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

Leading the News

Despite Some Gains, US Students’ Science Scores Still Lackluster.

Coverage of US students’ scores on the 2015 National Assessment for Educational Progress continues to garner national coverage, including a wealth of reports about individual states’ students’ performance. The AP Share
to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Kerr) reports that according to the results, “the vast majority of U.S. students still lack a solid grasp of science despite some modest gains by fourth and eighth graders, especially girls and minorities.” High school seniors’ results were stagnant, with “just one in five” scoring “proficient or above in science.” The AP quotes Education Secretary John King saying, “We still are not at a place as a country where we are preparing the future STEM workforce that we need. We think there’s significant work still to do, but we are heartened by the progress that we see in these results.”

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports on the “modest improvements” girls and minority students made, but notes that “only about a third of fourth and eighth graders showed ‘strong academic performance’ in the sciences.” The piece notes that National Center for Education Statistics acting Commissioner Peggy Carr said students of color “made greater improvements than white students in 2015, narrowing the achievement gap among students of all ethnic backgrounds.”

NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports in its “NPR Ed” blog that the test is given “the same way year after year,” giving researchers a consistent baseline “to compare student progress over time.” This piece reports that King found the progress in the early grades encouraging, quoting him saying, “We’re seeing racial achievement gaps in the sciences narrowing in the fourth and eighth grades … and the gender gaps also are closing. All of this means that more students are developing skills like thinking critically, making sense of information and evaluating evidence.”

Education Week Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Hinton) reports the tests “measure students’ knowledge in the areas of physical science, life science, and Earth and space science in grades 4, 8, and 12.” This piece points out that while significant racial and gender achievement gaps persist, these results show them to be narrowing. Education Week notes that a rising number of states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, “which de-emphasize rote memorization of facts and terminology in favor of scientific inquiry and hands-on learning.” The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Hobbs, Subscription Publication) and TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) also cover this story.

Higher Education

Bidens, Mitchell Host Event Promoting Free Community College.

The Atlantic Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, DeRuy) reports that Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, who has spent her time during the Obama Administration promoting community college, on Wednesday “invited dozens of community-college leaders to the vice-presidential residence for a lunch reception” to “thank them for their work in recent months to make two years of community college free for some students, an effort that has expanded access to higher education in certain parts of the country for low-income, often nonwhite, students who have traditionally been overlooked.” Speaking at the event, Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said, “I think we’re creating a national experiment. Most good solutions are not either or.”

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Smith) reports that President Obama’s America’s College Promise initiative for free community college “has languished in the US Congress,” but quotes Mitchell saying, “Communities and states are not waiting for Congress. Support from Congress or the federal government, whether it comes in the form of dollars or thought leadership, is important and good, but bringing communities together around this is how it anchors itself, not just for a year or day, but for a generation and more.”

Several Elite Liberals Arts Schools Choose First Black Presidents.

The Hechinger Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports that since 2013, seven small, selective liberal arts colleges in the US with predominantly enrollment “have for the first time chosen college presidents who are black – just as students are demanding a better racial mix on their campuses.” The piece lists the schools as Swarthmore College, Ohio’s Kenyon College, Connecticut’s Trinity College, Wellesley College, the University of Puget Sound, Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College, and Californian’s Pitzer College.

Research: Low Hispanic College Attendance Will Lower All US Incomes.

The Hechinger Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports that a growing body of research suggests that if more Hispanic students in the US don’t go on to college, “the quality of life will drop for everybody else.” The piece explains that the fastest growing college-age demographic is Hispanics, and says if this group continues “to lag behind the dwindling number of college-age whites in getting university degrees, as they do now, there will be too few workers to take up the slack of baby boomers retiring from essential high-salary positions, and too many in lower-paying jobs,” leading to “less innovation, dwindling consumer spending, more poverty, and decreasing tax revenue to cover spiraling demand for services.”

Ratings Systems, Regulation Likely In The Offing For Coding Boot Camps.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports that with the coding boot camp phenomenon only around five years old, there are few resources for prospective students looking to compare job placement numbers and other criteria. Moreover, “regulations surrounding job placement data are still lacking.” The piece reports that Liz Eggleston, co-founder of New York-based coding boot camp directory Course Report, says “a standardized method will likely emerge soon for how coding schools report job placement claims…and establishing a practice voluntarily could make the transition smoother if federal regulations are put in place.”

NEW Report: “Small Schools” by the Numbers
Smaller engineering schools are often missing from our annual “By the Numbers” summary, because of the way it’s tabulated. We have created a “Smaller Engineering by the Numbers” to feature these schools.

Norman Fortenberry Co-Chairs NASEM Project
ASEE’s ED recently co-chaired a workshop on “Enhancing Teachers’ Voices in Policy Making Related to K-12 Engineering Education.”

Research and Development

NSF Renews Funding For Maryland Environmental Research Center.

The Annapolis (MD) Capital Gazette Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/26) reports the National Science Foundation has renewed $27.5 million in funding for the University of Maryland’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center in Annapolis, Maryland. (SESYNC) in Annapolis has had its funding renewed by the National Science Foundation. The SESYNC center, “which focuses on complex environmental and sustainability problems, was established in 2011 with a five-year, $27.5 million grant from the foundation.”

Cal Poly Students Plan To Break World Solar Car Speed Record.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/26, McPhate, Subscription Publication) “California Today” blog that a Cal Poly student lab “announced Tuesday that it has designed the world’s fastest car powered purely by solar panels,” though they still must demonstrate the breakthrough. Prototype Vehicles Laboratory project manager Will Sutton “said simulations showed the vehicle they’re creating would surpass 65 miles an hour, besting the world record of 56.75 m.p.h. set by a Japanese team in 2014.” KSBY-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter San Luis Obispo, CA (10/26) also covers this story.

Research spending shows strong growth.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Leubsdorf, Subscription Publication) reports that US businesses continued to spend on research and development in the second quarter. According to the Commerce Department, private fixed investment in R&D grew at an annual rate of 17 percent in the second quarter, marking the strongest growth in R&D spending since the third quarter of 2006.

CubeSats Could Soon Become Self-Propelled.

Physics World (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports, “CubeSats – small, low-cost satellites – could soon become self-propelled, thanks to a rocket-motor concept developed by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US.” While CubeSats are a “cheap and easy way for relatively small research groups to launch satellites and access space, they traditionally do not have any on-board propulsion system – the nanosatellites are usually launched via a larger satellite and simply released into a specific orbit.” Recently, the LANL researchers “successfully tested a six-motor CubeSat-compatible propulsion array” and according to Bryce Tappan, lead researcher of the CubeSat Propulsion Concept team, they are “very close to being able to take the next step and show that the propulsion system works on a satellite in space.”

Moniz Visits UR Laboratory For Laser Energetics.

The Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Lahman) reports Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday “toured the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester.” Moniz told lab employees, “The innovation agenda is at the core of what the Department of Energy does. … We have a number of responsibilities, from nuclear security, to clean energy, to being a backbone of this country’s science establishment. This laboratory is at the intersection of all three of those science and technology missions.” On Thursday, Sen. Charles Schumer called “for a increase of funding to $75 million in the 2017 budget” for the lab, “citing its role both as a job creator for the region and a leader in cutting edge photonics research.” After the lab was toured, “Schumer and Moniz joined Congresswoman Louise Slaughter at the Rochester New York Annual Photonics Meeting being held at the Strasenburgh Planetarium.” Other news outlets providing coverage include WHAM-AM Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Rochester, NY (10/27), Rochester (NY) Spectrum News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Voorhees), WXXI-AM Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Rochester, NY (10/27, Simons) and WROC-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Rochester, NY (10/27).


Study: Female, Minority Engineers Report Workplace Hostility.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports on a new study from the Society of Women Engineers and the Center for WorkLife Law at the UC Hastings College of Law found that “women and people of color working in engineering report an unfriendlier workplace climate than their white male peers,” noting that the study’s authors “were surprised that nearly a third of the 3,000 survey respondents left optional comments describing their personal experiences, indicating their strong reactions to the topic and offering an inside look at how implicit bias — those subconscious assumptions even egalitarian people make that can lead to unfair treatment — plays out in the engineering workplace.”

Global Developments

Nissan Will Continue Producing Cars In The UK.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports Nissan announced it would “build two new models in Britain” despite the country’s impending exit from the EU, “giving Prime Minister Theresa May her most important corporate endorsement” yet. Nissan will build the next generation of two popular SUVs at its Sunderland plant. Reuters notes the British car industry is mostly foreign owned, and ships heavily to the EU “making the industry’s future one of the big question marks hanging over Britain’s plan to quit the bloc,” adding “Nissan in particular had threatened to halt spending unless the government” made guarantees to the company.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports in a separate article that business minister Greg Clark alluded to the possibility of Nissan receiving support from “government-backed groups for infrastructure work,” saying that if “they expand their production facilities, often the local enterprise partnership for example would make improvements to road junctions.”

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Erlanger, Subscription Publication) reports Prime Minister May called the announcement “fantastic news for the U.K.” She added that “It is a recognition that the government is committed to creating and supporting the right conditions for the automotive industry so it continues to grow.” The Times adds that Nissan “clearly” received guarantees from the British government, but did not disclose what they were.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Nussbaum) reports Nissan said “support and assurances” from the UK government were vital in the decision. The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Sylvers, McLain, Subscription Publication) also reports.

Industry News

Google Engineering Vice President Discusses Google’s Plans For Booking Travel.

Skift Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Schaal) reports that speaking at a Skift Global Forum 2016 in New York, Google Vice President of Engineering Oliver Heckmann talked about how Google is “optimizing the mobile experience and hosting bookings for Lufthansa, Virgin America, and WestJet, and is in talks to do likewise for other partners.” While discussing “Google’s master plan in travel, its new tours and activities and messaging apps,” Heckmann said that in the near future, “voice search and assistant service could be as huge as the shift to mobile.” Asked about Google’s preference for its own products, Heckmann said “that the three hotels it displays in Google’s Hotel Ads, for example, are organically ranked and that the “vast majority” of clicks from Hotel Ads go to natural – and not its paid – results.” The full discussion with Heckmann can be watched here Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/26).

Travel Planning Apps May Face Threat From Google Trips. The Travel Daily News (GRC) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/28, Butler) reports that Google Trips could become a major competitor for apps such as TripIt, Minute,, TripAdvisor Offline City Guides, and many others. However, SutherlandGold Group’s Melanie Hess said, “Google Trips is currently a jack of all trades, yet master of none technology and while it has the potential to integrate with other platforms to offer more services, it is not there yet.” According to PACIFIC CEO and founder Norman Brauns, “The greatest potential for Google Trips is for in-trip use – that day you wake up without a plan and wonder what to do next.” Despite its infancy, Google Trips is seen by some as “a game changer.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Amtrak Agrees To $265 Million Settlement For Fatal Philadelphia Crash.

The New York (NY) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Mele, Subscription Publication) reports that on Thursday, Amtrak agreed to pay $265 million to settle claims regarding a train accident that resulted in the deaths of eight passengers and injuries to more than 200 people. The Times explains the crash occurred in May 2015 when the train took a tight curve at 106 miles-per-hour, which was twice the speed limit. The Times says lawyers believe the figure is the largest settlement in a railroad disaster in US history.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Calvert, Subscription Publication) reports David C. Cook, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said that if the damages exceed $265 million, all of the individual claims will be proportionately lowered. The Journal says the large award was possible because Congress voted to increase the federal damages cap for railway accidents to $295 million from its previous level at $200 million. The piece explains the $265 million figure is the present value of $295 million in 2.5 years, the minimum length lawyers believe will be needed to sort through the individual claims. The Philadelphia Inquirer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Mondics) reports the settlement was “reached with unusual speed,” and another of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Robert Mongeluzzi, called the speed with which an agreement was reached, “historic.”

Plans For Wind Project Off Long Island Cut Back Slightly.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports the Interior Department has “slightly scaled back the site of a proposed wind energy project in the Atlantic Ocean south of New York’s Jones Beach.” The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced yesterday “that it would conduct a lease sale on Dec. 15” of 79,350 acres. BOEM says around “1,780 acres have been removed because of environmental concerns in an area known as the Cholera Banks.” The area is “considered a lucrative fishing area.”

Newsday (NY) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Harrington) reports “bidders identified” by BOEM “include the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which earlier this year took over the state role initiated by the Long Island Power Authority in 2009, and Deepwater Wind, which has proposed a separate wind farm for LIPA off the coast of Rhode Island.”

DOE Proposing New Efficiency Standards For Refrigerators.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Devaney) reports the Energy Department “is proposing new efficiency rules for refrigerators.” The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at DOE yesterday “issued new energy conservation standards for miscellaneous refrigeration products.” The agency “estimates the efficiency standards will cost industry” over “$55 million to comply with but could save the public as much as $11 billion.” The Hill adds that “the direct final rule goes into effect in 120 days.”

Wind, Solar Firms Say BLM Rule Change Will Drive Costs Up.

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports the wind and solar industries are “embroiled in a regulatory skirmish” with environmental groups over coming changes in access to federal land that “will make it costlier and more difficult to develop renewable energy projects.” the Bureau of Land Management aims to offer land for competitive bidding between companies, “a departure from the first come, first serve application process for “right-of-way” access that has guided renewable energy projects.”

Watchdog Group Asks Texas AG To Investigate Rooftop Solar Company Practices.

The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reported the Campaign for Accountability has asked “the Texas Attorney General to investigate the marketing and sales practices of rooftop solar companies in the state.” The letter “focuses on Fort Worth-based Global Efficient Energy but also mentions SolarCity and NRG Energy’s Residential Solar Solutions.” The over “190 complaints that have been filed with the Attorney General” show “companies have engaged in false and misleading acts” violating the “state’s consumer protection and deceptive trade practices law, the groups says in a letter.” The letter states, “Solar companies operating in Texas are employing a variety of strategies and practices that may enhance their bottom line, but are leaving customers frustrated, unhappy and facing even bigger utility bills.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Study: Math Gender Gap Starts In Kindergarten.

PBS NewsHour Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27, Pasquantonio) reports a new report from the American Educational Research Association shows “gender gaps in math achievement and teacher expectations that boys are stronger at math than girls start to form by kindergarten.” Researchers “found that teachers consistently underrated girls’ math skills, even when boys and girls behaved and performed in similar ways academically.” The article explores the study’s methodology and quotes lead author Joseph Cimpian of New York University saying, “If schools are addressing biases, it’s not happening effectively.”

The Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/27) reports the study says “preschool teachers may unintentionally play some role in” perpetuating gender gaps in math. The research showed that while students of both genders start school with equal math skills, “a gap started to develop and in the spring of kindergarten there were more boys than girls in the highest achieving group.” The Post quotes co-author Emily Miller saying, “Future STEM-intending students are likely to be drawn from the high end of the achievement distribution, which is why it is so troubling that we see so few high-performing female students.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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