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January 28, 2017



President Trump has yet to nominate the heads of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, or the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, "Leaders of Leaders of several of the nation's top science organizations say they've been shunned" by the administration, according to the Washington Post. The Associated Press, reports that the administration "is scrutinizing studies and data published by scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency, while new work is under a 'temporary hold' before it can be released." 

Meanwhile, a cluster of White House statements and executive orders shed light on policies affecting engineering:

  • An America First energy statement says the administration will "embrace the shale oil and gas revolution" and its "estimated $50 trillion" in untapped reserves, using "revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure." It's "also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry. . . .  Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. . . .President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water."
  • An Executive Order Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects says "All agencies shall give highest priority to completing such reviews and approvals by the established deadlines using all necessary and appropriate means."
  • A memorandum on manufacturing calls for departments and agencies "to support the expansion of manufacturing in the United States through expedited reviews of and approvals for proposals to construct or expand manufacturing facilities and through reductions in regulatory burdens affecting domestic manufacturing."
  • A pipeline memorandum calls for a plan "under which all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipelines . . . use materials and equipment produced in the United States, to the maximum extent possible." 

TEN QUESTIONS that Science magazine says await an answer from the White House: Will Trump influence the 2017 budget? How will R&D fare in Trump’s first budget? Who will advise Trump on science? Who will run the science agencies? Will science be part of an infrastructure plan? How many of Obama’s science initiatives will survive? Whither space exploration? Will the United States remain part of ITER (the international fusion research reactor in France)? How far will the regulatory rollback go? Will statistical agencies be targets?

'REBUILD U.S. ARMED FORCES': That's the declared intent of a presidential executive memorandum launching a 30-day Readiness Review. This will be followed by a proposed FY 2017 budget amendment and a FY 2018 budget request to Congress with levels "necessary to improve readiness conditions and address risks to national security." The memo also calls for reviews of the nation's nuclear posture and missile defenses.

HEATHER WILSON TAPPED AS AIR FORCE SECRETARY: President of the South Dakota School of Mines  since 2013, Wilson is a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico (June 23, 1998-January 3, 2009), and chaired the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence. She earned a B.S. from the Air Force Academy and an M.Phil and D.Phil in international relations as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.  

A PLEDGE NOT TO POLITICIZE: Responding to a query from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), President Trump's nominee as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross replied in a letter that he believes "science should be left to scientists," CNN reports. Commerce includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which studies climate change, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. "Barring some national security concern, I see no valid reason to keep peer reviewed research from the public," Ross wrote. "To be clear, by peer review I mean scientific review and not a political filter."

OBAMA'S 'LAST OFFICIAL ACT': Less than an hour before President Trump was sworn in, his predecessor signed the Talent Act of 2017, which codifies the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program, which encourages "successful entrepreneurs, executives, and innovators to join the government and work in close cooperation with government leaders to create meaningful solutions that can help save lives and taxpayer money, fuel job creation, and significantly improve how the government serves the American people." Wired has a tick-tock on how the Fellows Program became law. 


HOUSE PASSES BIPARTISAN ENERGY R&D BILL: Members sometimes at loggerheads, including fellow Texans Lamar Smith (R) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) joined in sponsoring HR 589, setting Department of Energy policy "for science and energy research and development programs . . National Laboratory management and technology transfer programs . . . ." Among other things, the bill authorizes Energy Innovation Hubs, which some conservatives want to eliminate, keeps ARPA-E going, and calls for better R&D coordination and collaboration across organizational boundaries. ARPA-E and the Office of Science, for instance, should collaborate on promising fusion projects. It also calls for DOE to explore use of exascale computing "to advance a broad range of science and engineering . . . ."

McCAIN'S PENTAGON REFORMS: Restoring American Power is Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain's plan to strengthen and modernize the Defense Department. It seeks "greater congressional support and funding to experiment with new approaches that can deliver greater capabilities to our warfighters more quickly and cost effectively." It notes the need for "additional funding for research and development. These resources should be focused on developing new capabilities in certain priority areas, including unmanned and autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, robotics, cyber and space capabilities, hypersonic munitions, directed energy, electronic warfare, nanotechnology, and lightweight protective materials." The blueprint also notes that the Pentagon "has significantly reduced research and development dedicated to space systems" and says: "Over the next five years, space must be a priority for additional funding." 

A CALL FOR EXAMPLES OF DoD-FUNDED RESEARCH: Note to engineering deans and department chairs. The Coalition for National Security Research, of which ASEE is a member, is seeking short summaries of university research supported by the Pentagon and armed services to help with advocacy on the Hill. Please send your examples to m.matthews@asee.org.


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock. Click here for an interactive version.


ENGINEERING ON THE GIANT SCREEN: Director Greg MacGillivray's Dream Big: Engineering Our World may soon be coming to an IMAX or giant-screen cinema near you. In USA Today, he asks, "How do you take 2,000 years of engineering history and make an engaging film?" He claims to have succeeded. Check out a trailer and decide. 

SHOW AND TELL: Hoping to build a case for support from the GOP-led Congress, the National Science Foundation and the Coalition for National Science Funding, which includes universities and professional associations, are jointly sponsoring a Capitol Hill event called The Arc of Science: Research to Results. It will feature "researchers whose work provides insights, products, or services to American citizens, businesses, and government" and "hands-on demonstrations of technologies directly stemming from NSF-funded research." 


In a statement, ASEE urges that bipartisan support for engineering education and research continue and, if possible, increase. "As educators, we are now training the next generation of designers, builders, and inventors. Robust support for engineering education at all levels and investment in research and development is essential to ensure an entrepreneurial, innovative, secure, and economically vibrant United States for years to come." Read the full statement.


HOKIE NATION’S NEW DEAN. Virginia Tech tapped Julia Ross as the first woman to lead its engineering school. Currently  dean of engineering and information technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she is a member of the executive committee of the Global Engineering Deans Council. At Virginia Tech, Ross will hold tenured appointments in chemical engineering and engineering education. Her research focuses on biofilm and infection formation in the cardiovascular system, She is a member of the executive committee of the Global Engineering Deans Council, and the principal investigator of an NSF-funded K-12 initiative that exposes local high school students to engineering through their existing science and technology classes. Engineering’s grand challenges, she says, “will require new approaches to research and new structures for education.” - By Mary Lord

RIT GETS A RAPPER. In a decade as engineering dean at the University of Michigan, David Munson increased faculty, raised the school’s prestige, and even made a promotional rap video. Starting July 1, the professor of electrical engineering will come off a sabbatical to become president of the Rochester Institute of Technology. “I share your passion for creativity, innovation, and collaboration,” Munson, 64, said to the 1,000 people who gathered for his introduction. He stressed the importance of inclusion and his vision for working at the intersection of arts and technology, mentioning his desire to build a major performing arts facility—something RIT lacks. Munson received ASEE’s 2016 Benjamin Garver Lamme Award. By Mary Lord


MORE FOREIGN-AID TECH: USAID should accelerate its transformation "into a global leader and catalyst in applying science, technology, and innovation to developing-country challenges," a new Academies report says. It should strengthen "host countries’ institutional capacity to apply science, technology, and innovation in their own development." The agency is urged to make it a priority to scale up successful interventions and "[e]xpand investments in science, technology, and innovation that engage and empower women." Read the report. 



The annual ASEE Engineering Deans Institute (EDI) provides an opportunity for engineering deans- and only deans- to gather and discuss the crucial issues facing their schools, colleges, and profession. For a few days, a single-stream program fosters dialogue between deans, industry leaders, and those in important roles in research and government. Deans share best practices, learn about career prospects for their graduates, and develop a voice for engineering education and the role of engineering in society. Social activities and plenty of time for conversation encourage the cultivation of relationships and an intensely rewarding experience.

Early registration rates end March 10, 2017. Click here for more information.

INTRODUCING PRISM PODCASTS: This new feature, produced by Nathan Kahl, debuted with a report on the Mobile Virtual Player, developed by students at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. Listen to this and subsequent podcasts here.

Prize-winning eGFI:  Get teens fired up about engineering with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's magazine for middle and high school students. Winner of the APEX Grand Award for Publication Excellence, eGFI combines engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers. Click here to purchase copies, For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.