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

Leading the News

SCOTUS Upholds Affirmative Action In University Admissions.

Media reports call the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the University of Texas admissions program that considers race as a factor in admitting the last quarter of incoming freshmen classes a major win for affirmative action supporters. For example, the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Barnes) reports that in the “surprising win for advocates of affirmative action,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority that “the university’s consideration of race was a ‘factor of a factor of a factor’ and met the court’s narrow precedents.” In a 51-page dissent, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that “the university has still not identified with any degree of specificity the interests that its use of race and ethnicity is supposed to serve.” The CBS Evening News (6/23, story 2, 2:15, Strassman) reported that Alito “called today’s ruling ‘remarkable and remarkably wrong.’” Alito was joined in his dissent by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas.

While the Court “upheld the limited use of affirmative action by colleges and universities,” the Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Savage, Hennessy-Fiske) says it “warned that schools should use affirmative action sparingly.” Kennedy wrote, “The court’s affirmance of the university’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the university may rely on that same policy without refinement. … It is the university’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admission policies.”

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Bravin, Kendall, Subscription Publication) casts the decision as a defeat for longstanding conservative efforts to stop affirmative action, while the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Sherman) calls it “a major victory for affirmative action,” noting that the 4-3 vote in favor of the admissions program “was dramatically altered by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who opposed affirmative action.” The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Liptak, Subscription Publication) says the decision was “unexpected,” noting that Kennedy “has long been skeptical of race-sensitive programs and had never before voted to uphold an affirmative action plan.” Noting that Kennedy opposed racial preferences the first time the Court considered the case in 2013, a Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Subscription Publication) editorial castigates the justice for lacking the courage if his own convictions.

Higher Education

ED Panel Votes To Recommend Cutting Ties With ACICS.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Kerr, Binkley) reports that the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity on Thursday voted to recommend that ED sever ties with the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which “accredits many of the nation’s for-profit colleges, including schools once owned by the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges Inc. — a critical vote that could lead schools to close their doors and threaten financial aid to hundreds of thousands of students.” The AP reports that “a senior official” with ED will make the final decision on revoking the group’s recognition in the coming months, after which “the hundreds of schools now accredited by the council would have to find a new accreditor in 18 months or lose their ability to participate in federal financial aid programs.”

US News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23) calls the vote “a huge victory for opponents of for-profit schools,” but reports that Career Education Colleges and Universities CEO Steve Gunderson “warned during testimony that the revocation of ACICS’ authority would amount to a collapse of post-secondary vocational training in the U.S.” The article notes that the vote “is far from the final execution for the accrediting agency, which plans to appeal the decision, first to the secretary of education and then the federal courts.” The piece notes that ED “has called on accrediting agencies to beef up their review of colleges and universities, just as lawmakers have called on the department to step up its review of accreditors,” reporting that Under Secretary Ted Mitchell “has said the department is hamstrung because it cannot strengthen the system without Congress updating the Higher Education Act, which lawmakers are working on but likely won’t be able to pass until after the presidential election.” The piece quotes Mitchell saying before NACIQI this week, “The only way to ensure the system works – to truly give us assurance that institutions are serving students well – is to have an accreditation process that allows the flexibility for innovation and the rigor to hold institutions accountable. And the only way to do that is to focus on outcomes.”

Study: Remedial College Math May Not Be Best Option.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Anderson) reports that a study released Thursday found that remedial college math courses are ineffective at helping “Americans on the path to getting a degree.” Study participants – community college students in need of remedial math in the City University of New York system – were randomly placed into either a non-credit remedial algebra course, the same non-credit remedial algebra course with added weekly workshops, or a credited college-level statistics course with workshops. Researchers found that results for those in the statistics course “surpassed those for the two that were in remedial courses” with a 56% passage rate – compared to 45% of remedial students attending workshops and 39% of remedial students without extra help. According to researchers, the results indicate that “workable alternatives to remediation” exist “that could help in the national drive to raise college completion rates.” The study was published in American Educational Research Association journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

NEW REPORT on the Future of Making
ASEE convened leaders from the Maker Movement in November to discuss the current state and future of Making. Read the report.

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.

Prism Wins Awards
ASEE’s flagship publication won two APEX awards, one for our entire October 2015 issue and one for assistant editor Jenn Pocock’s story on female entrepreneurs.

Research and Development

GM And Navy To Develop Fuel Cell “Underwater Drones.”

The Detroit News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Burden) reports the US Navy will partner with GM to create “hydrogen fuel cell systems” to run unmanned undersea vehicles. The goal of this project is to give these underwater drones “weeks, if not months of endurance.” GM and the Navy have been working on “underwater drones since 2010,” but this move towards alternative energy mimics the partnership with the US Army to create hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles. The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Gardner) adds that although three hydrogen fuel cell cars are “on sale today,” but none of them are from a GM brand.

Computers That Watch Videos Understand Human Behavior Better.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Kole) reports that in order to incorporate AI into people’s daily lives, computers need “predictive vision” to fully understand an individual’s course of action. Developers found that computers “that binge-watched” videos of human interactions “learned how to predict” a person’s impending behavior. These computers have a prediction success rate of 43 percent while untrained computers only have a “36 percent success rate.”

Study: Majority Prefer Passenger Safety More Than Pedestrians For Self-Driving Cars.

PBS NewsHour Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Griffin) reports on a new study showing that the majority of people would “ultimately buy a car programmed to preserve their lives as passengers” over a car designed to favor pedestrians. In a series of 2,000 participants, researchers “offered vignettes to the participants in which a deadly accident is unavoidable” and found considerable moral dilemma but ultimately self-preservation emerged as the dominant trend. TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Eadicicco) reports “self-driving cars could potentially prevent 90% of traffic accidents in the U.S,” as well as improving efficiency and traffic flow according to researchers.

Military Testing Inter-Vehicle Communication in Michigan.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Gross) reports military leaders and the US Department of Transportation teamed up to experiment with highway communications tools between vehicles. In a remote highway area, four vehicles with technology to communicate with each other and the infrastructure technology along the road executed a “high-tech version of Follow The Leader.” The test went fairly smoothly but this technology is far from widespread adoption by the market, tech and transportation experts say.

NASA’s Webb Telescope Sunshield Comprised Of Complexly Engineered Layers.

Phys (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/20) reports on the engineering of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope sunshield, which is comprised of five layers coated with different materials that impart reflective and heat-resistant properties. Phys reports that a sunshield membrane “deployed on the membrane test fixture at Mantech, Hunstville, AL, is ready for a precise measurement of its three dimensional shape.” The Webb telescope is the successor to the Hubble, and is being led by NASA in partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Scientists Create Solar PV Cells Smaller Than Width Of Human Hair.

Vox Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Roberts) reports South Korean scientists recently published research on solar photovoltaic (PV) power. They have “created solar PV cells that are 1 micrometer thick,” which is “less than the width of human hair.” The article says although it is “long road from the lab to a commercial product,” eventually “tiny solar PV will change the world.”


Artificial Intelligence Workforce Has Massive Gender Gap.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Clark) reports that women make up a small fraction of Artificial Intelligence developers, even in comparison to general technology jobs, which is potentially problematic given that AI developers must teach computers everything about the world. Bloomberg News adds that if AI computers don’t receive “sufficiently broad” data then the computer may have a “bias” and a “narrow” worldview. In order to prevent this, there are moves toward making job postings more gender neutral and toward initiatives to get girls involved in AI technology at a young age.

Industry News

VW To Pay $10 Billion Settlement To US Consumers In Emissions Scandal.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Spector, Randazzo, Subscription Publication) reports on its front page that Volkswagen AG is close to reaching a $10 billion civil settlement to buy back or repair nearly 500,000 cars of US consumers that were affected by the company’s emissions cheating software in diesel vehicles. The Journal writes that this is the largest settlement in auto industry history, but VW is also likely to pay $4 billion for environmental damages. The Department of Justice still has an ongoing criminal investigation of Volkswagen for the emissions cheating scandal.

Engineering and Public Policy

Missouri DOT To Test Solar Roadways, Sidewalks.

Drawing from The Jefferson City News-Tribune, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23) reports, “The Missouri Department of Transportation is set to test the feasibility of sidewalks and roadways embedded with solar panels.” Tom Blair, assistant district engineer with the agency, said, “Solar roadways can hopefully create new revenue streams.” Developer Solar Roadways “said its panels can contain LED lights to create lines and signage without paint” and can communicate with one another, a central control station and vehicles.

MATE To Launch 15th Annual International Underwater Robotics Competition.

THE Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Hart) reports that the 15th annual Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center “international student underwater robotics competition” begins at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab in Houston, TX on June 23, challenging “K-12, community college and university” students “to design and build remote operated vehicles (ROVs), robots, to accomplish underwater tasks.” MATE’s goal is that the competition will inspire “students to learn and apply science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills,” particularly to “prepare them for the future workforce for ocean occupations.”

New York Math Lab Allows Math Teachers To Collaborate, Learn.

Because collaboration among math teachers is uncommon, Chalkbeat New York Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Zimmerman) reports, Peter Cipparone, Kim Van Duzer, and Kate Abell launched NYC Math Lab in an effort “to give more teachers a chance to watch each other teach elementary math” and discuss techniques “as part of an existing summer program offered by the Hudson Guild” to kids from low-income families “who may have been told they’re not good at math.” The lessons “require students to understand and debate fundamental concepts and speak up when they don’t get it,” and is based on a method pioneered by the Elementary Mathematics Lab at the University of Michigan.

Nevada Net Metering Ballot Proposal Fight Draws Millions Of Dollars.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Whaley) reports on spending over a potential November ballot measure in Nevada that could restore net metering rates favorable for rooftop solar residential customers. “Nevada Power, which is part of NV Energy, has contributed more than $1.4 million to Citizens for Solar and Energy Fairness, a political action committee formed to fight the referendum filed by the group Bring Back Solar Alliance.” The No Solar Tax PAC, fighting for the referendum, has been funded with nearly $2.5 million, from SolarCity. The solar alliance turned in 115,000 signatures on Tuesday to qualify a measure for the November ballot that would overrule the “new, less favorable net metering rate class” set by the state Public Utilities Commission. The solar coalition still needs to win its appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court from a Carson City District Court ruling that found the proposal did not qualify as a referendum.

DOE Mulling New Efficiency Rules For TVs.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Devaney) reports the Energy Department is considering new television efficiency rules. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the DOE yesterday issued “a request for information as it looks into new test procedures for televisions.” The public will have a chance to comment for 30 days.

PG&E Gas Bills To Rise To Finance Pipeline Work.

The San Francisco Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23, Baker) reports that the California Public Utilities Commission approved an “85 percent jump in the amount of money the utility collects from customers to spend on its natural gas pipelines, saying the money would fund badly needed safety work.” The amount PG&E collects each year to fund its gas transmission and storage system will rise in stages, from about $715 million in 2014 to $1.324 billion in 2018, an $6 increase on the average bill.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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