Leading the News
Tesla Unveils Rooftop Solar Tiles To Boost SolarCity Bid.
Reuters (10/29) reports, in continuing coverage, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on Friday “unveiled new energy products aimed at illustrating the benefits of combining his electric car and battery maker with solar installer SolarCity.” Musk unveiled solar-powered roof tiles as an alternative to traditional panels, and the Powerwall home and utility batteries. “This is sort of the integrated future. An electric car, a Powerwall and a solar roof. The key is it needs to be beautiful, affordable and seamlessly integrated,” Musk said. Bloomberg News (10/29) reports Friday’s event “is part of concerted effort to make the case for the SolarCity acquisition to investors.” More details will be revealed November 1. USA Today (10/28, Woodyard) explains the rooftop solar tiles as an alternative to “massive, unattractive array of solar panels” that instead “emulate clay tiles on a Spanish-style house or shingles on a colonial.” The Financial Times (10/30, Crooks, Subscription Publication) notes stock price volatility among rooftop solar firms Vivint Solar, Sunrun, and SolarCity due to shifts in energy markets and policy. The Wall Street Journal (10/28, Sweet, Higgins, Subscription Publication) also reports.
ED Releases New Student Loan Discharge Rules.
The Washington Post (10/28, Douglas-Gabriel) reports on the plight of students of such for-profit college chains as Corinthian Colleges, which imploded amid “charges of fraud and predatory lending,” and are now “fighting to have their federal loans discharged under a little-known law meant for people just like them.” The piece notes that many such students “found themselves in an overwhelmingly complex process,” and says that ED on Friday released new “borrower defense to repayment” rules intended to “change the system.” However, “consumer advocates worry that people already contending with the existing process still face an uphill battle.” The Post quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “To protect students from the start, the regulations seek to deter institutions from engaging in predatory behavior or otherwise exposing the government to risk. For students who are injured by an institution’s conduct, these regulations provide a clear path to relief with all of their rights intact, and restore their right to sue.”
The AP (10/28, Binkley) reports that the issue became a problem when ED received a glut of such claims after Corinthian Colleges shut down in 2014, and says that ED officials “have been working to create a more detailed system for students to file claims” ever since. The new rules “will clarify that students are eligible to have loans erased if their college misrepresents the quality of its programs or the success of students; if the college breaks a ‘contractual promise’ with its students; and if a state or federal court rules that the loan should be forgiven.” The AP quotes Education Secretary John King saying in a statement, “Today’s regulations build on that progress by ensuring that students who are lied to and mistreated by their school get the relief they are owed, and that schools that harm students are held responsible for their behavior.”
Inside Higher Ed (10/28) reports that the regulations are “controversial,” and “replace an existing system based on various state laws with a single federal standard meant to simplify the claims process for having student loans discharged. They also put institutions themselves on the hook for paying back borrowers’ claims.” This piece reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently said that ED “was not doing enough to assist students who had attended campuses of the Corinthian chain and had instead placed many of those students in debt collection.”
ED Resetting Pell Grants For Students Of Shuttered Colleges.
The Washington Post (10/28, Douglas-Gabriel) reports ED is “resetting the clock on Pell grant eligibility for students who burned through the federal aid to cover costs at colleges that closed,” saying the move could help tens of thousands of students from the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges and ITT Educational Services continue their education. The Post reports that members of Congress had pushed for the move, but ED “said it did not have the authority.” However, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) “identified a provision in the Higher Education Act that gives the Education Department authority to grant students additional aid,” and urged Education Secretary John King “to review the section in the law.” Under Secretary Ted Mitchell wrote Friday, “This policy is expected to benefit several thousand students immediately who were at or near their lifetime limit, as well as more students whose institutions might close moving forward, and those who hadn’t reached their limits but who will be able to go back to school if they choose.” Politico Morning Education (10/28) also covers this story, noting that the move is a “reversal” from past ED policy.
ED Releases Rule Banning Forces Arbitration Clauses.
The Hill (10/28, Wheeler) reports that on Friday, ED issued a rule “banning colleges that participate in federal loan programs from being able to use forced arbitration agreements in student enrollment contracts,” which “force students to give up their rights to settle disputes with a school in court.” Advocates “called the rule a game-changer,” the Hill reports, quoting Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division saying, “For far too long, predatory schools have used fraud as a business model, and they’ve gotten away with it by shutting the courthouse doors to students and forcing those students into individual, secret arbitrations.”
Michigan State Gets NSF Grant For Engineering Student Retention.
The AP (10/29) reports the National Science Foundation has given Michigan State University a $1 million grant to “keep engineering students in school,” noting that the university “says dozens of students could receive $8,000 a year in tuition and support services for two years.” Professor S. Patrick Walton “says many talented students are lost each year due to a lack of money for tuition.”
Wall Street Increasingly Hiring Coders With Boot Camp Credentials.
The Chicago Tribune (10/29) reports that Wall Street firms such as JPMorgan Chase are increasingly hiring coders and software developers who are trained by coding boot camps and other non-traditional means. The paper notes that big banks “traditionally coveted graduates from Stanford and other big-name schools and people already working in Silicon Valley.” However, recruiters say “that system tends to overlook good programmers from other schools or gifted dropouts.”
NSF Gives University Of South Florida $1.5 Million To Support IT Students.
The Bradenton (FL) Times (10/30) reports the National Science Foundation is giving the University of South Florida a $1.5 million grant “the goal of increasing the number of graduates in the key IT-related disciplines of computer science, computer engineering and information technology.” Similar grants will go to the University of Central Florida and Florida International University.
ITT Tech Displaced Students Have Difficulties Transferring.
The Washington Post (10/30, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that after federal government funding was cut off from ITT Tech – 35,000 students are now trying to start over or transfer credits to a new school. Steve Gunderson, president of the for-profit trade group Career Education Colleges and Universities said “this is really a question of when the Department (of Education) will stop its incredible assault on career schools — one that puts thousands of students on the streets with debt and no degree.” The US Education Department and state higher education councils have tried fairs and information sessions, but have had difficulty accessing transcripts from court-appointed trustees overseeing ITT Tech’s bankruptcy proceedings. The Post says students also run into problems because many schools only accept “general-education classes because their academic standards differ.”
Research and Development
University Of Texas Arlington Breaks Ground On Science Research Facility.
The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram (10/27) reports that the University of Texas Arlington broke ground last week on “its $125 million Science and Engineering Innovation and Research building, which officials say will bolster the university’s already recognized standing among research institutions.” The facility will feature “a four-story research wing plus a basement for lab work, and a two-story wing classroom wing with 900 seats to accommodate enrollment growth in engineering, nursing and science, the University of Texas at Arlington said.”
The Fort Worth (TX) Business Press (10/27) reports UTA President Vistasp M. Karbhari “said the new SEIR building is a result of tremendous growth at UTA, which started the current academic year with 40,000 students and is expected to the end the academic year with more than 57,000 students, making it the largest university in the UT system and the seventh fastest-growing university in the United States.”
University Of Nebraska Lab Tests Tractor Performance.
Iowa Farmer Today (10/29) highlighted a Nebraska law passed in 1919 that prevents new tractors from being sold in the state “without first being tested by the University of Nebraska’s agricultural engineering department to prove that it would perform as advertised.” Over nearly 100 years, the department has tested 2,166 tractors, with the “power takeoff” and “drawbar” tests “the two most common performance tests conducted on new tractors at the lab.”
Robot At Harvard Gives New Insight Into Impact Of Smoking On Body.
The Washington Times (10/29, Blake) reports that Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering released a paper Thursday detailing how a smoking robot lined with cells from humans allows for the study of smoking on the human body. The founding director of the Wyss Institute Donald Ingber stated that “the device enables us for the first time to compare responses of human small airway tissues, from both normal individuals and COPD patients, before and after they are exposed to cigarette smoke delivered through physiological breathing outside the human body. We can now begin to decipher which cell types, cellular functions and genes contribute to smoke-induced injury in normal lung, as well as during COPD exacerbations in individual patients, and thereby, identify common as well as patient-specific disease factors.”
Toyota To Use ‘Tamed’ Lithium-ion Batteries, No Significant Extra Cost.
Reuters (10/30, Tajitsu, Shirouzu) reports Toyota engineers are saying “they have tamed volatile lithium-ion battery technology, and can now safely pack more power at no significant extra cost,” which Reuters notes, gives “the Japanese automaker the option to enter the growing all-electric car market.” Reuters also notes that Toyota said its “soon-to-be-launched” Prius Prime “will use lithium-ion batteries, with enough energy to make the car go around 60 kms (37.3 miles) when fully charged before the gasoline engine kicks in.”
Expanding AR, Oculus VR Adds More Than 100 Employees.
Venture Beat (10/29) reports that Oculus VR, maker of Oculus Rift, has posted on its careers page more than 100 open positions in a range of fields. Thirty-one of the jobs are at Oculus Research, the division dedicated to the long-term study of VR’s future, including an “AR Incubation Lead” and a “Silicon Systems Architect.” Research’s hiring spree, notes Venture Beat, comes after chief scientist Michael Abrash spoke earlier this months of the many fields of VR technology in which he expects growth over the next five years. Many other listings are in Software Engineering and Hardware Engineering. In an email, Oculus spokesperson Brandon Boone said that more openings are coming in the near future.
Engineering and Public Policy
Flint, Michigan Officials Expect More Charges Over Water Crisis.
In a more than 1,100-word article, the New York Times (10/28, Smith, Subscription Publication) reports that “as Flint continues to suffer from a water crisis, one question percolates here in Michigan’s capital: Who will be charged next?” According to the Times, “so far, nine low-level or midlevel government officials have been criminally charged as part of the state investigation into the water’s contamination, which has been tied to lead poisoning in children and the deaths of 12 people from Legionnaires’ disease,” but more are expected to face charges.
Construction Continues Amid More Arrests In Dakota Pipeline Protest.
Reuters (10/28, Seba) reports that CEO of Phillips 66 Greg Garland confirmed that “construction is continuing on the Dakota Access Pipeline,” despite “a dispute with Native Americans” that blocked a section of the pipeline. “Police arrested 141 Native Americans and other protesters” that were attempting to stop construction on Friday. The CBS Evening News (10/28, story 8, 0:20, Pelley) and NBC Nightly News (10/28, story 10, 1:45, Holt) broadcasts carried coverage of the arrests. The AP (10/28, Macpherson, Nicholson) reports that standoffs between protesters and the police “subsided at least temporarily after some protest leaders urged activists to leave a barricade near a state highway bridge.”
The Los Angeles Times (10/28, Tolan) reports that some claim arrested protesters “had numbers written on their arms and were housed in what appeared to be dog kennels, without bedding or furniture,” and others accused the police of using mace and rubber bullets. Authorities “claimed some protesters turned violent during the confrontation, setting fires, tossing Molotov cocktails and, in one instance, pulling out a gun and firing on officers.” Reuters (10/28, Mclaughlin) reports the Native American tribe “vowed on Friday to continue their fight through direct action, legal challenges and growing celebrity support” after the Friday arrests, accusing the pipeline of threatening “local water supplies and sacred tribal sites.” One activist leader noted that “there are still windows of opportunity to disrupt construction.”
In a nearly 1400 word write-up, the Washington Post (10/28, Mufson) analyzes the growing opposition to the pipeline. The Post lists the “Keep It in the Ground” environmental movement, Native American “grievances dating back to the 19th century treaties” that ceded the Dakotas to the US government, and the pipeline’s potential “danger to water supplies and sacred grounds” as major reasons for the convergence of protesters.
Additional coverage was provided by E&E Publishing (10/28, Subscription Publication).
Activist: Dakota Pipeline Is “Environmental Racism.” In an op-ed in the New York Times (10/28, Subscription Publication), founder of 350.org Bill McKibben characterizes the disputes between protesters and police as “part of the longest-running drama in American history — the United States Army versus Native Americans.” He calls the projects “obvious environmental racism,” and says “that the signs are not good” for permanently stopping construction, despite a temporary block by the Administration. McKibben asks “other activists” to “join the protest at bank headquarters, Army Corps offices and other sites of entrenched power.”
Moniz Says Tough Decisions Coming On US Nuclear Power In Next Five Years.
Engineering News-Record (10/26, McFarland) reports that in his appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies conference on the outlook for domestic and global nuclear power, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the industry is at a pivotal point. Moniz said, “We have a set of deliberate choices that we have to make, and we are going to have to make them over [the next] five-year period,” in order to prepare for the big wave of reactor retirements that will begin around 2030. John Hamre, president and CEO of CSIS, the conference sponsor, “said there would be ‘no plausible way we’re going to get to a low-carbon future without nuclear.’” But Moniz countered: “By no means is that a universally held view.” Moniz said some argue for a distributed approach, using mainly renewables, while others support including nuclear power in the mix. “What the system will or should look like is extremely unclear,” Moniz said.
Airport Infrastructure Needs Projected To Slip 3% To $32.5B.
Engineering News-Record (10/27) reports that “after a decade-long burst of runway projects,” US airports’ infrastructure plans “are projected to fall slightly over the next five years, but total a still-substantial $32.5 billion, the Federal Aviation Administration says.” FAA’s latest biennial National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems report released Oct. 21 “says that the 2017-2021 estimate of $32.5 billion is a dip of $1 billion, or 3%, from the agency’s last such study, released in 2014.” Reconstruction “accounts for the largest share of the total needs, at $11.5 billion or 35.3%.”
NRC Letter On Potential West Texas Nuclear Waste Storage Facility Receives Pushback.
Fuel Fix (TX) (10/28, Osbourne) reports the battle over whether to build a West Texas nuclear waste storage facility “has touched off again over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to move ahead on the review process.” NRC earlier this month “wrote a letter” to developer Waste Control Specialists “informing them that the agency would be beginning its environmental review of the project even though the company’s initial application remained incomplete.” That news “prompted four environmental groups to write the NRC Wednesday, arguing it should dismiss the application because Congress never intended for a privately-owned facility to take possession of nuclear waste.” The NRC said in its letter, “This decision, however, does not presuppose the outcome of NRC’s ongoing acceptance review of the WCS application.” But when combined with comments made by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz “last month that the government was interested in exploring private storage facilities as an interim solution for nuclear waste, environmentalists in Texas fear that the Andrews County facility might very well come to pass.”
Solar Amendment A Hot Topic Ahead Of Florida Vote.
The Hill (10/30, Cama) reports Florida voters next week will “consider a constitutional amendment that opponents say is a deceptive attempt to restrict the market for rooftop solar energy systems” and the airwaves are being “blanket[ed]” with ads regarding the amendment by “electric utilities, solar companies and their allies.” Supporters of the amendment, which is touted by electric utilities, contend it “would protect the rights of homeowners and businesses to buy or rent rooftop solar panels, and the rights of local and state government officials to regulate the industry, including through consumer protections.” The amendment’s opponents, “including companies that install and own solar panels on homes, say that argument is wildly misleading.”
Wind Energy Companies Sue County In Missouri.
The AP (10/30) reports “several wind power companies” have filed suit against “the Clinton County Commission and the Clinton County Planning and Zoning Commission” in Missouri “for barring them from building wind turbines as part of a larger project.” NextEra Energy Resources, Boulevard Associates, Osborn Wind Energy and Osborn Wind II “are seeking unspecified damages.” The zoning board and commission voted last month “to adopt a recommendation to ban construction of certain wind turbines in the county.” The AP adds that “Osborn and Osborn II are involved in creating a wind energy network in the county, with Boulevard working to obtain lease agreements with property owners for wind turbine construction.”
STEM Competition Program Expands 33 Percent.
The Pensacola (FL) News Journal (10/29) reports that the University of West Florida held a project based STEM program called the BEST Robotics competition to encourage middle and high school students to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology. The competition expanded 33 percent this year to include 23 schools. The Manager for the UWF Unmanned Systems Lab and hub director for Emerald Coast BEST Robotics said that “by having a competition like this in a setting that is comparable to a sporting event it shows students that you can be celebrated and cheered for doing things that involve science, math, engineering and technology.”
17-Year-Old Millionaire, Robotics Scholar Teach The Power Of Stem.
NBC News (10/29) reports that 17-year-old millionaire Jaylen Bledsoe credits a technology program for gifted third graders in St. Louis as the reason for his success. Bledsoe is working with other young entrepreneurs to generate interest in STEM careers. Bledsoe said “give kids access to technology, and with a curious mind, they will succeed in any environment.” Cynthia Erenas gave a TED talk at 14 and has won national awards for her work in robotics said “the skills you gain through STEM can change the world…It can range from developing your own video game to eventually working on a project that can cure different diseases.”
Teaching Innovations Spur Student Learning.
Philly (PA) (10/28) reports that four Pennsylvania school districts have been working on innovative curriculum to engage students in the classroom. Joelle Cooper teaching geometry and calculus has adopted a “blended learning” model that facilitates working with word problems in real-world situations using both book and online work. Teacher Laura Wells works with the district’s partner Invention Land where her students “come up with, design, pitch and market invention ideas” – much like on the show Shark Tank. Another concept involving teachers Lauren Paddick and Jennifer Ford takes classic works of literature and turns them into role-playing video game like objectives where students need to grasp the material before they advance.
Growth In Technology Jobs Still Lack Women.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune (10/30) reports that a recently released report from Accenture and the Girls Who Code project that the percentage of women in the computing workforce will decline from 24 to 22 percent by 2025. The report notes that if more women are encouraged to pursue a computer science education the work force could triple to 3.9 million or 39 percent in the same time frame. Reshma Saugani, CEO of Girls Who Code, advocated for more in school clubs and summer camps to reach more women, saying “you have a lot of technology companies here (in Minnesota). There’s upward mobility in these jobs. It’s not gender parity for parity sake only. There’s an economic driver. After all, the pioneers of computer science were women.”
THINKit To Equip Hawaiian Schools With STEM Toolkits.
The Maui (HI) News (10/31) reports that the Maui Economic Development Board’s Women in Technology initiative has launched THINKit to equip Hawaiian teachers with current technology tools at no cost. The kit will include “3D prototyping, coding, virtual reality, digital media, circuits and hardware, and GIS and drones”, and are designed to target students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Vice President of the board Leslie Wilkins said “imagine the impact programming a robot or creating an animated story can have on students — building something with their hands and minds is a powerful lesson in confidence and critical thinking…THINKit is like a technology playground where children can explore, ask questions and test theories without fear of failure. It’s play with a purpose, because it plants seeds of innovation at the same time.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Despite Some Gains, US Students’ Science Scores Still Lackluster.
• Bidens, Mitchell Host Event Promoting Free Community College.
• NSF Renews Funding For Maryland Environmental Research Center.
• Study: Female, Minority Engineers Report Workplace Hostility.
• Nissan Will Continue Producing Cars In The UK.
• Google Engineering Vice President Discusses Google’s Plans For Booking Travel.
• Amtrak Agrees To $265 Million Settlement For Fatal Philadelphia Crash.