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

Leading the News

ED: Over 800 Schools Risk Losing Federal Funds After Failing Gainful Employment Test.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Douglas-Gabriel) reports the Education Department released a report on Monday in which it claimed 803 of the 8,700 vocational education programs failed to meet “gainful employment” thresholds, meaning program graduates’ annual loan payments exceeded eight percent of their total earnings or 20 percent of their discretionary income. For-profit colleges accounted for 98 percent of the 803 schools and are at risk of losing federal loans and grants accordingly. The report identified another 1,239 programs with a high number of graduates paying between 20 and 30 percent of their discretionary income on annual loan payments. The Post quotes Education Secretary John King saying, “Far too many hard-working students are graduating with certificates or degrees that have little or no value in the job market, and then they’re stuck with thousands of dollars in student loans with no way to repay them. When a student invests time and money to attend college, they need to be confident that it is a sound investment in their future, not a liability.” The Post also quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “It’s clear that low performance is concentrated in the for-profit sector. Many of these programs leave graduates with substantial debt and very low earnings. On the other hand, it is clear that nearly all programs at community college provide an exceptional value.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Binkley) reports says the report is ED’s “first round of data measuring whether graduates of 8,700 career programs earn enough money to repay their student loans.” Under ED’s gainful employment rules “programs are considered failing if their graduates on average pay at least 12 percent of their yearly earnings on student loans, or 30 percent of their discretionary income.” The piece reports ED officials said that “their data is further proof that community colleges, which generally fared well in the ratings, offer a better value than for-profit colleges.” The AP quotes Education Secretary John King saying, “We are giving career colleges an opportunity and in some cases a warning to improve the quality of their programs. Far too many hardworking students are graduating with certificates or degrees that have little or no value in the job market.” However, the AP reports the data “drew outrage from many in the for-profit college industry.”

Noting that it is “unclear whether the Trump administration will continue to enforce the regulation,” the Chronicle of Higher Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) reports that the “specifics of gainful employment were long debated after the department introduced the rule, in 2011, but in 2014 regulations were made final.”

Higher Education

Ashland University Receives STEM Scholarship Grant.

WMAN-FM Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Ashland, OH (1/9) reports Ashland University received a $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation “as part of a five-year STEM scholarship program that will provide scholarships and academic support for academically talented science students with financial need.” The money will go towards creating “a ‘Science Scholars Program’ allowing students pursing undergraduate degrees in a natural science discipline to receive scholarship and academic support designed to engage, retain and graduate these academically talented students.”

Kentucky Senate Passes Bill To Abolish University Of Louisville Board Of Trustees.

The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/5, Yetter, Wolfson) reported that, at an unscheduled meeting of the Kentucky state Senate State and Local Government Committee, a provision to abolish the University of Louisville board of trustees was appended to a measure related to dog ownership, which then was approved by the state Senate. Under the bill, Gov. Matt Bevin can appoint all 10 members of a new U of L board of trustees. Democrats, who were “blindsided” by the move, warned the “measure that could hurt U of L’s accreditation.” The school’s accreditation body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, “recently placed U of L on probation over concerns of undue political influence” after Bevin abolished the board and replaced it with one of his own choosing, a move a court held was unconstitutional.

Volkswagen’s Schmidt Arrested BY FBI Over Emissions Scandal.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, McCoy, Baldas) reports Volkswagen executive Oliver Schmidt “has been arrested on conspiracy suspicion” related to the company’s emissions scandal, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday. By virtue of his position, Schmidt knew that VW “intentionally installed” electronic software that enabled its diesel engines to defeat U.S. auto emissions tests, but nonetheless agreed to travel to the US for meetings in which he “intended to, and did, deceive and mislead US regulators,” according an FBI filing.

WPost: Cuomo’s Free-Tuition Plan “Not Particularly Progressive.”

An editorial in the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) says that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “plan to provide free in-state tuition to many” of those in his state “is not particularly progressive,” because “its benefits would largely flow to middle- and upper-middle-class families, not to the neediest. Mr. Cuomo proposed spending $163 million to eliminate tuition payments for students who are enrolled full time in public undergraduate degree programs and whose families make $125,000 or less. The aid would come in the form of new Excelsior Scholarships, which would pay the difference between the grant aid that students currently get and the cost of tuition at state colleges.” The Post adds, “Students from low-income families already get aid packages from the federal and state governments that cover tuition costs, so the benefit would not go to them – even though they still need help.”

Chopra: Student Loan Industry May Not Boom Under Trump.

In a “Grade Point” op-ed for the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Chopra), Education Department Advisor Rohit Chopra predicts Sallie Mae and the student loan industry may not convince the incoming administration “to siphon off $20 billion” in student loans to private lenders. Chopra says stock in Sallie Mae surged by 64 percent just one month after President-elect Trump was elected, but “the incoming president’s consistent rhetoric about the squeeze of student debt on young people across the country” suggests “this bet could go badly.”

Study: Number Of Older Americans With Student Loan Debt Quadrupled In Last Decade.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Cleveland (OH), Dealer) reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau published a study in which it suggested that from 2005 to 2015, the number of consumers 60 years of age or older with outstanding student loan debt quadrupled from about 700,000 to 2.8 million. Furthermore, nearly 40 percent of student loan borrowers over the age of 65 were in default on their loans in 2015. Additionally, the CFPB stated, older student loan borrowers owed other types of debt, such as mortgage, credit card, and auto debts, in addition to their student loan debt.

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Research and Development

MIT Scientists Develop Super-light, Super-Strong Structure.

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/8) reports scientists at MIT “have figured out how to build up graphene into useful, 3-D shapes with the potential to be lighter and stronger than steel,” marking “an important step forward for the material.” The journal Science Advances published the results of the MIT study, describing “how the researchers created a porous, three-dimensional graphene material.” The new MIT study “builds on work by scientists like Andre Geim and Knostantin Novoselov, who won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for isolating graphene.”

Defense Department Tests Largest Micro-Drone Swarm.

The Military Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) reports the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office tested a swarm of 103 Perdix micro drones launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets in “the largest-ever test for the cutting-edge ‘swarm’ technology, defense officials said.” The drones were “developed by engineering students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department” and modified for military application at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.

University At Buffalo Receives Grant To Study Self-Driving Cars.

WIVB-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Buffalo, NY (1/9, Christoforos) reports the University at Buffalo received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to “study self-driving cars and questions that relate to things like safety and efficiency.” Researchers us a driving simulator to test “everything from how people respond to safety messages, oncoming traffic, and even bad weather conditions” when they’re in a self-driving car.

Car For Photojournalists Wins Design Competition.

Wired Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Marshall) reports Dillon Kane, a junior at Lawrence Technological University, won the automotive supplier Magna’s “Main Event” design competition with his car for photojournalists. It includes gear compartments, ladder steps that allow photographers to “quickly scale the car and catch images from up high,” and a roof compartment with a camera-equipped drone. The car also “is studded with sensors and cameras to record information from the surrounding environment” and emits its own light.

Military UAV Swarm Demonstrates Collective Decision-Making, Adaptation.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) hosted a video showing a swarm of 103 Perdix UAVs executing several missions which “demonstrated collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.” The drones were launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets, according to Aviation International News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Carey). The US Defense Department said the demonstration was one of the largest on record and was carried out in October at California’s Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake facility. Pentagon Strategic Capabilities Office Director William Roper said the Perdix units “are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature.”

The Military Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) reports the drones were “developed by engineering students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department” and modified for military application at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.

Risks Assessed For SpaceX’s Use Of Deep-Cryo LOX.

On its website, Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) features a video about SpaceX’s use of “deep-cryo liquid oxygen” (LOX). While the idea has existed for 60 years, “no one has had the guts to actually fly rockets regularly with deep-cryo LOX” due to potential risks when the super-cooled gas expands. The video explains using the fuel requires a “tricky balance,” and notes that September’s launch malfunction was related to the deep-cryo LOX. “You could imagine how quickly this thing could get out of control,” said Georgia Tech associate professor of aerospace engineering Mitchell Walker in a phone interview. Using the fuel “requires nerve,” and now they “have to find a way to make it safe,” Walker added.

Energy From Ambient Sunlight May Be Possible Alternative To Battery Power For Pacemakers, Research Suggests.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Galvin) reports that research suggests “energy from ambient sunlight may be a possible alternative to battery power for pacemakers and other medical implants.” The findings Share to FacebookShare to Twitter were published in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering.

Industry News

Ford CEO Discusses Plans For Self-Driving Cars.

CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) reports Ford Motor CEO Mark Fields told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” at the Detroit auto show that the company hopes to have an autonomous vehicle with “no gas pedal” and “no steering wheel,” with no need for a passenger to operate the vehicle “in a predefined area” by 2021. Fields said, “In our industry, the word autonomous is being used very, very liberally. There’s different levels of autonomy.” Fields explained Ford is seeking a “Level Four vehicle in 2021,” which the automotive and aerospace engineer association SAE International defines as a self-driving vehicle that uses an automated system for “all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.”

In an interview with TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9), Fields said Ford’s core business will remain designing and building vehicles, but as ownership becomes less important to individuals, “fleet-based offerings might become the best way to continue growing its business,” TechCrunch said. Fields said Ford is also open to expanding its partnership with Amazon to make Alexa part of the in-car experience.

The Houston (TX) Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Ramirez) reports Ford also showcased its “City of Tomorrow” in Detroit, which “involves improved walkability, autonomous vehicles, and advanced, high-speed mass transit.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) also features a video interview with Mark Fields.

Engineering and Public Policy

Republican Resolution Targets EPA’s Methane Rules For Oil, Gas Industry.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Subscription Publication) reports that Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) has introduced a resolution that would allow Congress to strike down the EPA’s new methane standards for the oil and gas industry by using the Congressional Review Act. The Congressional Research Service projected last month that Congress could use the act to repeal final rules submitted to lawmakers “on or after June 13,” however, the methane rule was published in the Federal Register on June 3, “meaning Congress could run into a procedural obstacle if it takes up Perry’s legislation.”

Kentucky Bill Aims To Encourage State Coal Use.

Platts Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) reports Kentucky lawmakers “are trying to revive a tax incentive to encourage electric utilities and industries to burn more of the state’s thermal coal.” State Representative Jim DuPlessis, chief sponsor for the measure, “said Monday the timing of the legislation could not be more auspicious with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump and the GOP firmly in control of Kentucky’s governorship, House of Representatives and Senate for the first time in decades.” The commonwealth “still gets about 90% of its electricity from coal, down about 95% a few years ago.”

Ex-NRG CEO Crane Calls For Bottom-up Clean Energy Movement.

EnergyWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Klump, Subscription Publication) reports former NRG Energy CEO David Crane, “a longtime green energy evangelist,” is “pitching a vision that sees clean energy backers cultivating support through colleges and universities, health care providers, and spiritual or religious organizations.” Crane on Friday said the groups represent “natural allies” for clean energy that could appeal to new constituents. The climate movement must “get to some of the people who are more skeptical,” he said. Crane wrote last week that Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry, and Thomas Pyle are “the Four Horsemen of the Climate Apocalypse,” arguing that “we need to galvanize the embrace of clean energy into a bottom-up movement that spreads across our sharply divided society.”

Firm Proposes 13 Small Wind Projects In South Dakota.

Drawing form The Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) reports Prevailing Winds, which pitched a 201-meagwatt wind project last year, now aims to build 13 smaller wind projects in South Dakota ranging from 6.8 megawatts to 20 megawatts each. PUC chair Kristie Fiegen says investors are seeking qualifying facility status “which gives small wind power production facilities the right to sell their power and mandates utilities to buy the power at a certain point.”

New Vermont Governor Keeping Renewable Energy Target.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Ring) reports Vermont’s new Republican governor Phil Scott will keep his Democratic predecessor’s “long-term goal of getting 90 percent of the energy needed in the state from renewable sources by 2050.” Scott said the rooftop solar business fits well with the economic development goals of his administration. “Scott said that while he supports the renewable energy goal, communities should have a larger role in helping determine where they are located.”

Ohio State Lawmaker Argues Against Clean Energy Mandates.

Ohio state Rep. Bill Seitz writes in an op-ed for the Cincinnati Enquirer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9) that three of Ohio’s neighbors (Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia) do not have clean energy mandates and have electric rates are lower than Ohio’s. Arguing against the mandates the state recently extended by two years Seitz writes, “The lavish nature of the federal renewable energy tax subsidies renders it overkill to insist on state clean energy mandates.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Alaskan Elementary School Teaches Math, Technology Through Lego Club.

On its website, KXD-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Fairbanks, AK (1/9, Smith) profiles the Lego Club offered by Weller Elementary School in Fairbanks, Alaska. The club grants students the opportunity to study math, technology, and science in a hands-on setting and fun environment.

Nebraska Homeschooled Robotics Team Prepares For Regional Competition.

The Grand Island (NE) Independent Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/8, Reutter) reports The Pirates of Grand Island, a Nebraska robotics team comprised of homeschooled students, will on Jan. 14 compete at the Nebraska State Competition in hopes of representing the state at the FIRST Tech Challenge North Super Regional. The team is also scheduled to compete for a chance to represent Missouri in March at the Missouri State Competition. FIRST (“For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) Tech Challenges develops annual challenges announced in September for participating students, who meet in teams to develop a robot catered toward the announced challenge and its different scoring criterion.

Northern Georgia Students To Compete In Regional Robotics Competition.

The Dalton (GA) Daily Citizen Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Cobb) reports northern Georgia’s Eton Elementary School formed a robotics team last September dubbed the “Eton Bat Bots.” The team’s fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders won first place in robot design and robot performance in December and will on Saturday compete in Super Regionals in Chattanooga. Amy McClure, one of the team’s coaches, commented, “We work at the elementary level to get STEM implemented in schools.”

Iowa School District Addresses Computer Science Gender Gap.

The Omaha (NE) World-Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Sidzyik) profiles Teayanna Leytham, a high school student from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Last semester, Leytham took her first computer science course; in a class of 28 students, she was one of only three female students. Jason Plourde, a director for the school district, commented, “Computer science has been and is still a male-dominated field,” but his district is “striving to change that.” To further this goal, the school district has introduced middle-school level “exploratories,” or courses in traditionally male-dominated subjects, opportunities to attend extracurricular conferences, and summer technology programs.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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