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                                                                 June 6, 2020  



We should assume "there will be people on campus with COVID-19 infection regardless of what precautions are taken at this state of the pandemic and the level of previously infected individuals in the community," says Georges Benjamin, (far right) executive director of the American Public Health Association. His prepared testimony for a Senate hearing offers a series of recommendations for universities planning to welcome students back in the fall. Protections that are weaker than those in the surrounding community "would be a critical mistake." Among students, he adds, "the risk for serious disease is not zero." Schools must be able to undertake "effective disease containment and control" through rapid testing and contact tracing.

'RESEARCH IS LANGUISHING': Brown University President Christina Paxson vows "testing of all students and employees upon return to campus, testing for all symptomatic students and employees, and random testing of asymptomatic members of the community." Restarting federally funded research "must also be a priority." Institutions "need urgent relief to preserve research and lab infrastructure as well as to protect our research workforce." Federal help could include "additional support for major research agencies," and temporary regulatory and audit flexibility.

$1 BILLION SOUGHT FOR MINORITY SCHOOLS: Logan Hampton (third from right), president of Lane College, asked that Congress provide $1 billion in funding for historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving Institutions. He also sought a doubling of the maximum Pell Grant. "The majority of my students are black Americans and black Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19," he notes.

COMMIT TO INCONVENIENCE: Purdue Universitiy's 45,000 students, on arrival in August, "will receive a kit including face masks and a thermometer for daily temperature‐taking as well as the Protect Purdue Pledge asking for a commitment to at least a semester of inconvenience, not primarily for the student’s own protection but for the safety of those who teach and otherwise serve them." President Mitch Daniels, above left, says "I will urge students to demonstrate their altruism by complying, but also challenge them to refute the cynics who say that today’s young people are too selfish or self‐indulgent to help us make this work."

OPTING TO PROTECT POST-GRADUATE TRAINING: Amid reports that the Trump administration isconsidering temporary restrictions on Optional Practical Training, which allows international students in STEM fields to work for a U.S. employer for up to three years after they graduate,a bipartisan group of 21 House members has called on the Trump administration to preserve it intact. "As countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, China and Australia bolster immigration policies to attract and retain international students, the last thing our nation should do in this area is make ourselves less competitive by weakening OPT," they write. The lawmakers acknowledge "that some nations may seek to exploit certain international student programs for their benefit, against our national interests,and against the spirit of research in American universities. We believe there are strategic and targeted approaches to combatting those practices without weakening or suspending in full our international student programs." See a letter by the American Council on Education and below for more on this topic.


HEIGHTENED SCRUTINY OF CHINESE VISA APPLICANTS: This is one result expected from a presidential proclamation barring entry to certain Chinese graduate students and researchers, the Gibney law firm says. Effective June 1, the measure applies to graduate-level and postdoctoral students and researchers who receive funding from or who are or have been affiliated--as students, employees, or researchers--with a Chinese entity that implements or supports the "military-civil fusion" strategy. That strategy refers to "actions by or at the behest" of the People's Republic "to acquire and divert foreign technologies, specifically critical and emerging technologies, to incorporate into and advance the PRC’s military capabilities." Which Chinese institutions will be targeted has not been disclosed. The order grants the State Department discretion to revoke F or J visas of Chinese nationals currently in the U.S. That doesn't mean they would be expelled, but if they leave the United States, they won't be allowed to reenter, according to Gibney, whose practice includes immigration and intellectual property. The firm's attorneys advise Chinese who hold F or J status to "consult with program sponsors and/or immigration counsel before departing the U.S." They add: "We also expect heightened scrutiny of all Chinese nationals applying for temporary visas or immigration benefits." 

BEHIND THE RACIAL DISPARITY IN NIH GRANTS: "Black researchers applying for funding from the National Institutes of Health consistently receive lower scores than do white applicants in the first phase of the grant-application process," the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, citing new research from the University of Washington published in Science Advances. The overall award rate for black applications is 55% of that for white applications (10.2% versus 18.5%), resulting in a funding gap of 45%, the researchers found. Possible explanations: implicit racial preferences; black researchers' pursuit of "research in areas on which reviewers may not place a high priority"; "black-white differences in research productivity or impact  . . .and/or the cumulative effect of disparities experienced over a PI’s academic career."

RAPID COVID-19 DIAGNOSTICS: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say current data suggest racial and ethnic minorities bear "a disproportionate burden of illness and death" from COVID-19. On June 8, the National Institutes of Health expects to publish funding opportunities for its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) initiative, according to Lewis-Burke Associates. Learn more here. The effort is one of the five elements of the larger RADx initiative,

PFAS TRACK TO ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANUP: A National Science Foundation "special funding focus" seeks "new science and technologies for the treatment and remediation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to improve and protect public and environmental health. . . . The widespread use of PFAS in applications such as food packaging, commercial household products (e.g., nonstick pans and stain-repellant fabrics), electronics manufacturing, andaqueous film forming foams (AFFFs) used in fire-fighting has led to the contamination of soil and water. Exposure of humans to PFAS can lead to adverse health effects."  Funding comes in part from an unrestricted gift by the DuPont Co. [DuPont says that for a brief period, it manufactured PFOA, one of the PFAS family of chemicals, as a processing aid in the production of fluoropolymers.] 

DEFENSE STEM WORKFORCE PROJECTS: Lewis-Burke Associates has found two funding opportunities geared to future Department of Defense needs: The Air Force Research Laboratory's  Future Scholars for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Workforce Development Programs aim to develop “a diverse, agile, and world-class STEM workforce” to support the agency’s mission. The Office of Naval Research's STEM Education and Workforce Program seeks "a broad range of applications that improve and tailor STEM education and experiences” to meet the Navy's science and technology workforce needs. White papers must be submitted by June 12 with full invited applications due August 28. The funding opportunity announcement is available at grants.gov. Submissions should be made through FedConnect


Graduate students in science and engineering, by ethnicity, race, citizenship, and sex: 2016

Note(s) Hispanic or Latino may be any race. Graduate students includes both master's and doctoral students. Source(s) National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering, 2016. Related detailed data: WMPD table 3-1.

Disability status of undergraduate students, by age and institution type: 2016

Note(s) For disability status, those who reported any type of disability related to blindness, deafness, severe vision or hearing impairment, substantial limitation of mobility, or any other physical, mental, or emotional condition that lasted 6 months or more were classified as with disability. Age categories drawn from National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Source(s) U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS: 16). Related detailed data: WMPD table 2-6.


THE MICROBE MENACE: A National Academies workshop examined major advances in scientific, technological, and social innovations against microbial threats. Presentations and discussions explored: "detection and diagnostic tools that empower early treatment and other beneficial steps; methods and tools such as predictive modeling, digital platforms, and precision public health, and how they might be best used; methods that account for social and behavioral factors related to microbial threats; communication and structural strategies to improve access to and use of behavior change for preparedness and response; data and modeling insights for practitioners in diverse settings, particularly at the community level; models and indicators that measure the extent to which innovations are successful; and ways to stimulate meaningful collaboration and communication among multilateral organizations, national governments, the private sector, and civil society." Read the report.



ASEE's Board of Directors issued a policy statement June 2 on the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It reads, in part: "The murder of Mr. George Floyd, like that of so many others before him, was a heinous act. But it was not a singular act, or an isolated act. It was part of a pervasive pattern and practice of learned, ingrained, and automatic behaviors that have and will require persistent, consistent, and resistant action to limit and eventually reverse." By working together and in collaboration with others,, "we can contribute to advancing and sustaining the deep and wide change that will be necessary . . . ." Read the full statement. Other higher education groups also condemned the Floyd killing, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council of Graduate Schools, and the American Council on Education. Image: Twitter

REGISTER FOR CONECD: The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity holds its next conference January 24-27, 2021 in the Washington, DC region, CoNECD provides a forum for exploring research and practices enhancing diversity and inclusion of all underrepresented groups in the engineering and computing professions. Transformation of our engineering workforce will not be the result of a singular focus. CoNECD will encompass the diverse groups comprising our community, including groups based on gender (including gender identity and gender expression), race and ethnicity, disability, veterans, LGBTQ+, 1st generation, and socio-economic status. Registration is now open.  The deadline to upload your abstract is June 29, 2020.

STUDENT COLUMNIST SOUGHT: ASEE's award-winning  Prism magazine seeks a new student columnist, as our excellent Alice Dai is graduating. If you know students who have a passion for writing and strong opinions on the state of engineering education, please encourage them to send a resume, cover letter, and 2-3 writing samples (preferably published) to Prism Associate Editor Jennifer Pocock at j.pocock@asee.org. They should use the subject line "Student Columnist Application." The columnist will receive an honorarium.  


Registering for the June 22-26 conference will allow you to:

Have the opportunity to see any presentation made by an author, distinguished lectures, or plenaries 24/7 during the week of the conference;
Attend Q&A sessions, so you can interact with the presenters;
Attend workshops, business meetings, and the different orientations that usually happen at the annual meeting;
Attend/participate in the recognition and highlighting of our national award winners, and our incoming fellows, and our outgoing and incoming board members; and
Participate in our interactive exhibit hall as well as sponsor/tech demos. There will be exclusive exhibit hall times to interact with sponsors and exhibitors.

Check the website for updates.