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ASEE Connections

August 2017




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The top three engineering fields for Native American students during the decade from 2007 to 2016 were, in order of preference, mechanical, civil, and electrical. The lowest three fields were engineering sciences and engineering physics, engineering management, and mining engineering. Native Hawaiian students chose the same top three fields but in a different order: civil, mechanical, and electrical. The bottom three fields were petroleum, biological and agricultural, and mining. This information is based on bachelor's degrees awarded and comes from ASEE's annual survey Profiles of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges.

Table 1.

Table 2.



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A bipartisan group of senators has waded into an internecine battle in the U.S. solar industry over whether the International Trade Commission should slap high tariffs on imported photovoltaic cells and panels. ITC hearings on the complaint filed by Georgia-based manufacturer Suniva begin this month. Suniva, which filed for bankruptcy in April, claims American manufacturers have been harmed by a growing number of imports. It's asking the commission to impose a tariff of 40 cents per watt and a minimum price of 78 cents per watt on foreign-made panels. According to the Financial Times, that would effectively double their price in the United States. Suniva is supported by Solarworld, a German company that operates in the U.S. and has also filed for bankruptcy. However, the Solar Energy Industries Association opposes the tariffs and claims they would be a blow to the fast-growing industry. The association and several other manufacturers say the problem isn't imports; Suniva and Solarworld failed, they say, because they didn't produce the larger, 72-cell panels the utility industry wanted. The senators' letter was organized by New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich and North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis. The American solar industry employs 260,000 workers, and the letter argues that "increasing costs will stop solar growth dead in its tracks, threatening tens of thousands of American workers . . . and jeopardizing billions of dollars in investment in communities across the country." The association says tariffs would place 88,000 jobs at risk, The Hill newspaper reports. But Suniva issued an analysis that says if the tariffs were enacted, at least 114,800 new jobs would be created. The ITC will make its decision on Sept. 22. If it thinks trade penalties are necessary, it will propose remedies to the White House by mid-November.


Environmental enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency in the first six months of the Trump administration is lagging the pace set by the previous three administrations, a new report says. According to Reuters, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) found that Trump's EPA has collected 60 percent less in civil penalties from polluters. During the first six months of this administration, the Justice Department collected $12 million in civil penalties involving 26 civil lawsuits. In their first six months: the Obama administration collected $36 million in 34 cases; the Bush administration collected $30 million in 31 cases; and the Clinton administration collected $25 million 45 cases. Eric Schaeffer, EIP executive director and the former head of the EPA's civil enforcement department, told Reuters: "If this drop-off in environmental enforcement continues, it will leave more people breathing more air pollution or swimming in waterways with more waste." An EPA spokesman told Reuters that the findings were unfair because it can take months for a consent decree to be lodged. Meanwhile, the New York Times, in a lengthy article based on interviews with more than 20 current and former EPA employees, claims that Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who now heads the agency, has cloaked his actions in secrecy as he works to roll back EPA regulations with input from industries the agency regulates.




Class Cut Up

Cheaper, safer subtractive machining tools let students leap quickly from designs to prototypes and products.

By Chris Rogers

While 3D printing seems to get the most press on revolutionizing the engineering classroom, I have been most excited by the growth of smart subtractive machining. At the top of the list is the laser cutter, with its ability to rapidly and accurately cut out complicated shapes with ease. No other tool has had more of an effect on our students' projects. While it is still relatively expensive, the price continues to drop and air handling systems continue to improve. The great part is that it is pretty difficult for students to get hurt using laser cutters—unless they disable the interlocks, in which case anything is possible, or attempt to cut materials that catch on fire or release toxic gas. Impressively, these tools rarely break down, despite being used by a few hundred students a year. Finally, they are fast. Students can iterate a design multiple times in an hour (unlike with 3D printers), and some of the new ones, like Glowforge (glowforge.com) will cut along any lines you draw, removing the need to learn CAD. As a result, design classes are no longer limited to drawing on paper and can proceed to cutting out prototypes.

My favorite part is the variety of what students can produce using laser cutters, from etchings of their favorite photos on Christmas tree ornaments to jewelry, puzzle pieces, or even bottle openers. I've watched students cut long, parallel grooves to make hinged joints, cut multiple iterations of ever shrinking airfoils to make a glider wing, and fashion a small ukulele out of chipboard (using the hinge technique to build the sides that need to bend in the shape of the top and bottom). They make a lot of boxes—boxes that are glued together, bolted together (screws and nuts), or simply flanged together; boxes for robot bodies, for gardens, including one for a totally automated hydroponic garden, for a musical instrument, or simply to store stuff (all with engraved walls, of course).

Other subtractive machining tools, such as milling machines, lathes, and routers, have in the past been dangerous and required oversight and training. Recently, however, companies like Othermill (othermachine.co), Roland (MDX line), Nomad (Carbide3D.com), and Carvey (inventables.com) have begun making small mills in which a computer provides much of the oversight and training. Those are the names I'm familiar with from our lab, but a number of companies are jumping into this market. The Othermill even has handles, making it easy to carry, and intuitive driver software. The Carvey uses Easel, one of the easiest CAD/CAM programs I have encountered. These devices require a little more setup and make a little more of a mess than the laser cutter, but the software is continually improving and I was told there is no reason you cannot have your Othermill cutting horizontally while placed on a trash can.

For woodworkers, including me (it's my favorite material for making musical instruments), routers, too, are now connected to computers, ranging from the Shopbot and Handibot (shopbottools.com) to the Shapeoko (carbide3d.com) to the VCarve (inventables.com) or to the rather inventive Shaper Origin (shapertools.com). They are not quite as portable as some of the small mills and are a lot messier. They also tend not to have safety interlocks-although many have protective housings if you want to spend a bit more money, or you can just make your own.

So how far are we from students simply checking out a mill for the night to cut their own part or circuit board, or dorm rooms that come with a Glowforge laser cutter? Imagine what classes will look like when tool safety is really no longer a concern. It won't be too long before these tools will have full torque control (no need to calculate feeds and speeds) and safety stops—from the lids with interlocks to the always amazing SawStop (sawstop.com) table saw. (Take a look at the Discovery Channel video in which an inventor puts his finger in the saw.) There even are some Kickstarter companies (like Pocket NC) that offer computer control over a five-degrees-of-freedom cutting tool.

The things we can make in class are becoming ever more complex, with less worry about students hurting themselves. Imagine what the 2025 student will be able to do for a weekend project.


Chris Rogers is a professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University. crogers@tufts.edu




Stepping Up or Standing By?

Some faculty members are blind to gender inequities. While others see them, only a few respond.

By Elizabeth E. Blair, Rebecca B. Miller, Maria Ong and Yevgeniya V. Zastavker

Undergraduate faculty members are well positioned to help correct a stubborn gender imbalance in engineering by promoting equity and women's persistence. Yet they often receive little comprehensive training in gender equity or institutional incentives to advance engagement and learning among all students, not just those who traditionally succeed.

Research suggests that sociocultural factors, including implicit biases held by faculty and peers, contribute to educational disparities. To learn more about how STEM instructors conceptualize their roles, responsibilities, and teacher identities in relation to gender inclusivity in engineering, we interviewed 18 faculty members who taught undergraduate gateway engineering courses (mathematics, physics, and introductory engineering) at three colleges. Our analysis adopted a feminist, post-structural perspective, suggesting that while identity categories (such as woman or professor) may appear fixed and "natural," they are actually being made and remade continuously through everyday language and activity. This process can create opportunities for broader social change by making new ways of understanding social relationships, identities, rights, and duties socially legitimate. In paying attention to language, we explored how faculty members constructed teacher identities and justified particular pedagogical behavior.

We identified three positions that faculty members took as they talked about students' gender expression in relation to their role as teachers. In the first position, gender blindness, faculty members denied perceiving their students' gender. They claimed that gender has no meaning or influence in their classroom. As a consequence, they justified business as usual in their classrooms and disclaimed responsibility to promote equity. In the second and most frequent position, gender acknowledgment, faculty members observed specific gendered trends in students' preparation and performance in college STEM courses. Yet again they justified failure to act to promote gender equity in their teaching practice by suggesting that these gender differences were beneficial for women (for example, predicting that women who persist despite bias would be more committed to engineering) or arguing that actions to support gender equity fall outside their duties as faculty members. One participant explained, "[I]t's just a fact that more high school guys come out better prepared for math and physics than high school girls. So there's nothing we can do there."

In the third and least prevalent discursive position, gender intervention, faculty members identified current teaching and institutional practices as impairing women's STEM persistence and recounted their own moves to disrupt bias in their classrooms. One participant described intervening when students divided group project tasks along gender-stereotyped lines—men worked in the shop while women created a presentation—by privately addressing the pattern with the women. As with many of the equity interventions faculty members described, this approach diverges from best practice; it puts the burden on female students alone to monitor and change their behavior instead of engaging the whole class in dialogue.

As campaigns to promote gender equity have gained traction in universities, discourses on gender equity have become accessible to many faculty members. However, familiarity with equity issues may not be sufficient to spur meaningful change: In most instances faculty in this study rejected individual responsibility to intervene to promote equity. These findings illuminate the pernicious nature of systemic gender bias: As overt sexism has become less culturally acceptable in STEM, subtle discourses and everyday interactions still perpetuate systemic inequalities.

Departments need to establish everyday practices that promote access and equity as part of the expected duties of faculty members. Faculty members should undertake sustained professional development and change their pedagogy to make sure a wider range of students can succeed in engineering.


Elizabeth E. Blair is a visiting assistant professor of education and youth studies at Beloit College, Rebecca B. Miller is an advanced doctoral student at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, Maria Ong is a senior research scientist and evaluator at TERC (formerly Technical Education Research Centers), and Yevgeniya V. Zastavker is an associate professor of physics at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. This work was supported by Olin College and by the National Science Foundation under grant 0624738. This article was adapted from "Undergraduate STEM Instructors' Teacher Identities and Discourses on Student Gender Expression and Equity," published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education.




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COVER:  AI—China’s great leap forward in artificial intelligence.

FEATURE: PRESIDENT—Profile of ASEE President Bevlee Watford

FEATURE: COKE—How Coca-Cola copes with diminishing supplies of fresh water.




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