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

Leading the News

Udacity Launches Nanodegree In Self-Driving Car Engineering.

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports Sebastian Thrun, widely known as the “father of the self-driving car,” has created through his online education startup Udacity a nine-month “nanodegree” program focused on self-driving car engineering. Thrun asserted that for companies with self-driving car projects, “the biggest issue is the right talent.” Thrun explained that his program coordinates with companies including Mercedes Benz, Didi Chuxing, Nvidia, and Otto in hopes of connecting the program’s students with companies involved in the self-driving car industry.

Wired Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Davies) says that according to Thrun, the program will initially enroll 250 students but he maintained that “if you were to get 50,000 students on day one, I wouldn’t see any difficulties placing them in jobs.” Prior to entering the program, Thrun said, students must have a solid programming background and knowledge of algebra, calculus, and statistics.

Thrun told USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Cava) that the program “serves a dual purpose.” He continued, “One, it allows me to play with self-driving cars again. And a bit more seriously, it addresses the urgent hiring needs of those companies working on this technology.” Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America head Axel Gern added, “We do a lot of programming tests with potential hires to make sure they have the skills that we need, but the advantage that Udacity has is it allows us to look at projects the students are see exactly how they can help us.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Somerville) adds that Thrun said the program’s primary purpose is to give students a faster path to employment in an industry that has an average $138,000 salary. Yet, some recruiters expressed skepticism about the online training program’s ability to secure students’ positions in such an emerging industry. Dave Partners recruiting firm chief executive Dave Carvajal cautioned, “You’d be hard-pressed to say the Udacity candidate is going to be more qualified because they have some specific knowledge about self-driving cars, versus someone who has a rock-hard degree in computer science or data science.” The San Francisco Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) also covers this story.

Higher Education

UC Davis Chemical Engineering Professors Build Courses, Research Around Coffee.

The NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/8) “The Salt” blog reports that for the past few years, two chemical engineering professors at UC Davis have been teaching a course based on the roasting and brewing of coffee. The piece notes that schools across the country are “creating such experiences in order to fight attrition; too many of these so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students have been dropping out after a steady diet of mathematics in the first years of college.” Such topics as mass transfer and fluid dynamics are covered.

The San Francisco Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/9) reports that the program will be conducted at the school’s new Coffee Center, which “will be funded in part by a $250,000 donation from Peet’s Coffee that was announced this week.” The center’s “research will focus on post-harvest aspects of coffee production, starting with processing at the farm and including roasting, brewing and sensory analysis.”

Administration Expected To Continue Pressure On For-Profit College Sector.

The Chronicle of Higher Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports that in the wake of the closure of ITT Educational Services, observers can expect “more pressure from the Obama administration, the economy, and, indirectly, maybe even the American electorate.” The piece lumps ITT in with Corinthian Colleges Inc., saying that both firms’ collapse spark lingering political debate over ED’s role in regulating the sector. ITT claims ED overstepped its bounds in implementing harsh sanctions, but the firm’s “assertion ignores the numerous educational concerns that had been raised by its accreditor” and the substantial history of investigations and government sanctions.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Wheeler) reports that the for-profit sector is accusing ED of “unfairly targeting the industry,” saying “the administration is trying to put the industry out of business.” The piece quotes Career Education Colleges and Universities CEO Steve Gunderson accusing the Administration of a bias against the private sector in education, but adds that Under Secretary Ted Mitchell “denied that the administration is unfairly attacking the for-profit sector.” The piece quotes Mitchell saying, “I wouldn’t call it a crack down. We are focused more and more on student outcomes, and when one does that, one finds some troubling statistics.”

House Bill Would Return GI Bill Money To ITT Students. The Indianapolis Star Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) has proposed legislation to “let veterans who were attending ITT recoup their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and reapply them to future coursework.” Messer stressed the impetus to pass the bill quickly, calling a delay “unacceptable in the wake of ITT’s closure, which wasted the military education benefits of thousands of veterans.”

Students Face Uncertain Future When Schools Close. PBS NewsHour Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports on how the closure of a college can derail plans students have made for their futures, leaving them with little to show for large amounts of debt. The piece calls it particularly “disturbing” that there is little being done to track what happens to such students, saying that “many fear thousands may be giving up on college altogether, exactly when the country is falling behind its goal to increase the proportion of the population with degrees.” The piece says 47% of students with Federal student loans whose schools shut down between 2008 and 2011 “neither had their loans forgiven by the Department of Education nor received federal aid to attend other schools within three years of their schools’ closing.”

ED Says Help Is Available For ITT Students. Diverse Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports that though the abrupt closure of all of ITT’s 136 schools will certainly have a disruptive impact on the chain’s over 40,000 students, they “will have some means of redress.” The piece explains that ED says “they will have access to closed school loan discharges and can also transfer credits to other institutions.” Moreover, ED is urging other colleges and institutions to “reach out to former ITT students, and colleges and universities are acting quickly in response.”

Snowballing Student Debt Precipitates Calls For Relief.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that the tripling of student debt over the last decade has led to a groundswell of lobbying in Washington on behalf of interests from outside the education sector, with several industries complaining of a crisis that warrants intervention by the federal government. Congress has answered with several bills that could cost taxpayers billions by forgiving large sums of debt, cutting interest rates, and providing tax breaks for employers paying down employees’ balances. The bills are essentially stalled, but some should be acted upon after the new Congress and president assume office in January. While the bills have bipartisan support in Congress, they also draw flak from both right and left.

Clinton Campaign Promotes Free College Proposal With Release Of Cost Calculator Tool.

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Kreighbaum) reports that the Hillary Clinton campaign on Monday released an online college cost calculator tool to demonstrate how voters or their children would be affected by Clinton’s college financing plan. The tool allows prospective students to determine how much they would save under Clinton’s proposal by inputting their families’ household income, state and type of institution – four-year public, two-year public, or out-of-state or private college. A separate tool in the calculator allows persons with student debt to determine how much they would save while repaying loans under Clinton’s New College Compact plan. The calculator illustrates a complex policy response to a complex problem, said Nate Johnson, a consultant and the founder of Postsecondary Analytics, but it is unclear whether the calculator will effectively communicate Clinton’s message to voters.

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Research and Development

GIT Professor: High-Fidelity Design Key To More Efficient Rockets.

Inverse Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/12) reports that Georgia Institute of Technology aerospace engineering professor Vigor Yang spoke on rocket and propulsion design at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2016 forum, advocating for “high-fidelity designs” and a “defense-in-depth” approach to manage costs and accelerate development. High-fidelity design “could lower the number of possible variations for a rocket’s injectors from a trillion to 120,” according to Yang.

New Research Shows Increase In The Amount Of Methane Leaked By The Fossil Fuel Industry.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, King, Subscription Publication) reports that, according to new atmospheric records compiled by a team of researchers from Portland State University and the Oregon Health & Science University, the amount of methane leaked by the fossil fuel industry “increased significantly between 2000 and 2009.” E&E Publishing reports Portland State physics professor and the study’s lead author Andrew Rice said that the study’s conclusion “suggests a need for further inquiry.” According to E&E Publishing, University of California researcher Murat Aydin agreed, saying that even though he doesn’t agree with the study’s conclusion, “the research has spurred him to take a second look at the models.”

New Methane Research Adds Questions To EPA Environmental Regulations. ClimateWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Von Kaenel, Subscription Publication) reports a new study by researchers at Portland State University has discovered that fossil fuel production has produced considerably larger amounts of potent greenhouse gas since 2000 “and could account for much of the unexplained uptick in global atmospheric methane since 2007.” The is contradictory to a previous study that attributes the gases to “sources like agriculture, animal husbandry and wetlands instead.” Both results add complications to the debate over EPA energy industry regulations that will “curb methane leaks from existing oil and gas sources.” The regulations were drawn from data showing higher methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction.

Google Pushes Amendments In Michigan’s Autonomous Car Research Bills.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports Google Self-Driving Car Project CEO John Krafcik called on the Michigan House Committee on Communications and Technology and state Rep. Bradford Jacobsen (R-MI) to amend the language in two approved draft bills aimed at encouraging autonomous car research in the state. In a letter, Krafcik first requested that the lawmakers amend the definition of a “motor vehicle manufacturer” because, as written, it will “exclude companies, like Google, that manufactures autonomous vehicles but do not currently sell them.” He also said a second provision requiring autonomous vehicles operating in the state to be “supplied or controlled by a motor vehicle manufacturer” could, as written, “exclude vehicles supplied by a vehicle manufacturer that another company, like Google, modifies with automated driving systems.”


Amazon Software Engineers Earn More Than $200K Annually.

Inc. Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Rodriguez) reports a new report by The Information shows “software engineers across the nation make $104,000 a year on average,” but the “average coder” working for companies like Amazon and Apple “easily [makes] more than $200,000 when salary, equity and bonuses are all added up.” Inc says Airbnb tops the charts with average compensation for engineer totaling $312,000 annually, while Amazon engineers average $203,000 annually.

Industry News

Ongoing Debate Over Safety Of Uber’s Driverless Car Beta Test In Pittsburgh.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Fung) reports Pittsburgh locals’ reactions to Uber’s driverless cars “run the gamut” – “from hopeful that the new technology will contribute” to the city’s rebirth to “a reluctance to trust” the robotic cars. Residents have also expressed concerns “about the cars’ performance on Pittsburgh’s complicated road network” and the possibility that driverless ride-hailing services could negatively impact those who work as Uber or taxi drivers within the city.

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Beck) reports safety and industry experts have also expressed their concerns over Uber’s beta testing in Pittsburgh, arguing that the company’s innovation “is miles ahead of transportation regulations.” Joan Claybrook, a consumer-protection advocate and former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said, “They are essentially making the commuters the guinea pigs,” and argued that Uber “can do the exact same tests without having average citizens in your car.” However, Bryant Walker Smith, the chair of the Planning Task Force for the On-Road Automated Vehicle Standards Committee of the Society of Automotive and Aerospace Engineers, has counter-argued that “all sorts of automotive technologies are introduced before there are regulations to handle them.” NHTSA has said that it plans to release guidelines for autonomous vehicles by the end of the summer.

Engineering and Public Policy

Sanders Joins Protest Against Dakota Access Pipeline.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Gaudiano) reports that Sen. Bernie Sanders joined members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribal nations outside the White House on Tuesday evening to protest the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Sanders said the pipeline will transport “some of the dirtiest fuel on the planet.” The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Disipio) reports Sanders said, “In absence of the pipeline company’s compliance, further administration action is needed,” and called on Obama “to ensure that this pipeline gets a full environmental and cultural impact analysis.” Sanders “cited Oil Change International’s findings that the pipeline would have the same impact on the planet as putting an additional 21 million cars on the road and building 30 more coal plants.” E&E Daily Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Northey, Subscription Publication) reports similarly.

Energy Transfer CEO Reaffirms Commitment To Completing Dakota Access Pipeline. The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(9/13, Maher, Sider, Subscription Publication) reports, in a memo to employees released Tuesday, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners – the company building the pipeline – said concerns about the pipeline’s impact on the water supply in North Dakota are unfounded. CEO Kelcy Warren said he plans on meeting with federal officials and reiterating the company’s commitment to completing the pipeline. Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II, meanwhile, said the tribe will continue trying to halt the pipeline. The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(9/13, Macpherson) reports the memo was also released to media outlets, and marks “the first time in months the company has provided significant details” of the four-state, 1,172-mile project. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren told employees the pipeline is roughly 60 percent complete. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe” argue the project will impact drinking water for thousands of tribal members and millions downstream.” The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Henry) reports Warren also said in the memo that the pipeline project will “obey the rules and trust the process” as the Obama administration considers whether new assessments of the pipeline are necessary. Warren’s memo “reiterated the company’s position that it did everything it could to consider objections from North Dakota tribes while routing the pipeline.” He “dismissed concerns about the pipeline’s threat to drinking water supplies, and noted a judge’s Friday decision approving of federal permitting of the project.” In an “Around the Nation” radio transcript, NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) Jeff Brady reports similarly. The Dallas Morning News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Weiss) also reports on the memo.

Protesters Hold “Day Of Action” Against Dakota Access Pipeline. Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, McKay) reports protests against the pipeline were scheduled throughout the day in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and numerous other cities, in support of the Native American activists trying to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which “they say will desecrate sacred land and pollute water.” Demonstrators in more than 30 US states gathered Tuesday for what activists called a national “Day of Action” against the pipeline. Outside the US, “activists said on social media they planned to hold protests in countries including Britain, Spain, South Korea and New Zealand.” In a separate “Around the Nation” radio transcript, NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) Jeff Brady reports rallies are scheduled around the country supporting the campaign to permanently halt the pipeline.

WSJournal: Administration Is Wrong To Halt Construction. The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Subscription Publication) editorializes that the Dakota Access pipeline would be a boon for the northern Plains region, which has suffered acutely from the fall in US oil prices. The Journal says Energy Transfer Partners went above and beyond the requirements imposed by the National Historic Preservation Act to mitigate the environmental impact of the pipeline. The Journal argues further that the Army Corps of Engineers was very solicitous of concerns raised by tribes in the area, but that the Standing Rock Sioux ignored their requests for input on the pipeline project. The Journal argues that in stopping the pipeline construction, the Administration is now overruling a court decision that vindicates its own decision-making process throughout the project. The Journal concludes that Democrats only support infrastructure projects when the government pays for them and when they don’t make fossil fuels more economical.

California Congressman Calls For Dakota Access Pipeline Hearing. The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Wire) reports, “After traveling to North Dakota to see how a proposed oil pipeline might affect a local Sioux tribe, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) is asking for a congressional hearing to determine whether the Standing Rock Sioux were properly consulted before the Army Corps of Engineers approved permits for the project.” Ruiz and House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Raúl Grijalva, “called for a hearing by the subcommittee in a letter to its chairman Tuesday.” Ruiz said, “The tribes have a right to self determination, and a say in policy that can affect their land, their life and their sacred sites.” Ruiz said.

Arrests At Pipeline Site 70 Miles From Protest, Journalist Charged. The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13) reports authorities “say several people have been arrested for interfering with the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline about 70 miles northwest of the main protest site, which is near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.” Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Keller says Dakota Access Pipeline reported that protesters has vandalized equipment. Also on Tuesday, “Democracy Now” journalist Amy Goodman who reported on the protests, “has been charged with criminal trespassing in North Dakota, a misdemeanor that an international watchdog says should be dropped.”mThe Bismarck Tribune “reports that court documents show…Goodman was charged based on video footage of a protest on private property during Labor Day weekend.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Virginia School District Incorporates STEM Across Classrooms.

District Administration Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Bendici) reports that “Harrisonburg City Public Schools in Virginia incorporates a technical- and engineering-based STEM curriculum starting with kindergarten and continuing right through high school.” The report explains that “since 2011, Harrisonburg’s integrated STEM curriculum requires every K8 student to have at least four STEM-specific units per year featuring design-related, hands-on challenges ranging from creating habitats for worms to planning weather-resistant houses.” According to Amy Sabarre, Harrisonburg’s K12 STEM coordinator, “The biggest challenge is having STEM not be another siloed subject.” Sabarre outlines a few key steps for successfully implementing an integrated STEM curriculum, including clearly defining what is desired in a STEM program and finding “key people who understand STEM and can lead curriculum integration.”

Not All Students In Colorado Classrooms Have Access To STEM Curriculum.

The Colorado Public Radio Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/12, Fulcher) reports that according to a Chalkbeat Colorado Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/7, Garcia), study, “only two in seven students have access to STEM programs and that there are few ways to track the programs’ success.” The study also determined that at-risk, minority, and low-income students had the same access to STEM compared to other students.

Kentucky High School Students Play Critical Role Through Engineers Of Tomorrow.

The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (9/13, Adams) reports that in addition to building robots and participating in robotics competitions, Engineers of Tomorrow “challenges kids to venture out of their comfort zones and learn valuable life skills such as: computer-aided design and machining; electrical and mechanical engineering; computer programming; web design; animation; marketing; problem-solving; time management; organization; and communication.” The group is comprised of Oldham, Jefferson, Shelby, Henry, and Bullitt county high school students. Engineers of Tomorrow mentor Gary Gerdemann, during an interview with the Courier-Journal, stated that the group’s greatest success lies in “the $2,000,000 in college scholarships that our student members have earned, in part, by what they learned by participating in Engineers of Tomorrow.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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