations in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and the state “DEP is investigating whether the string of small quakes were caused by fracking.” Penn State professor Andrew Nyblade said “there is a correlation…between the quakes and the fracking operation, but a causal link has not yet been established.” The article outlines research into the existence of a causal link, which tends to show “fracking is not the major cause of human induced earthquakes.” The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (4/29, Legere) reports similarly in its “PowerSource” blog.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Dow Chemical Employees Volunteer At Middle School STEM Event.

WAFB-TV Baton Rouge (LA)’s News 6PM (4/29, 6:26 p.m. CDT) reports that their “Power of 9” volunteer team is a group of Dow Chemical employees who volunteered at a local middle school for “You Be The Chemist Day.” The event was a hands-on opportunity for students to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Dow Chemical employees Mark Wilson and Greg Stoweres were interviewed about the event. Stoweres says Dow allows employees to use work time for volunteering.

Yakama Nation Tribal School Students Learn About STEM Careers Through Lab Visit.

On its website, KVEW-TV  Kennewick, WA (4/28, Martellotti) reports a group of 40 students from the Yakama Nation Tribal School, through the Mesa First Nations program, “got a dose of mathematics, engineering, science, and achievement” through a visit to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The program, which is part of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative “launched by the White House to address the ‘opportunity gap’ faced by economically disadvantaged youth and young men of color,” is “also meant to inspire” students to pursue STEM education and careers. The article notes PNNL “is one of at least ten national laboratories to host My Brother’s Keepers events this year.”

Michigan Educators Urging Public To Back CTE Funding.

The Sault Ste. Marie (MI) Evening News  (4/28, Wenzel) reports that education officials in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are urging the public to support “Tuesday’s vote regarding a career and technical education millage.” Area superintendents are being encouraged to reach out to media outlets and business and manufacturing leaders. The initiative’s goal is to “provide at least two CTE options to all students in the region, either at their own high school or within easy driving distance.”

Also in the News

Study: Bakken Shale Formation Key Factor In Sudden Global Ethane Increase.

The Washington Post  (4/28, Harvey) reports a 2014 study just published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds that the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and Montana where oil production has recently increased dramatically, “accounts for about 2 percent of the entire world’s ethane output.” The Post says this is “important” because ethane’s presence “can help extend the lifespan of methane – a more potent greenhouse gas – in the atmosphere. This, coupled with ethane’s role in the formation of ozone, makes it a significant environmental concern.” University of Michigan atmospheric science professor Eric Kort, the study’s lead author, says the Bakken “plays a really large role” in the sudden global increase of ethane emissions, which had been falling from 1987 to 2009.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

NAEP Results Show Lower Math Scores, Stagnant Reading Scores.
ED Unveils Student Loan Servicing Reform Initiatives.
SpaceX Plans To Send “Red Dragon” Capsule To Mars In 2018.
Samsung Reports Strong Earnings Boosted By Galaxy Sales.
Drone Traffic Control System Lauded.
Reopened California Elementary School To Have STEAM Focus.

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