Leading the News
House Passes $12B Water Bill Authorizing 30 New Infrastructure Projects.
The Hill (12/8, Zanona) reports the House “easily passed” a major water bill on Thursday that “boosts U.S. ports, dams and waterways.” The final package “now heads over to the Senate, where it may face a tougher time because of the last-minute inclusion of controversial California drought language.” The nearly $12 billion measure “authorizes 30 new infrastructure projects around the country” and garnered overwhelming support in a 360-61 vote.
The Engineering News-Record (12/8, Ichniowski) says the “centerpiece” of the water bill “is the $10.3 billion in federal funds it authorizes for 30 new Corps flood control, harbor dredging, environmental restoration and other projects.” The largest Corps project allocations in that section of the bill “include $2.7 billion for Ohio River lock and dam improvements in Pennsylvania; $2.1 billion for storm protection and environmental restoration in southwest coastal Louisiana; and $993 million for the Central Everglades environmental restoration in Florida.”
The measure includes $170 million “to address lead in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water and $558 million to provide relief to drought-stricken California,” the AP (12/8) reports, and also “includes steps to pay for a handful of flood and hurricane protection projects across Louisiana,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune (12/8, Rainey) says.
Florida International University Awarded $10M For Bridge Engineering.
Traffic Technology Today (UK) (12/8) reports, “The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) is advancing the Florida International University (FIU) Bridge Engineering Program’s efforts to make the country’s aging bridges safer, with the award of US$1.5m per year, for five years, for its Accelerated Bridge Construction University Transportation Center (ABC-UTC).” In addition, grants “from the state and private sector will bring the FIU’s award to more than” $10 million. FIU president Mark B Rosenberg said, “We are committed to finding a solution to our country’s aging infrastructure and traffic gridlock.” FIU’s ABC-UTC Director Atorod Azizinamini commented, “Most of the country’s existing roadways were built more than 50 years ago, and most bridges were designed for a 50-year life. The nation’s infrastructure shows signs of increasing deterioration, and roadways were designed to carry much less traffic than the current levels of service. … With accelerated bridge construction we are able to replace or retrofit bridges without affecting traffic, while providing safety for motorists and workers on site.”
Study Shows High School Student Are Not Filling Out The FAFSA, Leaving Billions Unspent.
Education Week (12/8, Gewertz) reports that a “huge number of students” are not submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), “leaving ‘billions of dollars on the table,’ a choice that could wreck their chances of going to college.” According to the National College Access Network , which conducted a study of 68 cities, “on average, only 48 percent of high school students in the class of 2015 submitted the…FAFSA.” The NCAN report says, “Students are leaving billions of dollars of federal, state, and institutional aid on the table each year because we don’t ensure that they fill out the FAFSA in a timely way.” The report added, “This situation leads to lower college enrollment, persistence, and completion, especially for low-income students.”
Reed Backs Bill For Low Interest Rate Student Loan Refinancing.
Bloomberg News (12/8, Nasiripour) reports US Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) “formally endorsed a law originally proposed by House Democrats” this week that “calls for allowing debtors with high-rate federal loans to refinance into cheaper debt.” Bloomberg calls the law a “long shot” to get passed, but says it “would do more for America’s roughly 42 million student debtors than the one proposed two years ago by” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
ED Conditions “May Threaten” Apollo Education Sale.
In continuing coverage, Reuters (12/8, Banerjee) says Apollo Education Group expressed concern that the Education Department’s “conditions for the company to remain eligible for the student federal aid program after being acquired by a group of private equity firms could derail the deal.” The prospective buyer group, “which includes funds of Apollo Global Management LLC (APO.N), could abandon the deal if either of them could not decide before the deal termination date of Feb. 1 that they would be able to meet the DoE’s conditions,” Reuters explains. MarketWatch (12/8, Berman) emphasizes that the Education Department placed “big conditions” on the sale, and Bloomberg News (12/8, Nasiripour) calls the conditions “tough” and “severe.”
Report Shows Higher Education Is Failing Older Americans.
Forbes (12/8) reports that while a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows “college graduation rates are up,” there is a “wide variation in graduation rates for different demographic groups. Some people, particularly older college-goers, are earning their credentials at much lower rates.” Although the majority of “college students are young, 15% are over the age of 24 and 8% are over the age of 30.” According to the Clearinghouse report, “26% of college students who first enroll at the age of 20 or younger have dropped out without receiving a credential. But that figure is nearly 50% for students who enroll at older ages.”
Governor, CEO Suggest College Drop-Outs Are An Untapped State Resource.
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and San Francisco-based InsideTrack CEO Pete Wheelan, in an opinion piece for The Hill (12/8) posted in its “Congress Blog” blog, write that people who dropped out of college represent a “natural resource” for states. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, “more than 31 million students have enrolled in college and left without receiving a degree or certificate.” Because people who dropped out of college “represents lost economic value of $500 billion per year,” states that can get them to complete their education “could generate massive economic gains for individuals – and economies.”
Board Of Regents Debate $4.6M Renovation.
The Detroit Free Press (12/8, Jesse) reports during Thursday’s University of Michigan board meeting, Regent Kathy White proposed that “the university should renovate the Inglis House in honor of outgoing Regent Laurence Deitch.” The project would cost a minimum $4.6 million, and would require $500,000 each year for maintenance. Board chair Mark Bernstein “suggested the money would be better spent on lowering student costs.” Agreeing, Regent Mike Brehm said, “It won’t be used on a daily basis,” adding, “At the initial cost of $187 per student and another $20 per student for operation, I think that’s better money spent on keeping costs down for students.” The debate “came about six months after the board approved a 3.9% increase in tuition.” University President Mark Schlissel “said the administration wasn’t prepared to [weigh in on the issue] because no one said in advance it would be brought up.”
Millennials Opting For Real World Education To Achieve Success, Have Less Debt.
The Huffington Post (12/8, Beaton) reports in The Blog, about a growing trend among millennials to opt out of going to college, instead choosing a real world education that comes with less debt, and more success.
Accreditation and Professional Development
Aerospace Architect Recognized For Leadership.
A press release published in PR (12/8) profiles FKP Vice President Ardis Clinton, selected for inclusion in Building Design & Construction’s “40 under 40” list of leaders in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction. FKP Senior Principal Cynthia Walston said Clinton “is fearless. She is willing to take risks when she sees growth opportunity for her clients, her employer and herself. She never hesitates to be a bridge between the architectural process and those who can benefit from it.” Clinton focused on aerospace architecture at the University of Houston Hines College of Architecture, and recently was invited to speak on the subject at the national AIAA conference.
Research and Development
UT-Austin Researchers Develop Novel Nanomaterial That Enables Rewritable Optical Circuits.
IEEE Spectrum (12/8, Johnson) reports, “Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a hybrid nanomaterial that enables the writing, erasing and rewriting of optical components,” which they believe “could create a new generation of optical chips and circuits.” The Texas team described their novel hybrid nanomaterial in research published in the journal Nano Letters. UT professor Dr. Yuebing Zheng and Dr. Linhan Lin further explained their work in interviews with IEEE Spectrum.
ROI Awards NC State Professor $1.6M To Study Role Of Powder Metals In Additive Manufacturing.
The Triad (NC) Business Journal (12/8, Subscription Publication) reports North Carolina A&T State University mechanical engineering professor Dr. Cindy Waters “is part of a team of researchers that secured a $1.6 million research grant through the University of North Carolina Research Opportunities Initiative (ROI).” Waters said, “My work has been centered around powder metallurgy and now the role of the powder metals in the 3D processes that build parts through additive manufacturing. I will be providing detailed characterization and testing of the pre-and post-manufactured parts.” The article notes that ROI “grants are selected based on a rigorous review process led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.”
Irish Researchers Develop Graphene-Putty Substance As Extremely Sensitive Sensor.
The Wall Street Journal (12/8, Hernandez, Subscription Publication) reports an Irish research lab has determined that mixing graphene with Silly Putty yields a sensor with such high sensitivity that is could detect spider footprints. The Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Center labeled the enhanced substance G-putty and said it can detect some human vital signs indicating it could potentially be used for constructing wearable health trackers. Before G-putty could hit the market, the researchers must find if the substance’s sensitivity levels can endure stressors like temperature changes.
IET Analysis Encourages STEM-Related Toys For Girls.
BBC News (UK) (12/8, Richardson) that an analysis by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found gender stereotypes “could be putting girls off engineering and technology,” and warned parents “against buying pink, gender-stereotyped toys this Christmas, so as not to deter girls from getting into science.” The analysis “found 89% of toys aimed at girls were pink,” while “only 11% of girls’ toys focused on science, technology or engineering.” IET spokesperson Mamta Singhal said, “Research shows girls clearly do have an interest in science, technology and engineering subjects at school, so we need to find ways to help this to translate into a higher number of women entering the industry. The marketing of toys for girls is a great place to start to change perceptions of the opportunities within engineering, moving from toys specifically targeted at girls to Stem toys. The toy options for girls should go beyond pink, dolls and dressing up so we can cultivate their enthusiasm and inspire them to grow up to become engineers.”
Experts Say Employers Still Unfamiliar With Competency-Based Degrees.
U.S. News & World Report (12/8, Friedman) reports on “competency-based education, meaning the curriculum focused around developing clearly defined skill sets to master a given discipline.” At institutions such as Capella University, “students like Parsons progress through a degree at their own pace. As in many competency-based programs, they move quickly through the lessons they already know from past experience, complete assessments and projects along the way to demonstrate their skills and spend more time on material they aren’t familiar with.” According to experts, “while employers are generally more accepting of online degrees…many are still unfamiliar with competency-based education.”
Study Finds Children Increasingly Less Likely To Earn More Than Their Parents.
The Los Angeles Times (12/8, Etehad, Kitroeff) reports that a new study from “researchers from Stanford and Harvard universities and UC Berkeley” shows that since the 1940s, “it has become less and less likely that children will grow up to earn more than their parents.” According to the research, while children born in 1940 “had a 92% chance of taking home more income than their parents,” someone born in 1984 “has just a 50% likelihood of making more than his or her parents,” which means “only about half of 30-something Americans earn more than their parents.” The Times says this is the “first study to offer hard evidence of a trend that dominated the presidential election and helped fuel the election of Donald Trump: The American dream is more elusive than ever.”
Russian Nuclear Underwater Drone’s Existence Confirmed By Pentagon.
Popular Mechanics (12/8, Mizokami) reports a leaked report that Russia has created a new nuclear-capable underwater drone has been confirmed by the Pentagon. The unit, known as “Status-6,” is believed to be able to travel up to 6,200 miles underwater at up to 56 knots. The unit is believed to be able to have “a multi-megaton thermonuclear bomb payload,” and could also carry a bomb equipped with Cobalt-60 which would “prevent anyone from using the attack zone for approximately 100 years.” The article concludes that while the unit “sounds so horrible, so devastating, and so completely over the top it is difficult to process that someone would actually want to build such a thing,” “unfortunately for all of mankind, it appears that it is very real.”
Apple Files Patent Containing Details For Folding iPhone, Wraparound Display.
AppleInsider (12/8, Campbell) reports Apple has filed a patent application for “Electronic Devices With Display and Touch Sensor Structures,” detailing “a touch capable portable device made substantially of glass, sapphire or other suitable transparent material.” The proposed device displays “curved glass sidewalls under which are disposed touch sensitive displays, a design that echoes a wraparound display patent assigned to Apple earlier this year.” The designs are similar to those employed by Samsung’s Galaxy Edge series and include “touch layers on all surfaces, including the rear wall.” BGR (12/8, Smith) reports Apple also says the wraparound display “could actually contain virtual buttons under the screen,” potentially replacing “the physical buttons we have on the left and right side of current iPhone models, including the mute and volume rockers, and the standby button.”
The International Business Times (12/8, Victorino) reports a key part to the application “is the mention of folded configurations.” Apple “inventors stated that the touch-sensitive smartphone should be operable whether it is in an open configuration or in its folded state.” Although the company noted “design elements that could facilitate the folding mechanism of the device, it is still to early to tell if the Cupertino giant is indeed planning to release a foldable iPhone with a curved screen,” particularly because the upcoming iPhone 7s or iPhone 8 is predicted “to launch with a different type of redesigned technology using edge-to-edge OLED display.”
Chevron Announces 2017 Capital Budget.
Reuters (12/7) reports that on Wednesday, Chevron announced a 2017 capital and exploratory investment budget of $19.8 billion, a 42 percent drop from 2015 outlays, and an expected 15 percent cut from 2016 capital investments. In a statement, Chevron CEO John Watson said, “This is the fourth consecutive year of spending reductions,” adding, “This combination of lower spending and growth in production revenues supports our overall objective of becoming cash balanced in 2017.” The company’s “2017 capital budget will target high-return investments and completion of major projects under construction, Watson said.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Trump’s EPA Choice Pruitt Under Fire For Climate Change Skepticism.
Politico (12/8, Nelson) reports that President-elect Donald Trump officially announced the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator on Thursday morning, stating that he will “reverse the trend” of an “out-of-control anti-energy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs” and also “restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.” Fox News’ Special Report (12/8) said Pruitt faces criticism as a “noted climate change skeptic.” The Independent (UK) (12/8, Johnston) cites American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) CEO Dr. Rush Holt comparing “disbelief in global warming to denying the existence of gravity.”
Appearing on CNN’s Situation Room (12/8), House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff called Pruitt a “terrible choice” for the position because it “basically tells not only the country but the rest of the world, we are giving up our leadership” and “diminishing our standing in the world when it comes to advocating for the planet [and] combating climate change.” The Washington Times (12/8, Sherfinski) provides similar coverage.
The Huffington Post (12/8) reports that two Senate Democrats are “advising their fellow Democrats to use Scott Pruitt…as a rallying point for the party.” Sen. Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that Pruitt’s impending nomination is a “matter of corruption” considering he has spent “his entire life in service” representing the oil and gas industry. Likewise, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Pruitt’s nomination represented a “full-fledged environmental emergency,” and that Pruitt’s nomination process will be “litmus test for every member of the Senate who claims not to be a denier.” The Hill (12/8, Henry) reports that Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Pruitt’s nomination “is like filling up the swamp with one of the most determined and aggressive advocates for the fossil fuel industry, who has never thought for a moment about fighting for clean air or clean water, has certainly never considered being a champion of our planet.”
The AP (12/7, Biesecker, Murphy) reports that Pruitt’s pending nomination was hailed by mining and oil industry and some Republicans. “Scott Pruitt is a businessman and public servant and understands the impact regulation and legislation have in the business world,” said Jeffrey McDougall, an oilman who serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) also praised Pruitt and his record of fighting “against unconstitutional and overzealous environmental regulations.”
NYTimes Analysis: Auto Industry “Bracing” For Chances Under Trump Administration.
The New York Times (12/8, Vlasic, Subscription Publication) reports the auto industry “is bracing for another wholesale makeover” as “perhaps no industry could be affected in more ways” by President-elect Trump. The Times says possible changes include tariffs on imported vehicles and parts, fewer subsidies for electric cars, and “policies that discourage” moving products from US to Mexican factories. “Scaling back of fuel-economy goals,” according to the Times, “could also influence” which types of vehicles are produced.
EU To Initiate Legal Action Against Seven Member States For VW Emissions Scandal.
In continuing coverage, Reuters (12/8, de Carbonnel) reports the European Union Thursday started legal action against seven member states “for failing to police emissions test cheating by carmakers after the Volkswagen diesel scandal.” The EU has accused Germany, Spain, Britain, and Luxembourg of failing to enforce penalties on VW like those levied in the US over its use of defeat devices. Germany had predicted “Brussels to stop short of confronting the EU’s leading power and by far its biggest car manufacturer, at a time when the unity of the bloc is being challenged by eurosceptics and Britain’s vote to leave.” In response to the action announcement, German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt stated: “Germany is the only European country to have implemented a comprehensive list of measures to prevent unauthorised use of defeat devices.” Bloomberg News (12/8, Bodoni) reports Spain’s Justice Minister Rafael Catala at a press conference in Brussels told reporters that the country’s industry ministry has already begun “probes that eventually may end in sanctions” for VW’s Spanish arm, Seat. MarketWatch (12/8, Dendrinou) reports the commission said Greece, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic had even “failed to introduce sanctions for emissions violation into their national law.”
The New York Times (12/8, Kanter, Ewing, Subscription Publication) said Britain and Germany also performed illegal action “by refusing to share information their national authorities had gathered while investigating ‘irregularities’ concerning nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel cars made by Volkswagen and other manufacturers.” The AP (12/8, Press) reports the countries in question have two months to respond to the allegations, according to the European Commission.
Deutsche Welle (DEU) (12/8) also featured a similar report.
FTC Seeks More Information On VW Destroyed Phones. Bloomberg News (12/8, Fisk) reports the US Federal Trade Commission is launching further questions at VW officials concerning the possibility of destroyed mobile phones containing evidence “amid the probe of diesel vehicles rigged to cheat emissions tests.” In a court filing, FTC attorneys said: “In the context of the massive scandal at the center of this case, 23 lost or bricked phones is a bright red flag, especially when they include phones that belonged to important individuals,” adding that the FTC “should not have to accept VW’s assurance that there is nothing to see and that we should just move along.” VW maintains the company witness in question, Manuel Sanchez, “has already answered thousands of questions during the deposition and further questioning isn’t warranted.” The FTC believes, however Sanchez “was either unprepared or otherwise unable to provide responsive information.”
German Motor Transport Authority Investigates Porsche For Defeat Devices. Reuters (12/8) reports German officials have launched an investigation to determine “whether Volkswagen’s (VW) sportscar brand Porsche used software to disguise exhaust emissions.” Germany’s Motor Transport Authority, KBA, said it was probing VW “software to see whether it could measure the angle of a car’s steering wheel.” The investigation could be awkward for “VW (VOWG_p. DE) group chief executive Matthias Mueller, who headed the Porsche brand prior to getting the top job.” A spokesman for Porsche “said steering wheel movements were not used to detect whether a car was undergoing an emissions test.”
Extension Of Computer Science Education Week Urged.
Verizon Foundation Director Justina Nixon-Saintil and Project Lead The Way CEO Vince Bertram write in U.S. News & World Report (12/8) to praise the activities during Computer Science Education Week, while advocating for the program to extend beyond one week of the school year. The op-ed says, “Students, especially under-represented female and minority students, begin to make decisions about the subjects they like and feel confident about in elementary school, so it’s critical to encourage and inspire them to explore STEM subjects at an early age.”
School Bus Industry Implements Connectivity.
School Transportation News (12/6, Gray) reports that “the future of pupil transportation lies in connectivity,” and “enhanced technologies through telematics are here today and they’re here to stay.” Thomas Built Buses President and CEO Caley Edgerly said, “Other bus manufacturers offer this level of telematics as an add-on.” Edgerly added,. “But we realize that connectivity and the ‘connected bus’ is the future. So we install Zonar components at no additional cost right here in our factory. In our Saf-T-Liner C2 school buses, we connect Zonar telematics directly into our proprietary multiplex wiring system. This connectivity enables the system to monitor multiple chassis and body features, providing real-time, actionable data. And, unlike other telematics products, ours can be configured and reconfigured over the air without rewiring.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Education Department Grants $8M For Science Test Improvement.
• OU Works To Get More Female Students Interested In Science Fields.
• Army Research Center Physicist Recognized By AAAS.
• Researchers Develop Jumping Robot Inspired By Africa’s Bush Baby.
• Education Leaders At Summit Address STEM Achievement Gap, Workforce Needs.
• IBM Begins Watson For Cybersecurity Program.
• Apple Posts Strongest Market Growth In Two Years.