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

Leading the News

Plutonium From Japan Arrives In US.

The AP  (6/7) reports a shipment of Japanese plutonium arrived yesterday at the Savannah River Site, “despite objections from Gov. Nikki Haley to her state being used as storage for such materials.” The National Nuclear Security Administration, in a news release, “confirmed that 331 kilograms of plutonium” had arrived at SRS. Highly enriched uranium was also transferred to the Y-12 National Security Complex, according to Federal officials. The South Carolina governor’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment yesterday. Earlier this year, Haley “demanded” that Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz reroute or stop the shipment, writing, “It is imperative to the safety of our citizens and our environment that South Carolina not allow this to happen. … God bless.”

The Aiken (SC) Standard  (6/6, Gardiner) reports that according to the NNSA press release, the plutonium will eventually be disposed at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz said in the release, “The removal of the material from Japan represents a significant accomplishment in our broader global nuclear security efforts to secure highly enriched uranium and plutonium worldwide. Japan has been one of the United States’ staunchest allies in the global effort to minimize, and when possible eliminate, the use of sensitive nuclear materials at research facilities.”

Columbia (SC) State  (6/6, Fretwell) reports SRS Watch’s Tom Clements said in a statement yesterday, “SRS Watch is concerned that this material has been brought to SRS with no clear plan for its disposal. … That plutonium should go to the UK and France, both nuclear weapons states with large stockpiles of plutonium.” Federal officials contend that “bringing the plutonium to SRS will make the world safer.” Atomic City Underground  (6/6, Munger) reports “the NNSA said the shipments fulfill commitments announced at Nuclear Security Summits to remove materials from Japan’s nuclear facility.” The Oak Ridger (TN)  (6/6) and the website of WRDW-TV  Augusta, GA (6/6) also provide coverage of this story.

Higher Education

Embattled Accreditor Announces Membership Freeze.

Inside Higher Ed  (6/6) reports that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which has been under fire for accrediting Corinthian Colleges Inc., is announcing “a temporary halt in accepting new applications for colleges seeking to become accredited, as well as several other changes, including requirements seeking to ensure more accuracy in self-reported data from member colleges.” The piece reports that ED “is slated to consider the accreditor’s recognition later this month.”

ED Releasing New Draft Of State Authorization Rule.

Inside Higher Ed  (6/6) reports that ED plans to make a final push to “finalize rules governing how colleges become authorized to offer distance education programs to students in other states.” The piece reports that ED had been expected to drop the subject until the next administration “given its previous unsuccessful attempts and the myriad other items on its to-do list – not to mention the impending presidential election and transition.” ED’s new draft rules are “sure to cause a flare-up in a debate that has smoldered for nearly six years.”

ED Increases Financial Restrictions On ITT.

The Washington Post  (6/6, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED has requested that for-profit college chain ITT Educational Services “set aside more money to cover losses in the event of its collapse, citing an increased risk to the millions of dollars in federal loans and grants funneled to students attending the schools.” ED officials say that the firm is under threat of having its accreditation revoked, which “could effectively shut down its technical schools.”

Defunct ACI Admits To Defrauding Students.

The Boston Globe  (6/6, Adams) reports that American Career Institute, a “defunct for-profit ‘career institute,’” has “acknowledged it illegally tricked thousands of Massachusetts residents into signing up for mostly worthless classes — paid for with more than $30 million in federal loans — by lying about its graduates’ success rates, falsifying records, and admitting unqualified applicants.” The firm “admitted the conduct in a consent judgment” which “clears the way for Massachusetts prosecutors to ask the US Department of Education to forgive about $30 million in debts for 4,400 former students.”

The Washington Post  (6/6, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that “thousands” of the firm’s former students could get debt relief, explaining that the consent judgment “puts to rest a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and makes the case for the U.S. Department of Education to forgive $30 million in federal loans taken out by 4,400 former students in Massachusetts.” The Post explains that the move could reverberate in other states where the school operates. The Woburn (MA) Advocate  (6/6) and Boston  (6/6) run similar articles.

Kentucky Supports Career-Readiness Education System.

The Hechinger Report  (6/6, Felton) reports Kentucky is “among just a handful of states” to create a “designation for career-ready that is separate and distinct from college-ready.” State education officials have concluded college and career readiness paths are “quite different and that being ready to start a career — as a machinist, for example — doesn’t necessarily require students to follow a path that takes them through college.” To be considered career ready in Kentucky, students must show they are “ready academically” by passing the military ASVAB test or an ACT exam called WorkKeys. The must also attain an “industry-recognized credential or pass one of the state’s Kentucky Occupational Skill Standard Assessment exams.” In the five years since Kentucky has shifted to the new system, the proportion of students at Louisville’s Southern High School that the state considers ready for post-high school life has jumped from 13 percent to 57 percent.

Study Suggests High School GPA Is A Better Predictor Of College Readiness Than Standardized Tests.

The Hechinger Report  (6/6, Barshay) reports a new Alaska Study, conducted by Education Northwest, a “regional research laboratory funded by the US Department of Education,” found that standardized tests like the SAT or placement exams used by the University of Alaska for admission “were all poor predictors of how a student might do in a college-level math or English class.” Instead, researchers believe college administrators should look at students’ high school GPAs as a better indicator of “who needs to relearn high school material and who doesn’t.” Michelle Hodara, the lead author of the study and a senior researcher at Education Northwest said, “We found the same thing that community college researchers and practitioners are finding, that high school GPA is a really powerful measure of college readiness, even for students who want to earn a four-year degree.”

Kentucky University Asks Indian Students Found By International Recruiters To Leave.

The New York Times  (6/6, Saul, Subscription Publication) reports that according to a Western Kentucky University official, more than one-third of graduate students from India found by international recruiters to study at the university have been asked to leave because they failed to meet admissions requirements. Western Kentucky’s computer science program chairman James Gary said, 25 out of almost 60 students must leave at the end of their first semester. The chairman of the Indian Student Association at Western Kentucky University, Aditya Sharma, while concerned for the students, said, however, that some of the students were “casual” about studying and “could not meet their G.P.A., so the university had to take this decision.”

EDITOR NEEDED: Journal of Engineering Education
ASEE members recognize JEE as the world’s premier journal on the scholarship of engineering and engineering technology education. Read more if you’d like to be considered as the next editor.

Summer Prism Now Online
ASEE members can access the new Prism magazine online. Topics include research opportunities opening up with a thaw in US-Cuba relations and proposed changes to ABET criteria, among much more.

Retention Strategies
Going the Distance” is a video showcasing effective retention strategies at six universities.

ASEE has done extensive work on retention and time-to-graduation rates over the previous several years. A good distillation was recently done by consultant Cindy Veenstra.

Research and Development

National Science Foundation Gives University Of Rochester Photonics Research Grant.

The Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle  (6/6) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of Rochester “a $284,956 grant to train graduate students in optics and polymer science.” The school will use the grant “to study water-soluble polymers capable of light emission” to eventually generate technology “to develop biomedical imaging of tumors and the detection of proteins and DNA sequences.”

Oregon State Researchers Launch Tool To Assess Earthquake Risk.

The Oregonian  (6/2) reports that Oregon State University has released “a tool to help engineers, planners and geologists evaluate earthquake hazards in Oregon,” saying the Oregon Hazard Explorer for Lifelines Program “assesses factors, such as severe ground shaking, landslides, liquefaction and potential tsunami inundation lines, on a scale of ‘very low’ to ‘very high.’”

Villanova Taking Part In Developing Robots For Mine Disposal In Cambodia.

Cambodia Daily  (6/4) reports that researchers with Villanova University and the American demining NGO Golden West Humanitarian Foundation “say a relatively inexpensive robot designed to retrieve explosive devices could be ready to use in Cambodia within a year, while another robot meant to make demining work more efficient is in the works.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Supreme Court Rules Landowners Have Right To Challenge Army Corps’ Wetlands Rulings.

Electric Co-op Today  (6/6, Cash) reports in a positive development for electric co-ops, the Supreme Court ruled “that landowners can legally challenge the Army Corps of Engineers over its determination that property use is restricted under the Clean Water Act.” Dorothy Kellogg, senior principal at NRECA, said, “Without opportunity to immediately challenge the decision in court, co-ops faced a lengthy and expensive permitting process or risked significant noncompliance penalties and fines before having its day in court.” ECT adds NRECA “participated in the case through the Utility Water Act Group with a brief to Supreme Court supporting the position that jurisdictional determinations by the Corps are final agency actions and reviewable by a court.”

Senators’ Bill Would Study Electrical Grid Cybersecurity.

The Hill  (6/6, Cama) reports a group of four Senators introduced legislation on Monday with a “retro” approach to electrical grid cybersecurity. The Hill quotes Sen. Angus King, who says, “Our legislation would reengineer the last-mile of the energy grid to isolate its most important systems, and in doing so, help defend it from a devastating blow that could cut off electricity to millions of people across the country.” The Hill adds that the legislation calls for a “two-year study regarding technology that makes the grid vulnerable, with an emphasis on automated systems that can be hacked remotely.”

Vermont Governor Vetoes Renewable Energy Bill, Lawmakers To Attempt To Override It.

The AP  (6/7, Gram) reports Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont yesterday “vetoed a bill designed to give local communities more say in the siting of wind and solar power projects, saying he objected to strict limits it placed on sound emanating from wind turbines, among other issues.” It is expected that lawmakers will return to the Capitol later this week “to debate whether to override the veto,” which “means the stage is set for another showdown in a long-running fight between renewable energy supporters” and “some residents and activists” who see solar panels and wind turbines “as a blight on the landscape and, in wind’s case, a source of sleep-depriving and health-damaging noise.” In an interview with the AP, the Vermont Democrat said, “We’re drafting language in cooperation with legislative leadership that will fix all four problems and keep the integrity of the original bill – it’s a great bill, giving communities more say in the siting process.”

Regulators Concerned Bankrupt Coal Companies Won’t Pay For Clean-Up.

The New York Times  (6/6, Corkery, Subscription Publication) reports regulators are playing a “cat-and-mouse game” with bankrupt coal companies to put aside enough money to fund reclamations and clean up “Appalachia’s polluted rivers and mountains so that taxpayers are not stuck with the $1 billion bill.” The “latest battle” is between West Virginia and Alpha Natural Resources, which, after borrowing hundreds of millions, “imploded in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas and tougher environmental regulations.” Many hedge funds bought the industry’s debt and “have liens on the company’s operating cash and other assets, often giving them tremendous sway over how the money gets spent.” Regulators are concerned the coal companies will set aside environmental needs and use bankruptcy courts to pay off debts to those hedge funds and banks.

Aging US Strategic Petroleum Reserve Faces Potential Re-purposing, Upgrades.

The Houston Chronicle  (6/6, Osborne) reports that the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve faces a “significant reduction in size, a potential shift in purpose and hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades to its storage and transportation systems” as the “need for such a large reserve seemingly wanes.” As 160 million barrels of oil is sold off over the next nine years, the revenue generated will fund deficit reduction, highway construction, and “maintenance of the reserve, which is nearing the end of its intended life.” DOE is wrapping up a yearlong review of the program and is considering whether US energy security may be better served by storing refined products instead. A report from the Energy Department last year “described a long backlog of maintenance work at the four reserve sites” that could cost up to $2 billion.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Some California High Schools Moving To Integrated Math.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (6/6, Kalb) reports that “school districts across the country are overhauling their approach, combining geometry, algebra, statistics and other math concepts into a catch-all subject called integrated math.” According to experts, their approach will enable students to more deeply understand math concepts and allow them to apply math the real world. According to the Sacramento Bee, “San Juan and Elk Grove unified school districts began phasing in Integrated Math 1 in high schools last fall. Folsom Cordova and Sacramento City unified school districts started a year earlier.” However, not all parents and students have welcomed the transition. According to Laurel Dalton, the parent of a freshman at Rio Americano High School in Sacramento County, her son loved math, but now, “He can’t stand math now. He’s very frustrated.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

Flint Infrastructure Needs Will Cost Millions.
OSU Students Win DOE’s EcoCar Challenge.
Researchers Looking To Vacuum Tubes To Continue Shrinking Electronics.
Economists, Tech Experts Divided On Why Technology Isn’t Spurring Growth.
SEC Names Senior Adviser For Cyber Attacks.
Aerospace Sector Working To Spark Children’s Interest In Jobs.

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