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ASEE Connections
October 2014 Subscribe
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Engineering Bachelor’s Degrees Increase for Minority Men

The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to male minority undergraduates in engineering students increased between 2008 and 2013, with Hispanic men showing the largest growth: 49 percent. Male Native American bachelor’s degree recipients showed the least increase; up only twenty degrees from 2008. Undergraduate Asian American and African American male student bachelor’s degrees increased by 23 percent and 16 percent, respectively.






Under an agreement with National Science Foundation Director France Cordova, House Science, Space and Technology Committee staffers have made five visits to NSF offices to examine 20 grant awards that Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) found questionable. Ranking Democrat (and fellow Texan) Eddie Bernice Johnson contends in a sharp letter to Smith that nonpublic information contained in the NSF files found its way to Fox News. "I know that my staff never shared this information," Johnson writes. The news channel reported in September that a musical on climate change funded by a $700,000 grant had closed after reaching five percent of its audience and that a $300,000 grant went to a study of how people interact with bicycles. Johnson notes that Smith has asked for pre-decision materials on another 30 grants, something that "looks like a fishing expedition." She tells Smith that "your actions are sending a chilling message to the entire scientific community that peer review may, at any time, be trumped by political review." Smith, in an email to ScienceInsider, says "Our efforts will continue until NSF agrees to only award grants that are in the national interest." Science's Jeff Mervis writes: "It's hard to see a quick ending to this confrontation."


Defense Deputy Secretary Robert O. Work says $70 billion could be saved by retiring planes and ships and making "reasonable" benefit cuts, CQ reports, but Congress won't allow it.



Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have jointly issued a report containing the views of a number of experts on how to improve Pentagon acquisitions. Among the experts, Norman Augustine urges that Congress "substantially increase investment in research and in high-potential-payoff organizations such as DARPA"; J. Michael Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation at DoD, says the government should "actively engage" with university STEM programs "to generate a pipeline for future qualified T&E and acquisition professionals." Current funding does not "provide the needed magnitude to greatly affect the incoming workforce"; Katherine Schinazi, formerly at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says "little money is left to advance technologies. . . . Failures in technology research programs are to be expected and are orders of magnitude cheaper than failures once programs have gone into development or even, as is often the case with DoD programs, into production." Former Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim says "innovation in the private sector far outpaces that in DoD." Program managers "tend to point firms toward developing variants of current systems." As a result, "the prospects for cost savings arising from revolutionary new technologies are far from promising."




The Ultimate Diversity App

To Change the Face of Engineering, Change Admissions Policies

While an abundance of literature describes the virtues of precollege and recruiting programs and their potential effect on increasing the number of applications to engineering schools, little to no research informs institutional policy on important factors to consider in the engineering admissions process. Few previous studies have focused on the role of admissions policy as a potential barrier to being able to study engineering. If admissions policies have a significant role in the opportunity to become an engineer, changing such policies may play a role in increasing the representation of groups such as women and minorities in engineering.

At a midwestern public university, institutional data indicated that from 2006 through 2010, the number of women engineering applicants increased by 46 percent and correlated with increased recruiting efforts. Over that same period, however, the number of women admitted into engineering increased by only 24 percent. A mismatch in the growth rates of women applicants and women admitted was unexpected and raised questions about equity in the admissions process. A statistical analysis of the university’s engineering admissions process confirmed a gender bias, which was traced to the policy through which applications were assessed. Research-based success modeling was then used to identify key admissions factors that could produce a different result from the university’s engineering admissions policy.

These research findings (including bias and important admissions factors) were used to influence the admissions process and policy for which the college of engineering had no direct responsibility. When the researched admissions factors were reprioritized and the cutoff score for standardized math tests removed, the number of women admitted to the college of engineering increased and mitigation of gender bias was statistically confirmed. The direct impact of this research project was a change in the admissions policy at this university, which increased the number of women admitted to engineering. In addition, this work shows how modeling student outcomes can be used to inform educational practices and policies.

Modeling student outcomes has been viewed with skepticism since historically underrepresented populations could be marginalized because they are present in lower numbers and thus have little to no effect on the outcome of an overall model. This research project confirms the need to consider historically underrepresented populations individually. Although the project was conducted at a single university, many facets of the process are transferable to other institutions of higher education, such as using the same techniques to address the composition of their own student bodies and to create policies and programs for admissions, student success, and retention, which can create a broader impact in engineering.

More generally, this project shows the important role of research in policy change. The use of research to inform engineering educational policy could have a significant impact on the higher education system, when administrators understand the power of applied research and researchers understand the potential for research-informed policies to influence systemwide change.

Beth M. Holloway is assistant dean for undergraduate education and director of the Women in Engineering Program in the College of Engineering at Purdue University. Teri Reed is assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Texas A&M System and associate professor of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M University. P. K. Imbrie is director of undergraduate engineering education and associate professor in the College of Engineering at Texas A&M. Ken Reid is an associate professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech. This article is excerpted from “Research-Informed Policy Change: A Retrospective on Engineering Admissions” in the April 2014 Journal of Engineering Education. Part of this research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant EEC-0416113.







The good, ol’ sewing machine remains hard to beat for stitching together pieces of fabric and turning them into shirts, jackets, pants or any other article of clothing you may desire. But, according to the Associated Press, Propel LLC, a Rhode Island garment maker, has gotten research money from the U.S. Navy to see if there’s a better way: ultrasonic welding. That’s a process that uses sound waves to adhere two pieces of fabric to one another. Currently, one article of clothing may have to be assembled using several different sewing machines, each for a different type of stitch. It’s hoped that a welded seam could take the place of two or more different stitches and reduce the number of steps and machines needed to make a garment, ultimately cutting costs. The research’s focus is the Navy’s parka, which is expensive and hard to make, the AP says. Moreover, the news service reports, the tiny holes made by needles can cause leaks, reducing the parka’s water resistance. And tests show that welded stitches leak nary a drop. They’re also lightweight and flexible. Ultrasonic welding of clothes is not wholly new technology. Several overseas companies use it. But the U.S. military is banned by law from purchasing uniforms overseas. And the process used by foreign companies is also expensive. But if Propel’s government-funded research proves that it can develop a cost-effective version of the technology for military wear, there’s a good chance that commercial manufacturers will also eventually cotton to it.


Biofilm, otherwise known as slime, is the stuff that makes river bed stones slippery or causes plaque to build up on teeth. But a group of researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering recently proved they can reprogram biofilms into factories that produce designer nanomaterials. And like biofilms, these materials would not only be created by self-assembly, but would have self-healing properties because they are, essentially, living tissues. The Wyss synthetic biology process is called BioFilm-Integrated Nanofiber Display (BIND). In nature, biofilms are made when bacteria eject proteins that self-assemble outside the cells, creating networks of fibers -- the slime -- that pack the bacteria together in communities. It’s a safety in numbers trick. Using BIND, a protein (or proteins) with a known desired function is inserted by researchers into each cell. For instance, they added a protein known to adhere to steel to CsgA, a protein produced by E. coli bacteria. The secreted CsgA then formed networks of super tough proteins, amyloid nanofibers, that in this case also had the steel-sticking property. The team showed they could fuse a dozen different proteins to CsgA. Microbial factories have been shown to work in labs to create drugs and fuels, but this is the first time one’s been used to make materials. Researchers envision using the process to churn out new, novel materials for a range of products, from pharmaceuticals to textiles.



V. NASA and LSU’s College of Engineering Partner in Advanced Manufacturing to Support the U.S. Space Program Sponsored content

$62 million in research equipment addresses aerospace manufacturing research

LSU’s College of Engineering and the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing (NCAM) are developing advanced materials and manufacturing technologies key to the production of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and components of its next-generation Space Launch System at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, La.

To date, the state of Louisiana has invested more than $62 million in research equipment, providing LSU engineering faculty access to advance new lightweight composite and metallic materials in support of the NASA space program and adjacent industries.

“NCAM’s assets, some of the most sophisticated manufacturing equipment in the U.S., exemplify the endless opportunities for our faculty in the research realm of manufacturing,” said Rick Koubek, dean, LSU College of Engineering.

The future opportunities at NCAM will foster development of new collaboration among LSU College of Engineering research faculty and industry partners in projects intended to advance aerospace manufacturing research.




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The 7th International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD15) will explore current and future ways of thinking in the emerging field of EESD and will celebrate the ground-breaking work accomplishing in EESD since 2002. The conference will be held from June 9-12, 2015 at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Point Grey campus, overlooking beautiful Howe Sound in Vancouver, Canada. EESD15 is the premier forum for contributing to, and learning about, engineering education for sustainable development. Invitation for Abstract Submissions: Contributions should be reflective and analytical, not mere descriptions of performed activities. We welcome contributions from engineering educators and also from those outside of engineering education institutions. Descriptions of the conference themes and key questions are available on the conference web site.


Leaders at NSF and the Navy Discuss the Future of Engineering

Watch interviews with NSF Assistant Director for Engineering Pramod Khargonekar, who talks about exciting NSF projects and opportunities for ASEE members, and Rear Admiral David Johnson, who discusses the importance of technology to the U.S. Navy and where naval research is headed. The videos are part of ASEE’s Advanced Research Monitor Interview Series.



Applications for workshops and distinguished lectures may be submitted until November 2, 2014. Learn more.


The Women in Engineering ProActive Network:

(WEPAN) is holding its 2015 Change Leader Forum - Roadmap to Inclusion: Engineering Excellence for the 21st Century next June 9-11 in Broomfield Col., outside Denver. The deadline for proposals is Nov. 26, 2014.







GM: The way the auto giant handled a fatal design flaw in an ignition switch provides grist for instructors in engineering ethics.


Materials: Self-healing polymers, coatings, and concrete hold promise in fighting corrosion, closing cracks in plastic, and repairing structures – from dams to tunnels.


Curriculum: The National Science Foundation aims to overthrow outdated curricula and exclusionary practices by ‘revolutionizing’ engineering departments. 

Read last month's issue of Prism magazine





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