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Leading the News
Weather Is 80% “Go” For Thursday’s Launch Of Mars 2020 Mission
Spaceflight Now (7/27, Clark) reports that “in the first official weather outlook the planned launch this week of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, meteorologists predict an 80 percent chance of favorable conditions to allow liftoff of an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Thursday.” Friday and Saturday are the backup days for the launch, and forecasters said that there is a 90% and 80% chance of favorable weather conditions for those days, respectively.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover Passes Launch Readiness Review. SPACE (7/27, Wall) reports that on Monday, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover passed the launch readiness review, “the last big hurdle to clear before its planned liftoff Thursday from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.” The rover is scheduled to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket “during a two-hour window that opens at 7:50 a.m. EDT.” The launch “will send Perseverance on a nearly 7-month cruise to Mars, which will end with a dramatic, sky-crane landing within the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.” The “nuclear-powered rover will then spend at least one Mars year (nearly two Earth years) exploring the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero, which harbored a lake and a river delta in the ancient past.”
Campuses Across US Plan To Allow Class Outside Amid Pandemic
The Chronicle of Higher Education (7/27, Zahneis) reports that colleges “preparing for a return to face-to-face learning this fall are confronting the complex logistics of creating socially distanced teaching spaces. Eckerd College, in Florida, has a secret weapon on that front: its campus.” The grounds at “Eckerd’s 188-acre campus in St. Petersburg will allow any faculty member who so chooses to teach outside, with faculty members and students all spaced up to 12 feet apart – in the shade and with a Wi-Fi connection.” Outdoor instruction “has been floated at many campuses as a means of adding additional classroom capacity and allowing for social distancing.” Texas’s Rice University and the University of California at Davis “will hold some classes in large tents” while Amherst College, in Massachusetts, “also ordered tents, and noted in a statement that starting its fall semester earlier than usual allows the college to hold as many classes as possible outdoors.”
Students Face Tough Decision Over Taking Voluntary Leave From Colleges
Inside Higher Ed (7/27, Anderson) reports that “as colleges unveil plans for a fall semester during the coronavirus pandemic, some students have decided to put their education on pause and take a voluntary leave of absence for the semester or the entire academic year while they wait for college life to return to normal.” Reduced-capacity campuses “and operating models that place some or all courses online do not meet these students’ expectations; some worry they will get a lower standard of education that could leave them ill prepared for future employment.” However, “taking an official leave at some colleges...can be complicated – for the students and the institutions.” Students could “lose certain privileges upon return from leave, and college officials worry residence halls and other on-campus facilities could be overwhelmed if too many students on leave are allowed to return at the same time, especially if the pandemic continues to require colleges to operate lower-capacity dorms.”
Cornell’s New Engineering Dean Aims To Diversify, Modernize Programs
Diverse Issues in Higher Education (7/27, Wood) reports on Cornell’s new engineering dean, Dr. Lynden Archer, his upbringing growing up in Guyana, his collegiate career, and his arrival to Cornell University in 2000. Archer “will bring some of his teaching experiences into his new role as the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering,” saying that “[my class has] given me some initial ideas about how to perhaps engage the high schools these students are coming from to ensure that our undergraduate student body in engineering isn’t just among the most diverse in the Ivy League, but that the diverse students who matriculate in Cornell Engineering come to us really well prepared to excel.” He adds, “I believe that this is one of the keys to creating an intellectually rigorous learning environment in which students felt like they totally belong.”
HBCUs Face Difficult Reopening Decisions Over How To Best Serve Populations With Greater Risk To Virus
Politico (7/27, McCaskill, King) reports that “leaders of historically Black colleges and universities are grappling with a challenge others in higher education don’t fully share: how to reopen their campuses to a population that has proven especially vulnerable to COVID-19.” Black people “are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white people, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker.” Said Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick in an interview, “We have to acknowledge and recognize that African Americans with comorbidities have fared far worse in this pandemic than any other group. I think, for an HBCU in particular, there’s a lot of differences in terms of opening that are probably a little more accentuated because of our circumstances.” A growing number of “private HBCUs, which are predominantly located in the South, are opting for online-only instruction, university presidents and officials from the United Negro College Fund told POLITICO.”
HBCUs Grapple With Financial Disparities, Donations. Inside Higher Ed (7/27, St. Amour) reports that a donation of $120 million dollars from “the CEO of Netflix and his wife to Spelman College, Morehouse College and the United Negro College Fund in June” has rekindled old discussions “among historically Black colleges and universities...about who gets large gifts, who doesn’t and why.” It also coincided with “a pandemic-fueled recession that is rocking all of higher education, but particularly HBCUs, which are generally less resourced and have smaller endowments.” Said Ivory Toldson, professor of counseling psychology at Howard University and president of the Quality Education for Minorities Network: “For someone who has a lot of money and wants to make a donation, a lot of times in the United States, we tend to invest more in what we see as the winners.” The issue “turns into one of meritocracy versus charity, Toldson said.”
George Washington University Reverses Reopening Plan, Opts For Virtual Semester
The Washington Post (7/27, Lumpkin) reports that George Washington University “will hold undergraduate courses online for the fall semester with limited exceptions, a reversal of the school’s previous plans for a hybrid term, leaders announced Monday.” A national resurgence of the novel coronavirus, “along with guidance from public health experts and unease among faculty and students, have led campus leaders to reconsider plans for the fall.” The announcement from Thomas J. LeBlanc, the university’s president and other university leadership “comes about a month before students were set to resume some in-person instruction.”
University Of Colorado President Discusses Plans For Fall Semester
The Denver Post (7/27, Hernandez) reports that the University of Colorado “is getting ready to welcome students back for hybrid learning this fall – or at least more ready than it was last March, with COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, quarantine spaces, social distancing measures, student conduct consequences for violating public health orders and improved online education models.” University President Mark Kennedy told the Denver Post: “No one can tell you we know how this pandemic is going to unfold. We’re expecting there will be positive cases throughout the school year but have a procedure in place to keep that from becoming a broader problem. ... We’ve said many times here are our plans. What kind of a rollercoaster ride are we in for the fall?” The Post then discusses controversies involving Kennedy and how he is handling diversity in the university amid the pandemic.
White Applicants Sue UT-Austin Over Racial Bias Claim
The Houston Chronicle (7/27, Britto) reports that “two white applicants have sued the University of Texas at Austin saying they were denied admission and discriminated against because they aren’t Black or Hispanic.” Students for Fair Admissions, “described in court documents as a nonprofit that fights racial discrimination within higher education admissions, filed the suit July 20 on behalf of the applicants.” Both applicants “were denied admissions to UT-Austin for the 2018 and 2019 entering classes due to discriminatory admissions policies where race or ethnicity is considered a defining feature of the applicant, according to the lawsuit.” The applicants, “who now attend other universities in Texas, have been injured by UT’s unfair denial of their admissions and opportunity to compete ‘on equal footing with other applicants,’ the lawsuit says, but they are ‘ready to apply to transfer to UT-Austin when it stops discriminating against applicants on the basis of race and ethnicity.’”
Commentary: Universities Should Listen To Students About Ending Systemic Racism
Matthew Johnson, an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, writes in the Washington Post (7/27, Johnson) that “in the face of student and alumni protest, administrators at dozens of other universities are reconsidering mascots, statues and building names that have strong connections to white supremacy.” Johnson adds that “while it is tempting to read this history as one where higher education has bent to the whims of student protesters, the real story is one of powerful resistance.” Universities “have shown a deft ability to make reforms that still preserve inequality and exploitation in the face of well-organized student movements.” Johnson discusses “one of the most successful protests of 1970: the Black Action Movement (BAM) strike at the University of Michigan” and the university’s struggle to address its racial disparities despite student protest.
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Research and Development
Pitt Researchers Developing App Using Sound Waves To Check For COVID-19
University of Pittsburgh researchers are hoping a new app will lead to people checking for COVID-19 symptoms daily, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (7/27, Rosenblatt) reports. The application – still in the development phase and not yet released to the public – “uses sound waves to determine the likelihood the user is infected with the novel coronavirus.” The individual breathes into a mouthpiece inserted into the smartphone “while the phone’s speaker releases sound waves. Those sound waves get reflected through the human airways and sent back to the phone.” The app would ultimately give users a “risk score” that recommends their next actions. Wei Gao, a Pitt engineering professor and lead researcher on the project, said, “The point here is that we try to eliminate those easy false positives [from COVID-19 tests], so that we can prevent these guys from going to the hospital.”
Researchers Find Bioengineered Material Could Be Manufactured In Space To Protect Humans From Radiation
LiveScience (7/27, Mann) reports that “outside the Earth’s protective magnetic field, humans are exposed to many types of dangerous radiation, according to NASA. This includes damaging ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma rays from the sun, as well as superfast subatomic particles called galactic cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system.” Traditional “countermeasures, such as lead or water shielding, tend to be heavy and greatly increase the cost of a space mission.” However, researchers, in a study that was published July 8 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, found that “skin cells treated with selenomelanin were able to shrug off doses of X-ray radiation that would be lethal to a human being.” Additional “tests demonstrated that engineered bacteria fed selenium could produce selenomelanin, meaning the substance could be manufactured in space.”
NASA Finishes Preliminary Design Review Of Ground System To Support Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope
ExecutiveGov (7/27) reports that NASA “has concluded the preliminary design review of a ground system that would support a new space telescope designed to capture high-detail images depicting space.” The agency “said Saturday that its Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is designed to help scientists pursue studies that may unlock new findings on the cosmos, including what goes beyond the solar system. The ground system will link Earth’s scientists to data gathered by the new space telescope.” While collecting “data at speeds roughly 500 times beyond” the Hubble Space Telescope, Roman “is expected to generate panoramic images with the same resolution quality produced by Hubble Space Telescope but with a greater field of view.”
Russia Plans To Launch Two Communication Satellites Atop Proton Rocket Wednesday
Spaceflight Now (7/27, Clark) reports that “two satellites designed to beam radio and television broadcasts, Internet connectivity and other communications services across Russia have arrived at a launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for liftoff Wednesday on the first flight of a Russian Proton rocket this year.” The Proton rocket “is scheduled for launch at 5:27:42 p.m. EDT,” and would be the first Proton rocket to launch since December.
Boeing’s Freighter Conversion Programs See Rise In Business Amid Pandemic
Aviation International News (7/27, Polek) reports that The Boeing Company’s “freighter conversion programs have seen a surge in business since the onset of Covid-19.” The surge comes “as the severe drop in passenger flights results in a decline in belly capacity and a wealth of grounded airplanes creates an unprecedented amount of feedstock.” Boeing’s 737-800BCF and 767-300BCF “have emerged as prime beneficiaries, leaving the company searching for more production capacity at a time when the business already controls 90 percent of industry sales.” During last week’s FIA Connect event, Boeing announced two contracts: on Wednesday, Boeing said that DHL Express has ordered four 767-300BCFs, and on Thursday, the company said that Aircraft Finance Germany has ordered two 737-800BCFs.
BMW To Make Electric 5 Series As It Seeks 25 EVs Or Hybrids By 2023
Bloomberg (7/27, Rauwald, Sachgau) reports BMW will produce “electric versions of its popular 5 Series mid-sized sedan and X1 compact SUV, part of a widened push to slash carbon emissions while wrestling with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.” According to the report, “BMW intends to offer 25 electric and hybrid models by 2023, half of which will be fully electric, as part of an accelerated push into the technology to catch up with Tesla Inc.” BMW “said Monday it is seeking to reduce CO2 output per car by at least a third by 2030, and track progress via raw material sourcing, production and road emissions.”
Reuters (7/27) also reports.
Engineering and Public Policy
Senate GOP Relief Plan Would Cut Weekly Unemployment Aid To $200 Per Week
The AP (7/27, Mascaro, Taylor) reports, “Unemployment assistance, eviction protections and other relief for millions of Americans are at stake as White House officials launched negotiations late Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer on a new coronavirus aid package.” The GOP plan is “to cut the jobless boost to $200 a week as it phases out to a new system that ensures no more than 70% of an employee’s previous pay,” and “the boost would be available for up to four months to give states time to transition to the new system.” The New York Times (7/27) reports the “proposal to slash the jobless aid by two-thirds, part of a Republican plan they began rolling out on Monday afternoon, is likely to be among the most bitterly contested issues in bipartisan negotiations over the next round of pandemic relief.” According to the Times, “Many Republicans detest the supplement to state jobless aid, put in place by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, arguing that it is a disincentive to returning to work because it exceeds what some workers can earn in regular wages.”
The Washington Post (7/27, A1, Werner, Stein, Kim) reports House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer were set to speak with Chief of Staff Meadows and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Monday evening “as they rush to begin negotiations...bumping up against a tight deadline before expanded jobless aid expires later this week.” The Wall Street Journal (7/27, A1, Duehren, Subscription Publication) reports the proposed cut to the emergency jobless benefit will be the focus of negotiations. Schumer said, “Now our Republican friends are saying a bunch of things, some say they don’t want to expand it at all, some are saying, ‘Let’s give a 30% pay cut to these folks.’ Well, they’re losing their jobs through no fault of their own, and they should get a pay cut?”
Politico (7/27, Levine, Bresnahan) reports that Senate Majority Leader McConnell “outlined the pillars of the proposal, which will include another round of $1,200 in direct payments, more money for the Paycheck Protection Program, a reduction in boosted federal unemployment benefits, liability protection and more than $100 billion for reopening schools and colleges.”
CNN (7/27, Mattingly) reports on its website, “For most recipients of the $600 federal unemployment benefit enhancement, the final checks went out a few days ago,” and yet Republicans are, “just on Monday, releasing their opening bid, which...Trump’s administration is already moving away from in order to pitch a scaled-back proposal Democrats have already rejected.” Bloomberg (7/27, Dorning, Davison) reports, “Replacing the expiring $600-a-week supplements with a percentage of a worker’s former wages could take most states eight to 20 weeks to implement, after they receive Department of Labor Guidance,” according to the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.
The AP (7/27, Rugaber) reports, “As Congress and the White House resume their efforts to agree on a new economic aid package, evidence is growing that the U.S. economy is faltering. And so is concern that the government may not take the steps needed to support hiring and growth.” USA Today (7/27, King, Wu), Reuters (7/27), The Hill (7/27, Carney), and Axios (7/27, Allassan) are among the other outlets reporting.
EPA IG Investigating New Fuel Efficiency Rules
The New York (NY) Times (7/27, Davenport, Friedman) reports the Office of Inspector General for the Environmental Protection Agency has asked EPA officials to turn over documents related to the new fuel efficiency standards. The Times reports the auditors are determining whether the Trump Administration crafted rules “consistent with requirements, including those pertaining to transparency, record-keeping, and docketing, and followed the E.P.A.’s process for developing final regulatory actions.” The Times says the new rule would require automakers increase fuel economy standards by 1.5% per year, down from the Obama Administration’s target of 5% annual growth.
Reuters (7/27, Shepardson) reports Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Tom Carper (D-DE) had asked the IG in May to make sure the EPA followed procedures. Reuters says the new guidelines were developed by the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Additional coverage was provided by CNN International (7/27, Wallace, CNN), The Hill (7/27, Beitsch), Law360 (7/28, Subscription Publication), and The Verge (7/27).
National Science Foundation Awards $1.4 Million Grant To Study Shortage Of K-12 Teachers, Particularly In STEM Subjects
The Houston Business Journal (7/27, Subscription Publication) reports the National Science Foundation has given a $1.4 million grant to a research team led by Rice University that will cover the lack of teachers in K-12 and in the STEM fields. The project team is “working on existing research and theories regarding teacher development and retention, and the project will investigate the relationship between motivation, leadership skills or social networks and teacher retention and persistence.” The research will start Oct. 1 “and is estimated to stretch until 2023, according to the abstract.”
Opinion: Students With Disabilities Are Invisible In STEM Education
In a new series from Education Week ’s (7/27, DeWitt) Finding Common Ground called “Teacher Letters: Voices From the Field,” Peter DeWitt, future math teacher Joe Schneiderwind, and associate STEM professor Janelle Johnson write about the “blind spots in STEM education” when it comes to students with disabilities. They write that “society, parents, and other students need to understand that students with disabilities are as capable of academic achievement as any other student given the proper accommodations that allow for success.” They conclude that “individuals with disabilities also suffer the effects of discrimination, and there are actions we can and must take to dismantle the systemic barriers to educational opportunity for all our students.”
Monday's Lead Stories
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