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                         December 7, 2019       




Final passage is still uncertain

By voice vote, the Senate passed the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act, authorizing $255 million per year in institutional aid to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), including Hispanic-serving and tribal colleges. MSI leaders had been waiting anxiously for the vote since the previous authorization expired September 30. The Senate agreement, reached by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and ranking Democrat Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, amended legislation previously approved by the House to include the Faster Access to Federal Student Aid Act of 2018, an Alexander priority. This measure allows for the elimination of 22 questions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As Lewis-Burke reports in a Policy Update, the bill also increases the mandatory funding available for the Pell Grant program in fiscal year 2020 and beyond. The amended version must still be approved by the House before heading to the president's desk. While House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.)--left photo, above--"is supportive of the amended bill," the new tax-related provisions mean it must be approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, which "is said to have some hesitations," L-B says. This makes final passage uncertain. 

As broken down by original House sponsor Alma Adams (D-N.C.), the bill provides $85 million for HBCUs; $30 million  for  tribal  colleges  and  universities; $100  million  for  Hispanic-serving  in-stitutions; and $15  million  each  for  predominantly  Black  institutions, Alaska  Native and  Native  Hawaiian-serving   institutions,  and  Asian  American  and  Native  American  Pacific  Islander-serving  institutions.

FAMILY LEAVE FOR A SPACE FORCE: A deal is close to being concluded that would allow Congress to enact the 2020 defense authorization bill, several news outlets report. It would establish a Space Force, elevating the Air Force's Space Command into a separate service like the Marine Corps. It would also grant 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal workers, both military and civilian. As Fox Business reports: "The agreement would trade a major expansion of benefits to federal workers for a legacy initiative" sought by President Trump. House Armed Services chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has said the House "could potentially vote on the bill as early as next week," according to CQ.

ENDGAME ON SPENDING BILLS: With government funding due to expire Dec. 20, congressional appropriators are exploring the option of passing the least controversial spending bills along with another short-term continuing resolution for the remaining bills, Lewis-Burke Associates reports. "The Trump Administration supports passing a smaller package of bills at a time rather than one massive package containing all 12 bills." However, if Congress and the Trump Administration decide to keep all the bills bundled together as leverage for final negotiations, another short-term CR extending into early February would be necessary to avoid a government shutdown. Two other scenarios are a government shutdown (least likely, says L-B, and completion of all 12 fiscal 2020 appropriations (also not likely). See a Lewis-Burke rundown of issues still in contention. 


U.S.-CHINA COLLABORATION: The National Science Foundation's Engineering Directorate and the National Natural Science Foundation of China"s Departments of Engineering and Material Sciences and Geosciences are encouraging research by U.S. - Chinese teams on Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS). The two themes are: "to significantly advance understanding of [food-energy-water] systems with advanced modeling that investigates the coupled biotic, abiotic, engineered and social systems and the couplings and feedback mechanisms among FEW system components"; and "to develop and examine innovative solutions that address specific FEW system challenges and enhance FEW systems' resilience and sustainability." Learn more.

PACIFIC OVERTURE: NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate and the State Department's Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs are supporting supplemental funding requests for active awards funded by the NSF Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and Smart and Connected Communities (S&CC) programs; and "early-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) proposals exploring early-stage, untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches building on prior success in activities related to smart and connected communities and/or transitioning to practice research that is relevant to communities." The research must involve one of the Smart Cities partners in 10 southeast Asian countries. Find out more.

STEM ED RESEARCH: NSF's Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) program "seeks to fund research-career development activities on topics that are relevant to qualitative and quantitative research methods and design, including the collection and analysis of new qualitative or quantitative data, secondary analyses using extant datasets, or meta-analyses. . . . Early and mid-career faculty new to STEM education research, particularly underrepresented minority faculty and faculty at minority-serving and two-year institutions, are encouraged to submit proposals." ECR: BCSER "especially welcomes proposals that pair well with the efforts of NSF INCLUDES." Learn more

AI AND RADIOLOGY: A February 2020 Food and Drug Administration public workshop will discuss "emerging applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in radiological imaging, including AI devices intended to automate the diagnostic radiology workflow as well as guided image acquisition.  Interested stakeholders will work together to identify benefits and risks associated with use of AI in radiological imaging and best practices for validation of performances. For more information and to register see the workshop website.

NATIONAL ROBOTICS INITIATIVE: It's been revised. The departments of Energy and Defense are no longer partners, but the program still anticipates spending a total of up to $32 million on 40 to 60 awards per year. "The focus of the NRI-2.0 program is on ubiquity, which in this context means seamless integration of [collaborative] robots to assist humans in every aspect of life." Learn more.

GENOMIC DATA CRUNCH: The Department of Energy has $5 million for R&D on new computational tools and software for analyzing the masses of genomics and other data generated by today’s systems biology research. "The research will focus on data from plants and microbes relevant to DOE missions in energy and environment, including laying the scientific groundwork for cost-effective production of biofuels and bioproducts as well as enhancing understanding of the biological dimensions of environmental cleanup, among other topics." Learn more.

DARPA'S LUMOS: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Lasers for Universal Microscale Optical Systems (LUMOS) program seeks "to transform optical microsystems through the co-integration of direct-emission materials, such as InP, GaN, and GaAs, with low-loss dielectric materials such as silicon and silicon nitride to create accessible, manufacturable systems. LUMOS also seeks to leverage new concepts in nanophotonic structures, non-reciprocity, and nonlinear processes, as well as alternative materials that possess strong electro-optic and novel properties, such as thin-film lithium niobate, III-nitrides, and other advanced compounds that enable new component functionality. Finally, LUMOS seeks to illustrate the benefits of complete component integration by pursuing DoD-relevant system demonstrations with compelling gains in performance and significant size, weight, and power (SWaP) advantages over current state-of-the-art solutions."  Find out more at opportunity HR001120S0008 on grants.gov.


Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF)

Source: NCSES

Although total R&D spending in 2017 by the United States ($483 billion, enumerated in constant 2010 purchasing power parity dollars) exceeds China’s R&D expenditures ($443 billion), China’s annual investment in experimental development surpasses that of the United States. China’s spending on experimental development has grown rapidly in recent years to over $370 billion in 2017, nearly $70 billion greater than the United States. Source: NCSES


COLLEGES SEEK TO PRESERVE OPT: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that nearly 120 colleges have signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against an attempt to end Optional Practical Training, which allows recent international graduates to remain in the United States for a specifed period to work. A group of tech workers has filed suit to kill the program,  saying it takes jobs from Americans. The colleges counter that doing away with OPT could undermine the global competitiveness of American higher education. "Currently, one in five international student-visa holders is actually taking part in the work program. Growth in OPT participation was a rare bright spot in an otherwise sobering picture for international enrollments," the Chronicle says.

'A BAD IDEA': A short essay published online by the Center for Strategic and International Sudies contends that Congress made a mistake in enacting the Wolf Amendment, which bars NASA from collaborating with China in space. Named for former GOP Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, who chaired the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the space agency, the amendment "has neither discouraged Chinese space ambitions nor altered China’s behavior on human rights—it has only muddled our relationship with China and created an opening for a challenger to NASA’s leadership role in space exploration." Meanwhile, a paper published by Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology says with "high confidence" that "China’s government is not investing tens of billions of dollars annually in AI R&D, as some have suggested." 


MINI-MEMOIRS: Available for purchase and as a free pdf, this book, published by the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES) and the Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC),.offers a series of first-person accounts written by prominent women engineers and engineering educators around the world. Find it here.

ELEVATOR ELOQUENCE: See a video of the 2019 NSF Engineering Research Centers' Perfect Pitch Competition and try to guess the winner.


Dec. 2019 Webinar – Insights from NSF GOLD on Increasing Underrepresented Minority Recruitment and Retention: Tune in for a free webinar on Dec. 10 at 1:00 PM, ET, during which GeoDES and Sparks for Change teams supported by NSF GOLD (GEO Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity) will share insights and lessons learned from their innovative professional development projects developed to increase the engagement, recruitment, and retention of URM faculty in the sciences. Register now: http://bit.ly/31nQjPL


ASEE is seeking applications and nominations for the position of Editor‐in‐Chief for the journal Advances in Engineering Education. The anticipated start date for this volunteer position is July 1, 2020, with applications due this fall. Learn more here.

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