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

Leading the News

Administration Urges Colleges To Reconsider Questions About Applicants’ Criminal Records.

The New York Times  (5/9, Saul, Subscription Publication) reports that the Obama Administration “is urging universities and colleges to re-evaluate how questions about an applicant’s criminal history are used in the admissions process, part of an effort to remove barriers to education, employment and housing for those with past convictions, in many cases for minor crimes.” Education Secretary John King released a “Dear Colleague” letter to higher education institutions on Monday, “along with a guide, ‘Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice Involved Individuals,’” and among the guide’s recommendations “is a suggestion that colleges consider delaying questions about criminal records until after admissions decisions to avoid a ‘chilling effect’ on potential applicants.” King said that “people who have been involved with the criminal justice system ‘continue to face significant hurdles in obtaining access to higher education or career training.’”

The Washington Post  (5/9, Anderson) reports that the ED guidance says that “colleges should limit their use of questions about criminal records in the admissions process because the inquiries may unfairly deter many disadvantaged students from pursuing higher education.” The Post quotes King saying, “We believe in second chances and we believe in fairness. The college admissions process shouldn’t serve as a roadblock to opportunity, but should serve as a gateway to unlocking untapped potential of students.” King made the announcement in Los Angeles with University of California President Janet Napolitano, whose system does not ask applicants about their criminal backgrounds. The Post points out that ED lacks authority to force colleges to change how they screen applicants.

The AP  (5/9, Armario) reports that the Common Application is adjusting how it asks about students’ criminal backgrounds, but still will “ask whether students have been found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony.” The AP reports that King “called it ‘an important step forward,’ but also urged the organization to consider alternative approaches.” The AP quotes King saying, “Those who have paid their debt and served their sentences deserve an equal chance to learn and thrive.” King said that though there is a dearth of research on the topic, “what information does exist suggests schools that admit students with a record do not have more crime than those who don’t.”

The Los Angeles Times  (5/9, Resmovits) reports that ED says that questions about criminal backgrounds have a greater impact on students of color “because a disproportionate number of people who have been charged with crimes are people of color.” The article reports that Deputy Undersecretary Kim Hunter Reed said “that the government wants universities to ask themselves whether they truly need applicants’ criminal histories, and if they decide they do, to delay asking about that history until an applicant is further in the admission process.” The article places this effort within the context of the Administration’s efforts to “keep people with criminal backgrounds from being permanently stigmatized, including the Second Chance Pell Pilot program, which gives incarcerated Americans a chance to receive federal Pell Grants to pay for college.”

The Hill  (5/9, Wheeler) reports that ED said it will work with DOJ to “help schools ensure a safe learning environment while also opening educational opportunities to ex-convicts,” and quotes Attorney General Loretta Lynch saying in a statement, “Too many Americans are denied opportunities to lead fulfilling and productive lives because of a past arrest or conviction — including opportunities to access a quality education. Expanding access to higher education for justice-involved individuals can help them step out of the shadow of their pasts and embark on the path to a brighter future.”

Inside Higher Ed  (5/9) reports that National Association for College Admission Counseling Director of Public Policy and Research David Hawkins said that ED consulted with his organization about the report, and quotes him saying, “The emphasis on guidance and education is a direction we are fairly comfortable with, as we are sensitive to the concerns the Education Department is trying to address.”

Other media outlets covering this story include the Politico  (5/9) “Morning Education” blog , Reuters  (5/9, Simpson), the Christian Science Monitor  (5/9), the Washington Times  (5/9, Noble), Think Progress  (5/9), Fusion  (5/9), News Reality  (5/9), the UCLA Newsroom  (5/9), UPI  (5/9, Cone), and the Westwood-Century City (CA) Patch  (5/9).

Higher Education

USA Today Says Purdue’s Loan Program Worthwhile.

In an editorial, USA Today  (5/9) backs Purdue University’s “Back a Boiler” program, which “calls for Purdue students (known as Boilermakers) to pay a percentage of their postgraduation income rather than repaying the fixed amount of a loan. … Students who choose this program sign something known as an Income Share Agreement,” with the percentage paid depending “on the amount of money the college puts up, the student’s major and the time before graduation.”

Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, writes in a responding USA Today  (5/9, Miller) op-ed that while “the search for alternative ways to finance college is a laudable and understandable goal,” fixing the problem “requires real reform of the factors that cause college to cost so much, not a niche financial product that will largely benefit the more affluent.”

Quinnipiac University Opens School Of Engineering.

WTNH-TV  Hartford, CT (5/9, Craig) reports online that “this fall Quinnipiac University will offer classes in the new University’s new School of Engineering.” WTNH explains that the school “will of offer engineering degrees in civil, industrial, mechanical, software engineering and computer science.” The report says the School of Business and Engineering has been offering engineering courses for the last four years and, “during that time, the university has invested $9 million to construct state-of-the-art engineering laboratories, which will be the cornerstone of the School of Engineering.” WTNH says “Dr. Justin Kile, who has served as associate dean of engineering since 2013, has been appointed the founding dean of the new School of Engineering.” WTNH points out that Kile is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education.

Fund Helps Vets Misled By For-profit Colleges.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (5/9, Brunswick) reports that “four veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars recently were awarded $5,000 grants to help pay down student loan debt they racked up while attending for-profit colleges [by] the Veterans’ Student Loan Relief Fund, a four-year-old organization that has helped more than 40 veterans it says have been misled into draining their GI Bill benefits and taking out onerous student loans.” The Star Tribune says the fund “was created by Jerome Kohlberg, a World War II veteran,” and “accepts applications for grants of up to $5,000 for qualified active-duty military, veterans and family members who believe for-profit education companies have deceived them.” The report goes on to state that “the for-profit college industry has come under considerable fire in the last few years, particularly for how it has marketed itself as an attractive outlet for GI Bill benefits.” The Star Tribune details this scrutiny.

Study: Many Middle, Upper Class Students Taking Remedial Courses.

In an editorial, the New York Times  (5/10, Subscription Publication) writes, “Many elected officials, parents and teachers have become complacent about the quality of their schools,” making it harder to create an educational system “that provides high-level instruction for all children.” The Times cites “striking new study” by Education Reform Now, that found 45 percent of college students taking remedial classes came from middle-, upper-middle-, and high-income families. The Times attributes the problem to high schools that “offer a rigorous curriculum for relatively few students and often use a grading system that masks underperformance.”

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

Researchers Design Algorithm To Spot Galaxies.

The Atlantic  (5/9, Boyle) reports on efforts by Lior Shamir of Lawrence Technological University in Michigan and his coauthor Evan Kuminski to train a computer to spot and categorize galaxies. The Atlantic says they fed images of galaxies to a machine-learning algorithm designed by Shamir called Wndchrm, “which can classify images based on data in their pixels.” The reports says that algorithm “works by turning physical attributes into numbers, and it uses 2,885 of these numerical descriptors for each galaxy image.” They “had to throw away the most uncertain galaxies” but , “when they did that, the computer matched the humans 98 percent of the time.” According to Matias Carrasco Kind, an astronomer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “It doesn’t mean that the rest can’t be used, but they need to be treated more carefully.” Carrasco Kind wasn’t involved with the work but says he read it with great interest and said it provides “extra motivation that we are getting better at this.”

US Air Force Research Laboratory Awards $200 Million Contract To CGD.

Defense World (IND)  (5/10) reports the US Air Force Research Laboratory has awarded Cubic Global Defense (CGD) a $200 million contract for “research and evaluation of war fighter readiness and training.” CGD president Bill Toti said: “We look forward to working with AFRL researchers and our industry partners within the Warfighter Readiness Research Division Contractor Team to find and deliver the knowledge and skills our warfighters need to dominate their operating environment.” The Warfighter Readiness Research Division Contractor Team is led by L-3 Communications and includes CGD, Ball Aerospace and Leidos.

BU’s CAMM Developing Flexible Surfaces With Corning.

WIVT-TV  Binghamton, NY (5/9) reports on BU’s Center for Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing (CAMM) and the recent Department of Defense funding it has begun receiving. WIVT-TV notes that CAMM has been developing “flexible surfaces on which electronics, sensors and imaging devices can be printed,” with industry partners, including Corning. The article notes Corning has designed a “flexible glass in thickness ranging from 100 to 200 microns.” The article quotes Corning senior research associate Sean Garner as saying “Going from research scale to establishing the technology ecosystem with more equipment manufacturers, device designers and manufacturing capability.” The article adds that CAMM is also developing “flexible medical patches” as well as “3-D printing for placing technology onto the flexible surfaces.” WIVT-TV Binghamton, NY (5/9, 11:08 p.m. EDT) also reported on CAMM with a local TV segment.

PNNL Offers Exploratory Technology Licensing To Companies.

The Tri-City Herald (WA)  (5/9, Cary) reports that Pacific Northwest National Laboratory “has announced a new licensing program that allows a sort of technology test drive with an easily obtained, limited license to patents held by the lab.” The exploratory licenses allow companies to research and evaluate the technologies, but not to market them, while the lab agrees not to grant another company an exclusive license for the technology for the six months of the exploratory license. “It’s a tool to make access to the labs easy,” Peter Christensen, acting director of PNNL technology deployment and outreach, said.

Engineering and Public Policy

Space Agencies Call For New Greenhouse Gas Watchdog Satellites.

The New York Times  (5/9, Broad, Subscription Publication) reports that space agencies from various countries “are calling for a new generation of satellites that would be precise enough to map greenhouse gas emissions from individual nations” with the goal of replacing “decades of rough estimates with advanced monitoring.” The Times explains that the plan is politically fraught “because the global system could verify or cast doubt on emission reports from the 196 member states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Some In Congress Want NRC Regulators To Streamline Licensing Process.

The Houston Chronicle  (5/9, Osborne) reports that as investors “pour hundreds of millions of dollars in investment into developing safer and cheaper forms of nuclear energy, Congress is pushing federal agencies to start lifting red tape and work more closely with scientists to harness what some consider the energy source of the future.” Legislation “promoting advanced nuclear technology” is “moving through the House and Senate, drawing support from everyone from environmentally minded Democrats, such as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, to climate-change questioning Republicans, including Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas.” The Chronicle adds that from “technology giants like General Electric to no-name startups, a rush is on to develop a nuclear reactor that can not only compete on price with natural gas and wind turbines, but also operate without the fear of meltdown that has plagued the nuclear sector.” Engineers are “experimenting with everything from liquid metal to helium gas to molten salt to keep the reactor cool.”

US Rejects Permit For Washington Coal Export Terminal.

The New York Times  (5/9, Johnson, Subscription Publication) reports that plans for the Gateway Pacific Terminal – what would have been the nation’s largest coal export terminal – “took another major hit on Monday” after the United States Army Corps of Engineers said it would deny the project’s permit. The decision was made out of concern that the terminal would threaten ancestral fishing rights of a Native American tribe. The Los Angeles Times  (5/9, Yardley) reports that the Lummi Nation tribe, which was opposed to the coal export terminal, “won at the expense of the Crow tribe of eastern Montana, which has an agreement with a mining company, Cloud Peak Energy, to develop a coal mine on its 2.2-million-acre reservation.”

Judge: White House Showed “Bad Faith” In Global Warming Case.

In what that Washington Times  (5/9, Dinan) calls “yet another stinging rebuke to the administration for showing a lack of transparency,” Federal Judge Amit P. Mehta ruled Monday that the White House “showed ‘bad faith’ in how it handled an open-records request for global warming data.” The Times says Mehta’s ruling “granting legal ‘discovery’ in an open-records case” is “an embarrassing black eye” for the President. The case in question involves efforts by the Competitive Enterprise Institute “to force the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to release documents backing up Director John C. Holdren’s finding that global warming was making winters colder.” Holdren’s staff “first claimed they couldn’t find many documents, then tried to hide their release, saying they were all internal or were similar to what was already public,” all of which “turned out not to be true.”

Large Utilities Investing More In Renewable Energy.

The Wall Street Journal  (5/9, Sweet, Subscription Publication) reports large US utilities including Duke Energy Corp., Southern Co., and the energy unit of Berkshire Hathaway, are using government subsidies to invest in renewable energy amid renewable-energy mandates in more than half of the states and in anticipation of federal limits on greenhouse-gas emissions.

Cuomo Undertakes Effort To Retool New York’s Utilities. The New York Times  (5/9, Gillis, Subscription Publication) reports that under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York “is in a close race” with California “in setting ambitious climate goals” and “in someways…may be on the verge of pulling ahead.” Cuomo, the Times adds, “has started a big effort to retool his state’s utilities for the modern age, trying to apply market forces to transform the way electricity is produced, transmitted and consumed.” Cuomo’s program “could prove to be the most ambitious effort in the country, and possibly in the world, to enlist the profit motive as an ally in the fight against global warming.”

New Mexico Proposes Changes To State Air Quality Penalty Program.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (5/9, Reed) reports that New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn has proposed changes to the department’s penalty process for violators of air quality regulations. According to Flynn, these penalties were sometimes used to fund pet political projects during Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration, instead of being put toward environmental improvements. “With these reforms, our department will be better able to hold air polluters accountable, while doing more to address the needs of communities affected when bad actors break the rules,” said Flynn.

Kansas To Halt Clean Power Plan Compliance Work.

The AP  (5/9, Hanna) reports that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed a measure into law last week suspending the state’s Clean Power Plan compliance work, making Kansas “at least the third state to take such a step following a US Supreme Court decision in February” staying the plan’s implementation. The new law takes effect May 19.

Cuomo Undertakes Effort To Retool New York’s Utilities.

The New York Times  (5/9, Gillis, Subscription Publication) reports that under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York “is in a close race” with California “in setting ambitious climate goals” and “in someways…may be on the verge of pulling ahead.” Cuomo, the Times adds, “has started a big effort to retool his state’s utilities for the modern age, trying to apply market forces to transform the way electricity is produced, transmitted and consumed.” Cuomo’s program “could prove to be the most ambitious effort in the country, and possibly in the world, to enlist the profit motive as an ally in the fight against global warming.”

Lawmakers Could Freeze Ohio Renewable, Efficiency Standards Indefinitely.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer  (5/9, Funk) reports that Ohio state lawmakers will consider “what appears to amount to a permanent freeze” of Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards. Passage of House Bill 554, which has a companion bill in the state Senate, would “make certain the suspension of renewable and efficiency standards is in place before the end of the year.” Prompted by utilities lead by FirstEnergy Corp., lawmakers tried to permanently suspend the efficiency and renewable standards in 2014 and 2015.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Professor Uses Robotics In Tutoring Sick Children.

The AP  (5/9, Santich) has a feature on University of Central Florida assistant professor Megan Nickels, who is “using robotics to help kids with cancer, sickle-cell disease and HIV-AIDS. She wants to both develop their intellect under the most challenging of circumstances – including, often, in the hospital between surgery and chemotherapy – and to give them back a sense of control over their destinies.” Nickels tutors students at hospitals throughout Central Florida.

West Virginia 4-H Robotics Team Wins Honor At International Lego Competition.

The Bluefield (WV) Daily Telegraph  (5/9) reports that 4-H robotics team from Union, West Virginia won first prize “for their ‘core values’” at the First Lego League World Championships in St. Louis in April. Their robot, “with a tiny on-board computer brain governing its toy wheels, scoops and hooks, finished 39th.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

FCA Hopes To Expand “Open-Ended” Deal With Google For More Autonomous Vehicles.
Virginia Tech Engineering Students Going To Nepal To Rebuild Irrigation System.
Column Considers Whether The World Is Ready For Driverless Cars.
Apple, Google, Other Automakers Reportedly Looking For Bay Area Space For Autonomous Car Ops.
Dakota Access Asks Iowa Regulators To Immediately Start Bakken Oil Pipeline Work.
Oregon To Introduce Next Generation Science Standards.

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