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Leading the News
Waymo To Launch Driverless Robo-Taxi Service In Phoenix Area
Reuters (10/8) reports Waymo on Thursday will “relaunch and expand its fully automated, robo-taxi ride hailing service in Phoenix, rebooting its effort to transform years of autonomous vehicle research into a revenue-producing business.” Waymo “said it will start offering rides in minivans with no human attendant on board to current members of its Waymo One service in Phoenix.” Within a few weeks, Waymo will “relaunch service for a larger, 100 square mile swath of the Phoenix area, using Pacifica minivans made by partner Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.” Waymo has not said whether it plans on expanding it robo-taxi service beyond Phoenix.
The Washington Post (10/8, Siddiqui) reports Waymo CEO John Krafcik in a blog post “said the company will gradually roll out its driverless service in the region, beginning with those who are already part of its self-driving car service, Waymo One.” Krafcik wrote, “Later this year, after we’ve finished adding in-vehicle barriers between the front row and the rear passenger cabin for in-vehicle hygiene and safety, we’ll also be reintroducing rides with a trained vehicle operator, which will add capacity and allow us to serve a larger geographical area.”
Additional coverage by the Associated Press (10/8, Bussewitz).
DOJ Suit Alleges Racial Discrimination In Yale’s Admissions Process
The AP (10/8, Balsamo) reports the Justice Department sued Yale University in federal court in Connecticut Thursday, alleging that the university “discriminates based on race and national origin in its undergraduate admissions process, and that race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year.” The suit comes “about two months after the Justice Department publicly accused Yale of discrimination, saying its investigation found that Asian American and white students have ‘only one-tenth to one-fourth of the likelihood of admission as African American applicants with comparable academic credentials.’”
Reuters (10/8) says the suit “followed a two-year investigation that followed a complaint by Asian-American groups about the New Haven, Connecticut-based university’s practices.” Yale must comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “to receive federal funding, which the government said includes more than $630 million annually from the Department of Health and Human Services alone.”
The Wall Street Journal (10/8, Korn, Gurman, Subscription Publication) calls the suit an escalation of the Administration’s examination of the race and admissions policies of elite colleges. The Justice Department has supported a similar legal effort to end affirmative action at Harvard University, and the Education Department last month announced it would investigate racism at Princeton University.
The New York Times (10/8, Hartocollis) reports Yale President Peter Salovey said in a statement that the Justice Department’s allegation of racial discrimination was based on “inaccurate statistics and unfounded conclusions,” several of which the university attempted to correct before the department filed suit. Salovey added, “Our admissions practices are completely fair and lawful. Yale’s admissions policies will not change as a result of the filing of this baseless lawsuit.”
The Washington Post (10/8, Svrluga) reports Ted Mitchell, the president of the American Council on Education, said in a statement, “With its action today, the Justice Department has unapologetically aligned with the repeated, failed attempts by misguided advocacy groups to prevent colleges and universities from considering race as one factor in a holistic admissions review,” despite four decades of US Supreme Court precedent.
Also reporting are Politico (10/8, Stratford), USA Today (10/8, Aspegren), and the Hartford (CT) Courant (10/8, Murdock).
College Promise Programs Face Cuts, Changes Amid Pandemic
Inside Higher Ed (10/8, St. Amour) reports that “college promise programs have increased in popularity in recent years.” Now, “amid a pandemic and a recession, they might be on the chopping block.” Higher education groups “are asking for at least $120 billion in future COVID-19 relief packages from Congress.” Some states “are making, or at least predicting, budget cuts in the billions, some of which will have to come from higher education systems.” Some experts “predict that college promise programs, which commit to helping students cover the cost of college, will likely be OK.” Student financial aid funding “tends to not get hit as hard as state appropriations for higher education during recessions, and also tends to recover more quickly, said Robert Kelchen, associate professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.”
Colleges Lack Uniform Standard For Public Reporting As They Publish COVID Dashboards
Inside Higher Ed (10/8, Redden) reports that “absent a national standard for how higher education institutions should report COVID-19 cases on their campuses, many colleges have taken to publishing information on cases on online dashboards.” However, “observers say the dashboards vary greatly in terms of completeness and transparency.” A lack of transparency or completeness” can deprive students, employees and families of crucial contextual information they need to make decisions about their safety and make it hard to make comparisons across institutions.”
Students Adjusting To First Semester Of College Amid Pandemic
The New York Times (10/8, Fazio) reports that “across the country, millions of first-year students are adjusting to college during a pandemic.” That means classes “conducted mostly online, dinners in dorm rooms and a hard time getting to know professors and peers.” The first semester of college “is challenging even in normal times, as students get used to being away from home, their families and lifelong friends.” This year, psychologists and other experts “fear that the necessary precautions taken by colleges and universities, many of them coronavirus hot spots, will increase the loneliness and isolation.”
Campus Dorm Resident Assistants Adjust To Roles As “COVID Cops”
Kaiser Health News (10/6, Almendrala, Heredia Rodriguez) reports that “breaking up parties, confiscating booze and answering noise complaints – being a resident adviser has always required a willingness to be the ‘bad guy’ and uphold university policy despite the protests of friends and peers.” Now there’s “a new element to the job description: COVID cop.” The worst part “of his job as a resident adviser and dormitory hall security manager is verifying residents’ ID cards in the evening and dealing with the mask policy, said Marco Maldonado.” However. “the positions help him afford his annual $20,000 tuition at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.” Almost every night, “he said, at least one person tries to enter the building without a mask.”
Disparity In Coronavirus Rates At Two University Of Alabama Campuses Underscores Rapidity Of Virus’ Spread
The Washington Post (10/7, Sacchetti) discusses the disparity in coronavirus cases between the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama in Birmingham. One month since school started, “2,375 Tuscaloosa students had tested positive for the virus, 6.2 percent of the student body.” Meanwhile, “Birmingham had 109 cases, a tiny 0.48 percent of the students.” This “staggering disparity at two of Alabama’s large universities illustrates how the coronavirus can barrel through some schools while barely affecting others, even in a state that is considered a hot spot.” While “experts say it is difficult to pinpoint why Tuscaloosa and other universities faced outbreaks and others did not...they suspect that enrollment size, the campus culture and students’ ages probably played roles.”
Changes To H-1B Visa Program Could Affect Colleges
Education Dive (10/8, Busta) reports that “new changes to the H-1B visa program could deter international students from studying in the US and complicate hiring for colleges, legal experts say.” The Trump Administration’s overhaul “of the visa program for highly skilled workers narrows its eligibility requirements and increases how much US organizations must pay foreign employees.” It’s part of the administration’s broader effort “to limit foreign nationals’ ability to work and study in the country.”
Colleges Struggle With Budget Cuts Amid Pandemic, Brace For 2021
The Chronicle of Higher Education (10/8, Kelderman) reports that “colleges are now starting to calculate the full costs of the coronavirus, including the fallout from declining enrollments and rising operating costs.” At places like Ithaca College, “the impact of the pandemic is accelerating plans for major cuts in faculty jobs and academic programs.” Beginning this spring, “the college will begin to cut nearly a quarter of its 547 faculty members, said La Jerne T. Cornish, Ithaca’s provost.” The college’s undergraduate enrollment “is 4,785 full-time students, more than 900 students fewer than a year ago.” At the same time, “the college has a budget shortfall of $8 million because of increased operating costs – an amount that could grow before the end of the academic year, Cornish said.” Ithaca’s announcement “is among the earliest in what is likely to be a cascade of budget cuts for higher education throughout the fall and winter.”
Report: Student Debt Slightly Decreases From Last Year
Inside Higher Ed (10/8, St. Amour) reports that “the average amount of student debt that 2019 bachelor’s degree graduates took on was slightly down from the previous year.” The percentage of those students “who borrowed also decreased.” This slight decrease and recent flattening “of the upward trajectory of student debt measurements is welcome news, according to the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).” TICAS “researches student debt and advocates for policy changes to help relieve this burden on students.” It also advocates “for greater accountability in higher education, particularly of for-profit colleges, and greater affordability.”
Eight HBCUs Receive $15M In Funding To Expand Campus COVID-19 Testing Facilities
Diverse Issues in Higher Education (10/8, Padilla) reports that “eight historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have received $15 million in funding by the Thermo Fisher Scientific to expand and establish on-campus COVID-19 testing facilities, as reported by The Tennessean.” This funding and expansion “are part of The Just Project, which seeks to address the COVID-19 pandemic in communities of color – especially since they are disproportionately affected by the virus.”
HBCUs Are Missing Investment Opportunities From Venture Capital Firms
CNN (10/8, Goodwin) reports that “since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March, an outpouring of financial pledges and philanthropic gifts have made their way to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).” The donations, “which total more than $300 million, come amid renewed calls for racial justice following nationwide protests and high-profile police killings.” However, “the commitment to supporting HBCUs doesn’t stop there: New efforts are taking shape in venture capital to increase the participation of HBCUs as limited partners in venture funds.” Unlike larger universities, HBCUs “have long been missing from the equation – and the profits – that come with the role of being a limited partner in Silicon Valley’s most successful VC firms.”
Opinion: University’s COVID-19 Preparedness Is A Warm-Up For Climate Disaster
In an opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education (10/8), Climate Action Movement organizer Matt Sehrsweeney writes, “COVID-19 struck swiftly and relatively suddenly. With climate change, however, we have had decades to prepare. And yet, institutions with the power to enact substantive change have dragged their feet. Cities have made grand overtures to the gravity of the climate crisis – voting to declare a climate emergency or giving Greta Thunberg the key to the city – but have failed to pair these symbolic gestures with tangible action proportionate to the crisis at hand.” He states that “universities have done no better, often announcing hollow carbon-neutrality plans while maintaining robust investments in fossil fuels and even expanding fossil-fuel-burning infrastructure on campus.” He continues, “We can gauge higher ed’s preparedness to handle the climate crisis by how it has handled the pandemic – which is why, frankly, we should all be terrified.”
Apple, Google Look For Ways To Hire People Without College Degrees, Experts Say College Still Critical
Business Insider (10/8, Eadicicco) reports that “tech companies like Google and Apple are looking to shake up the education space by offering new programs designed to encourage the development of in-demand tech skills students may not be learning in school.” Taken together, “the initiatives indicate there’s more opportunity than ever beyond the traditional four-year college degree when it comes to building skills for a lucrative career in tech.” Google, Apple, and IBM “are among the companies that don’t require a college degree for certain positions, according to Glassdoor.” Experts “say a college degree is critical for most fields,” but with more and more tech companies “supporting alternative education or coding boot camps, high-paying jobs in the tech industry may still be accessible even without a formal degree in the field.”
New Prism Magazine Online
Our cover story, "A Virtual Reality" examines how engineering educators find creative substitutes for in-person labs and other hands-on learning experiences. This story and more, at the Prism online site.
Three-Minute Survey: ASEE Webinars
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Conference Report on Increasing Participation of Minority-Serving Institutions in the NSF CISE Core Programs
This new meeting report details outcomes from an event that assembled 90 MSI faculty to learn about increasing the number and competitiveness of their proposals to NSF’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering Core Programs.
Webinar: Supporting Underrepresented Engineering Students in the Time of COVID-19 - Oct. 22 at 2 PM, ET
Explore how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting traditionally underrepresented students in engineering and how faculty and administrators can better support these students, sharing preliminary insights and lessons learned from two NSF RAPID grants. Register Now!
Webinar: Supporting Engineering Graduate Students in the Time of COVID-19 - Nov. 5 at 1 PM, ET
This free webinar will explore how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting engineering graduate students and how faculty and administrators can better support these students, sharing preliminary insights and lessons learned from three NSF RAPID grants. Register now!
Research and Development
University Of Maryland Professors Develop Simple System To Protect Debate Participants From Coronavirus
The Washington Examiner (10/8, Bedard) reports University of Maryland professors Jelena Srebric and Don Milton have developed an inexpensive system they say can protect debate participants from coronavirus. Their idea is to “put box fans, adapted with furnace filters, on either side of their mouth to capture aerosol droplets. One fan would blow across their mouth, the other sucking that air away.” The duo wrote, “Our research identified an inexpensive solution that can protect the participants on stage and in the audience using air filtration and airflow directed in a way that efficiently captures airborne particles. Localized filtration and well controlled airflow can provide more effective protection of the participants than a barrier.” Their tests show the system was 50% effective in capturing aerosol droplets, equivalent to an N-95 mask.
NBC News (10/7) reported the scientists “submitted a letter Tuesday to the Commission on Presidential Debates outlining the results of their simulation and offering to help implement similar systems” ahead of the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City.
WXXI-TV Rochester, NY (10/7, Godoy) reported Milton said having a plexiglass barrier between debate participants is not enough protection because it “does not block aerosols; it only blocks spray.” Plexiglass can block respiratory droplets coming from the candidates’ mouths, but “that kind of spray is more of a concern when people are within about 6 feet of each other, he says.”
The New York Times (10/7, Mandavilli) provided additional coverage.
UCLA Scientist Developed “Mirror-Like Film” That Maximizes Radiative Cooling
Working with colleagues, University of California at Los Angeles materials scientist Aaswath Raman has “developed a thin, mirror-like film engineered to maximize radiative cooling on a molecular level,” the Washington Post (10/7, Kaplan) reported. The film “sends heat into space while absorbing almost no radiation, lowering the temperature of objects by more than 10 degrees, even in the midday sun.” The film can also “help cool pipes and panels – like a booster rocket for refrigerators and cooling systems. Incorporated into buildings, it may even replace air conditioning.” In addition, the film “requires no electricity, no special fuel – just a clear day and a view of the sky.” Raman said, “It sounds improbable. But the science is real.”
Studies From Boeing, Airbus, Embraer Say Risk Of COVID-19 Transmission Is Low On Airliners
Aviation International News (10/8, Polek) reports that researchers from Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer “have reached a consensus that the cabin environment in an airliner poses far less danger of Covid transmission than virtually any other indoor setting.” The companies “conducted their own studies” using “both computational fluid dynamics and either cabin mockups or actual airplanes.” None of the three planemakers “articulated any need for significant aircraft cabin redesign or even more frequent replacement of HEPA air filters.” Additionally, all three companies “rejected the efficacy of transparent cabin dividers under development and, in fact, suggested that the disruption to airflow they might cause could actually increase the danger of transmission.”
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Advertiser Supplied Content
UMass Lowell Researcher Delivers Breakthrough To Improve 3D Printing
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Amazon Reveals Prototype Of First Electric Delivery Van Developed In Partnership With Rivian
The Chicago Tribune (10/8, Channick) reports Amazon may deliver your Amazon package next year “in a custom-built Rivian electric delivery vehicle.” The online retailer introduced “a prototype Thursday of one of three electric vehicles being built in downstate Normal[, Illinois] in partnership with startup EV truck manufacturer Rivian.” Amazon “expects to have 10,000 of the Rivian electric delivery vans on the road worldwide by 2022, ramping up to the full 100,000 order by 2030.” CNBC (10/8, Palmer) reports CEO Jeff Bezos previously “said Amazon would have 100,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2024.”
Bloomberg (10/8, Day) reports Amazon made last year “the largest electric vehicle purchase in history,” ordering 100,000 Rivian delivery vans “as part of a plan to eliminate the company’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.”
IBM Spinning Off Tech Services Business To Focus On Cloud Computing, AI
The New York Times (10/8, Lohr) reports IBM is “spinning off its legacy technology services business to focus on cloud computing and artificial intelligence, a move that reflects how decisively computing has shifted to the cloud.” The Times adds, “The business retaining the IBM name will include its cloud operations, along with its hardware, software and consulting services units. They represent about three quarters of the current company’s revenue.” The spin off business, which “has not yet named, is IBM’s basic technology services business, which maintains, supports and upgrades the computing operations of thousands of corporate customers.” That business has “sales of about $19 billion a year, but it’s not where the growth opportunities lie in the technology business.”
SpaceX To Launch Seven Dragon Missions In 14 Months
Business Insider (10/8, Neilson) reports that SpaceX plans to launch seven Dragon missions – including six Crew Dragon missions and one Cargo Dragon mission – to space over the next 14 months. Due to mission overlap, SpaceX Crew Mission Management Director Benji Reed said at a press conference that “every time there’s a Dragon launch, there’ll be two Dragons in space.” The mission overlap begins with Crew-1, scheduled to launch on October 31 and return in April 2021, a month after the planned launch of Crew-2.
Engineering and Public Policy
Media Analyses: Jobless Numbers Show Recovery Is Slowing
Bloomberg (10/8, Rockeman) reports that according to Labor Department data released on Thursday, “the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell for a second week while remaining elevated, as the labor market makes scant progress amid risks of further weakness without additional federal stimulus.” Bloomberg adds, “Initial jobless claims in regular state programs decreased by 9,000 to 840,000 in the week ended Oct. 3, with the prior week’s figure revised higher by 12,000, Labor Department figures showed Thursday.” In addition, “Continuing claims, the total number of Americans on state benefit rolls, fell to 11 million in the week ended Sept. 26, a bigger-than-expected drop.”
The New York Times (10/8, Casselman) reports that though “unemployment filings have fallen swiftly from their peak of more than six million last spring.” It is also the case that “progress has recently stalled at a level far higher than the worst weeks of past recessions. ... ‘The level of claims is still staggeringly high,’ said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the career site Glassdoor.” Zhao is quoted as saying, “We’re seeing evidence that the recovery is slowing down, whether it’s in slowing payroll gains or in the sluggish improvement in jobless claims.”
The Washington Post (10/8, Rosenberg) reports that “all told, about 25.5 million people are collecting some kind of unemployment insurance.” According to the Post, “The number of jobless claims have fallen from their peak in the spring, but the rate has slowed in recent months. ‘The story is, we’ve hit a plateau in unemployment claims,’ said Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.”
The AP (10/8, Rugaber) reports that economists “say they are increasingly dubious about the unemployment claims figures, even though there is little doubt that hiring has slowed and employers have continued to lay off workers.” According to the AP, “The flood of layoffs during the pandemic recession and the creation of some new jobless-aid programs have overwhelmed state unemployment agencies. A result is that the jobless claims figures the government has been reporting have become an object of skepticism.”
WSJ Survey: 42.9% Of Economists Say Labor Market Will Not Recover Until 2023. The Wall Street Journal (10/8, Torry, DeBarros, Subscription Publication) reports in its new survey of economists its new survey of economists found that 42.9% do not expect the labor market to recover all of the jobs lost due to coronavirus shutdowns until 2023. The Journal adds that 12.2% expect it will take longer and 2% said it will take until 2030.
Trump Says Stimulus Talks Are Back On
The Washington Post (10/8, A1, Werner, Stein) reports “two days after he abruptly” declared an end to economic relief talks, President Trump said in an interview with Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria that they are back on. Both Trump and House Speaker Pelosi “said Thursday they’re still negotiating on broad economic relief legislation, the latest twist after five head-spinning days during which the White House has whipsawed between demanding a stimulus bill, then shutting down talks – only to renew them again.”
On its website, CNN (10/8, Mattingly) reports Trump, “in a head-spinning reversal, has told allies he’s interested in a large-scale stimulus deal, according to a person with direct knowledge of his comments. The person stressed it’s unclear what, exactly, Trump’s vision of a comprehensive deal would entail and there remains significant hurdles – and skepticism – when it comes to reaching an agreement through talks that have been largely stuck in the same place for several months.” Trump called House Minority Leader McCarthy and “indicated he was worried by the stock market reaction and wanted a “big deal” with Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” Axios (10/8, Treene, Swan) reports, citing “two sources familiar with the call.” Axios adds Trump “wants a deal that would go beyond securing aid for the struggling airline industry and extending the small business Paycheck Protection Program.”
CNBC (10/8, Josephs) reports on its website that “at the end of her Thursday news conference, Pelosi suggested the White House and Democrats could renew talks toward a broader aid package.” She said, “We’re at the table. We want to continue the conversation. We’ve made some progress, we’re exchanging language.” The Wall Street Journal (10/8, A1, Peterson, Sider, Subscription Publication) reports while Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats are open to discussions on a larger deal, there was little to suggest one could be reached before Election Day.
Roll Call (10/8, Wehrman, McPherson) reports Pelosi “said she is willing to move airline aid separately but only if there’s ‘a guarantee’ that there will also be a larger package containing aid for state and local governments, schools, testing and contact tracing, as well as unemployment assistance and workplace safety regulations.”
Additional coverage by the New York Times (10/8, Cochrane), the New York Times (10/8, Cochrane), Reuters (10/8, Zengerle), Bloomberg (10/8, Wasson) and Politico (10/8, Caygle, Ferris, Mintz).
Economists Say Failure To Agree On Stimulus Will Delay Recovery. The Washington Post (10/8, Lynch) reports on what it says are “the economic consequences of Washington’s failure, after months of intermittent negotiation, to deliver a fresh economic stimulus package.” The Post says, “The president and his congressional adversaries picked a bad time for gridlock.” According to economists, failing “to agree on new help for struggling workers, companies and public agencies risks greater misery for millions of Americans, lower future living standards and a longer, slower road back to prosperity.”
Thursday's Lead Stories
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