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ASEE Connections

May 2018




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By Daodao Wang

A gender gap persists among engineering faculty across U.S. states (including Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico), according to the most recent ASEE Profiles of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges data. ASEE’s data-research team calculated the absolute male-to-female engineering faculty ratio. If a state were to have an equal proportion of male and female faculty, 50 percent female and 50 percent male, the ratio would be 1.0. The higher the ratio, the more unequal the proportion of male and female faculty. All states had more male faculty than female faculty. The state with the highest ratio was Hawaii with 9.6, and Puerto Rico had the lowest ratio with 3.0. The average ratio is 5.7. There is no particular difference between the east coast and the west coast, while costal states have a lower ratio than inland states, indicating a more equal proportion of male and female faculty.

Figure 1. U.S. Engineering School Faculty Gender Ratio, 2017

Table 1. U.S. Engineering School Faculty Count by Gender, 2017





Like a lot of other popular coastal cities in America, Seattle is facing an affordable-housing and homelessness crisis. Median home prices in the city jumped 19 percent in the first quarter of the year, so many residents are being priced out of the market. Meanwhile, the rate of homelessness in Seattle jumped 44 percent between 2015 and 2017. To help mitigate the problem, Seattle’s city council decided to tax local businesses—including the $736 billion giant, Amazon—to fund more housing and services to the homeless. Initially, the plan was to tax large companies $500 annually per each full-time employee to raise $75 million. But instead, the council earlier this month unanimously agreed to an amended measure of $275 per head, which will raise less than $50 million. The slimmed-down tax decision followed strong pushback from Amazon and other businesses. They argued that the so-called Amazon Tax would drive business out of Seattle and that the city was already awash in cash. The scaled-down version the council passed didn’t do much to assuage Amazon’s anger. To protest the tax, it had stopped two big expansions planned for Seattle; after the vote, it said it would restart the effort for one of the buildings, but may decide the sublet the other. The New York Times reports that Amazon’s hardball tactics in Seattle didn’t go unnoticed by the 20 finalist cities around North America that are offering tax breaks to win the company‘s planned second headquarters and the 50,000 jobs that come with it. Some 50 local officials—including some from cities on Amazon‘s shortlist, issued an open letter to Seattle citizens saying, “By threatening Seattle over this tax, Amazon is sending a message to all of our cities: We play by our own rules.”



A new study by Pew Research Center finds that a federal program that permits foreign students to remain in the United States after graduation if they’ve found temporary employment surged during the 12 years between 2004 and 2016, according to the Associated Press. In 2004, just 45,000 foreign nationals who graduated from American colleges or universities enrolled in the Optional Practical Training program, Pew found, but the total skyrocketed to 172,000 in 2016. The big jump was attributed to two factors: both presidents George W. Bush and Barrack Obama extended the length of stay for STEM majors, and American tech companies stepped up hiring of engineering and science majors, the AP says. One of the coauthors told the news service that the program is a big reason American schools attract so many foreign students. U.S. universities have the world’s biggest foreign population, AP notes, and those students contributed $37 billion to the economy in 2016-17. But America’s position is now in jeopardy, AP adds. Since the election of Donald Trump, foreign enrollment has been sliding—it’s down 7 percent—because of his travel restrictions on some predominantly Muslim countries and tougher competition from Canada, Britain and Australia. Meanwhile, AP says, the Trump administration is thinking of scaling back the temporary employment program.





Materials science researchers at the University of Connecticut recently showed for the first time that it’s possible to manipulate mechanically the properties of atomically-thin materials to boost their performance. The team, led by Michael Pettes, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, improved the performance of an ultra-thin semiconductor material—a six-atom-thick bilayer of tungsten diselenide—by stretching it, or subjecting it to strain. It then exhibited a 100-fold increase in photoluminescence. It’s a material that’s never before shown that much photoluminescence. The feat could lead to the design of faster computer processors and more efficient sensors. Ever since researchers at Britain’s University of Manchester isolated graphene, a one-atom-thin material that’s exceptionally strong, flexible and conductive, scientists have been focusing on the potential of other atomically-thick materials. That’s because, for all of its super powers, graphene makes a poor superconductor because it doesn’t have an electron band gap. The best superconductors have a wide band gap, which makes it easier to turn a flow of electrons off and on, an essential property for creating the binary computer codes used in transistors and integrated circuits. So engineers have been looking at other two-dimensional and atomically-thin materials that may prove superior to both graphene and silicon. Strain engineering has been seen as a potential way to boost the performance of these materials, and the UConn engineers proved it was a correct assumption.



A jumping spider can leap six times its body length from a standing start—the most a human can manage is around 1½ body lengths—and the force on its legs at takeoff can be up to five times its weight. Mechanical engineering researchers at the University of Manchester wanted to get a better understanding of the spiders’ biomechanics to help them invent a new class of agile micro-robots that could move in ways that are currently impossible to design using existing technologies. So they took a Phidippus regius, or Regal Jumping Spider—nicknamed Kim—and trained it to jump different heights and distances on a manmade platform in the lab. The team recorded Kim’s jumps using ultra-high-speed cameras and high-resolution micro-CT scans to create a 3-D model of the spider’s legs and body structure in exact detail. The researchers learned that the spider uses different jumping strategies depending on the task it’s trying to accomplish. For shorter, close-range jumps—more effective for capturing prey—Kim uses a faster, lower trajectory that requires more energy but shortens its flight time. For longer or higher distances, Kim jumps in a very efficient manner to cut down the amount of energy needed. But questions remain. It’s long been known that spiders use internal hydraulic pressure to extend their legs, but the results showed that while Kim can move its legs hydraulically, it does not need the extra power from its hydraulics to jump.






OK Go is a rock band that’s gained a big online following for its clever one-take music videos that often incorporate some engineering elements. Its raucous 2010 This Too Shall Pass video of a Rube Goldberg-type contraption, created with help from MIT Media Lab graduates, has garnered more than 59 million YouTube views. So when lead singer Damian Kulash met AnnMarie Thomas, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, after a TED conference, they hit it off, kept in touch and vowed to try to collaborate one day. That day’s come. Thomas runs a research group at St. Thomas called the Playful Learning Lab that helps PK-12 students and their teachers create fun, hands-on engineering projects as teaching tools. She and Kulash’s band, working with St. Thomas’ engineering school, have now created OK Go Sandbox, an online portal that uses the band’s videos as pegs to let students and teachers explore STEM concepts. Each video includes a challenge designed to analyze the video via problem solving. For instance, the This Too Shall Pass video focuses on the roles of simple machines in complex structures.



The College of William and Mary’s Robert Noyce Scholarship Program recently received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to recruit and train some of its students as mathematics and science teachers, according to the Newport News & Daily Press. The money, which will be allocated over a five-year period, aims to increase the number and diversity of STEM graduates who become teachers. The goal is to train and place 33 new teachers in high-need school districts, largely in the cities of Hampton, Newport News and Williamsburg. William and Mary tells the newspaper that it wants to attract top STEM students to teaching careers, help those recruited maintain a commitment to teaching, and develop their ability to connect with diverse communities. The Noyce program is well-suited to meet the NSF’s goals, Paul Heideman, a biology professor who is the program’s principal investigator, tells the paper. “We recruit math and science majors, then we give them experiences that are likely to make them interested in going to teach in high-need schools and staying to teach in high-need schools.”





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The Journal of Engineering Education (JEE) editorial team is considering changes to our strategic plan, processes for publishing articles, and formats for articles. We would like to gather input from members of the engineering education community to help better inform these decisions. Please complete this survey to provide your feedback: https://bucknell.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eyCOONACR64LPDv. The survey is short and should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.


One of the activities planned to mark ASEE‘s 125th anniversary is EEin25, the first-ever ASEE video contest. Undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students may submit a 90-second video on where engineering education will be in 25 years at ASEE‘s 150th Anniversary in 2043. Click here to find out more. Click here to learn about other activities commemorating 125 Years at the Heart of Engineering Education.




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