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

Leading the News

VW Pleads Guilty In Emissions Scandal.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10, Ewing, Boudette, Subscription Publication) reports on the guilty plea entered by Volkswagen in Federal court Friday in response to its charges of “emissions deception,” thus taking “a big step toward resolving its legal problems in the United States.” In Europe, on the other hand, VW’s “troubles may be just beginning,” the story says, as it comes under “an expanding criminal investigation but also thousands of lawsuits from consumers demanding recourse.” The story contrasts American and European legal systems and regulators, portraying US regulators as strident over the past couple years in their pursuit of corporate wrongdoing – at least for foreign companies – and the European courts as weak when it comes to consumer restitution.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10, Spector, Colias, Subscription Publication) reports VW agreed to the terms of the plea agreement earlier this year, which include a $2.8 billion fine in exchange for the resolution of the DOJ investigation, as well as another $1.5 billion civil penalty.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10) and Fox Business Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10) also report.

Higher Education

Students Will Help Military Solve Problems In New Course At University Of Southern Mississippi.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12, Ciurczak) reports that starting this summer, the University of Southern Mississippi will begin offering a class called “Hacking for Defense,” in which students will help solve “problems for the military and federal national security organizations.” The class “isn’t about breaking into military computers, it’s about finding new solutions — or hacks — to the military’s problems, said Chase Kasper, assistant vice president for research, technology transfer and corporate relations.”

Stocks In For-Profit Colleges Rise Due To Delay In Rule Enforcement.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12, Mitchell, Banerji, Subscription Publication) reports that shares in for-profit colleges are rising after the Education Department said last week that it will put off enforcing rules drafted by the Obama Administration that could have shut down many for-profit institutions due to high debt levels among former students.

States Increasingly Tie Public University Funding To Performance.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/11, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that some states are telling public universities to prove they are worth the investment. In Kentucky, lawmakers are expected to approve a new budget formula that links university funding to student outcomes, while in Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson approved a funding model that will increase funding to schools who are able to keep students on track toward graduation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 33 states where funding is tied to performance.

Tennessee Governor Pushes To Expand Free Community College Incentive.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12, Burke) reports Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam “has emerged as an unlikely leader of the free tuition movement.” Three years ago and with Haslam’s advocacy, Tennessee became the first state to offer free community college to new high school graduates, and free career and technical education to all residents regardless of when they graduated high school. Haslam is now calling for the expansion of free community college to nearly all adult residents without post-secondary degrees or certificates.

Pennsylvania State Schools’ Enrollment Declines Alarm State Lawmakers.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12) reports western Pennsylvania taxpayer-supported state universities have reported ongoing enrollment declines. The number of state universities “operating in close proximity has long made some policymakers uneasy,” but with state-owned universities “now reeling” from the enrollment declines, the issue “has gained new urgency.” Some state lawmakers argued Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, and Lincoln University are “siphoning students from the 14 state-owned schools.” At a state Appropriations Committee hearing this month, state Sen. David Argall “seemed flabbergasted by actual and projected enrollment numbers accompanying Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2017-18 state budget,” which projected a student increase of 16,158 by the 2021-22 year. The budget also predicted a mere 143 student increase at the 14 State System of Higher Education universities, despite the schools’ significantly lower tuition costs. State System leaders launched a review and expect to make recommendations on the future of the schools “that could include consolidation, mergers or even closure of a university.”

Arizona Summit Law School Pursues Affiliation With Private, Nonprofit Institution.

The Arizona Republic Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10) reported Arizona Summit Law School, a for-profit institution founded in 2004, once had “bar passage rates of 97 percent but has seen its percentages drop to 25 percent among first-time test takers.” The school signed an affiliation agreement with Bethune-Cookman University, a private, nonprofit school in Florida, in hopes of benefiting from its academic support services and marketing. The two schools would also benefit in their shared “objectives of diversifying the legal profession.” The affiliation must be approved by the American Bar Association, Arizona Board of Private Postsecondary Education, and other accrediting bodies. Arizona Summit’s parent company, InfiLaw Corp., “has been controversial in legal circles.” In December, ED revoked Arizona Summit sister school Charlotte School of Law’s Federal student loan eligibility. Law school watchdogs and legal experts claimed Arizona Summit admitted too many students and then changed its curriculum, two factors that may have resulted in the bar passage rate decline.

Safe Zone Webinars
In March and April ASEE offers 3 new FREE Safe Zone Ally training webinars to help faculty, staff, and students build knowledge and skills to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals. Topics include LGBTQ concepts and terminology, STEM climate, intersectionality, and tips to disrupt discrimination in the classroom. Register here for these limited-space opporunitites.

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Research and Development

Autonomous Truck Technology Could Revolutionize Long-Hauling Within 10 Years.

NBC Nightly News (3/11, story 8, 2:25, Diaz-Balart) broadcast on “how jobs of the future are changing,” focusing on long-haul trucking. According to the story, about 3.5 million people in the US drive rigs and delivery trucks, and “long-haul truck drivers earn an average of $40,000 a year,” without a college degree, “for the hard work and long hours.” With automation technology now reaching the point where the first autonomous trucks could be on the market by 2020, according to freight transportation analyst Ravi Shanker, over the next decade carriers will implement automation quickly across the fleet. The broadcast also includes comments from experts who say autonomous trucks will never replace human drivers in urban areas or other more complex routes.

NSF Announces Funding For Wireless Research Hubs.

FedScoop Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports that the National Science Foundation last week announced a new program called the Platform for Advanced Wireless Research “to build wireless-technology research hubs across the country, backed by nearly $100 million in pledged funding and resources.” The initiative, “led by the NSF’s US Ignite initiative and Northeastern University, will bridge relationships between cities, tech companies and academia so they can develop technologies like 5G wireless networks, fiber backhaul, advanced networking systems and Internet of Things applications.”

NASA Testing SpaceX Crew Dragon’s Life-Support System.

SPACE Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12, Mathewson) reports that last week, NASA announced Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/8) that engineers from the agency and SpaceX are in the process of testing the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule’s life-support system. NASA explained that SpaceX constructed a prototype spacecraft “as close to the specifications of operational spacecraft as possible,” called the ECLSS Module, to test the spacecraft’s crew systems. SpaceX’s Nicolas Lima explained, “Unlike relying solely on computer simulation and analysis, the ECLSS Module allows us to test and observe Crew Dragon’s life support systems as they autonomously control a real cabin environment.”

Worcester Polytechnic Institute To Test Oil Spill Cleanup Technology.

The Worcester (MA) Telegram & Gazette Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/11, O’Connell) reports the Worcester Polytechnic Institute will test the “Flame Refluxer” in “real life conditions” next week in Mobile, Alabama in coordination with the US Coast Guard. WPI Fire Protection Engineering Associate Professor Ali Rangwala said the blanket-like device, which was developed with a $1 million grant from the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, is intended to increase the rate at which oil burns, making an oil spill clean up “five to 10 times faster.” Rangwala is optimistic the technology can be easily replicated on a larger scale because it has no moving parts. The Telegram & Gazette reports BSEE Public Affairs Officer Holly Fowler’s statement that the funding of the WPI technology is part of its effort to “be prepared” for oil spills.

Industry News

EV Incentives Under Fire In Several States.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/11, Tabuchi, Subscription Publication) reports on the “state-by-state fight” attack on “the economic incentives that have helped electric vehicles gain a toehold in America.” The story notes the actual or proposed elimination of things like tax credits for buying new EVs at the state level comes at a time when “the Trump administration is widely expected to roll back stringent federal regulations on vehicle emissions, one of the biggest environmental legacies of President Barack Obama,” in the next few weeks.

Engineering and Public Policy

Texas Central Railway’s High-Speed Rail Project Makes Good Impression On Transportation Officials.

McClatchy Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10, Wise, Tate) reports that “Texas is closer than ever to building the first high-speed train in the United States, thanks to President Donald Trump’s fascination with these transportation projects and a well-timed pitch to his administration” from state officials and private partners. One of the members of the wholly private Texas Central Railway, Drayton McLane Jr., “met recently with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in Washington,” not to seek taxpayer assistance like the “high-speed rail projects in California and the Northeast” but to get the “green light from the agency Chao oversees,” which is “what the $10 billion Texas Central Railway really needs.” McClatchy points out that after their meeting, Chao later mentioned Texas Central Railway at the National Governors Association conference as an example of alternative funding mechanisms for transportation projects.

Court Asks Trump Administration To Clarify Position On Fracking Rule.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10, Cama) reports the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit asked the Trump Administration on Thursday to clarify “if it plans to defend an Obama administration rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal land.” Since the inauguration, the Administration “has told neither the court nor the public how it plans to deal with the fracking rule.” The court has given Trump until next Wednesday to file a statement.

Maryland House Passes Fracking Ban. The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10, Hicks) reports Maryland’s House of Delegates “passed legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing” on Friday. The law still faces “a major hurdle remains in the Senate, where” Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Senate committee reviewing it, “has said she sees little sense in trying to move the measure to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk unless both legislative chambers can approve it with veto-proof majorities.” The Baltimore Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10, Dresser) reports without the veto-proof vote, Conway believes “it would be better to just extend a moratorium on the method” instead.

ASCE Report Card Gives US Infrastructure D+.

The CBS Weekend News (3/11, story 9, 2:10, Morgan) broadcast that “nationwide, the aging pains are clear across all 16 areas of infrastructure reviewed – roads, aviation infrastructure, and dams all stayed at a D,” according to the “new report” card from the American Society of Civil Engineers on the state of the nation’s infrastructure, which gave the country’s infrastructure overall a D+. The country’s bridges “managed” to eke out a C+ despite the fact that “one in 10 are considered structurally deficient.” Rail, on the other hand, “showed improvement thanks to private investment in freight, jumping from a C+ to a B.” The CBS Weekend News further pointed out that ASCE calculates it would take “an additional $2 trillion in infrastructure spending…by 2025 just to get to a grade of B,” or “twice what the Trump Administration is calling for.”

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/11, Reilly) reports the D+ overall “grade might not surprise the Americans affected by toxic water and failing dams, or who face more mundane problems like Boston’s aging subway lines,” because ASCE “has given US infrastructure a D or D+ in each of the six report cards it has issued since 1998.”

Leading Fiscal Conservatives Backing Trump Infrastructure Plan.

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12, Miller) reports that President Trump’s “plan for a $1 trillion program to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, railways and airports has won early support from leading budget hawks and anti-tax conservatives because it is expected to be more about regulatory reform and alternative financing than a federal spending spree.” Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform described the infrastructure program “as part of the biggest reduction of regulations envisioned” since President Reagan, and Doug Sachtleben of the Club For Growth “spoke encouragingly about what Mr. Trump has signaled about the plan, such as the use of public-private partnerships.”

Idaho National Lab Hosts STEM Event For Girls.

The Idaho Falls (ID) Post Register Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/10, Johnson) reported the Idaho National Laboratory hosted its “10th annual My Amazing Future event” on Friday, giving eight-grade girls “the chance…to interact with researchers, engineers and scientists in science, technology, engineering and math fields.” The lab’s manager of university partnerships Michelle Thiel Bingham said the event is meant to inspire “students to pursue a STEM education and career is critical to the future of INL, Idaho and the nation as a whole.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Students Compete In Robotics Competition.

Orange County (CA) Breeze Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/11) reports that more than 1,000 students from 13 states are participating in the FTC Super-Regional Championship in Tacoma. A key component of the competition is the Edison International sponsored robot doctor station, where students get troubleshooting help from engineers. Southern California Edison engineer Ana Hafiz said of the students that “Not only was I blown away by the students’ enthusiasm, I was also encouraged by their problem-solving skills, work collaboration and respect for each other.” The article mentions that Edison is also supporting “the March 30-April 1 FIRST Robotics Orange County Regional in Irvine in an effort to help students discover the rewards of a career in science, technology, engineering or math.”

University Group Helping Raise Interest In Aerospace Among Younger Students.

The Daily Illini Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12, Bradley) reports that University of Illinois students, through an initiative called Illini Aerospace Outreach (IAO), are helping to raise interest in aerospace-related studies through events for local elementary, middle, and high school students. IAO President Elijah Chen explained that the organization is currently helping students from a local high school “build a rocket that will be ready for the AIAA…rocket race at the Engineering Open House.”

Students In Idaho Convert Truck To Electric Vehicle.

The Miami Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/11) reports that Community School students have recently completed turning a 1997 Chevy S10 into an electric vehicle. The article says that “the students created the car to be used as an educational tool for students around the valley, highlighting the environmental impact of electric vehicles, or EVs, and how the cars work.”

Amazon Contributes $15,000 To Delaware School’s Robotics Program.

Delaware State News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/12, Iplenski) reports Amazon partnered with Polytech High School of Delaware last summer and is now “largely offering financial support in order for students to become familiar with the skills and assets necessary to participate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) related occupations.” Amazon contributed an initial $7,500 in October and another $7,500 last week to Polytech’s robotics program. Electronics instructor James Bartolomeo said the school used the first contribution “to buy the robotics competition field, robotics parts to build the robots, the control systems, the field elements, everything to run an event and have a competitive team.” He said the school plans to use the second grant “to continue to broaden and grow the team.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

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