12 October 2000


Copyright © 2000 World Expertise LLC – All rights reserved


A periodic electronic newsletter for engineering education leaders,

edited by Russel C. Jones, PhD., P.E.






International developments


Seven Canadian universities have formed the Canadian Virtual University, in an effort to gain a competitive position in the online education market. According to an article by Janice Paskey in the Chronicle of Higher Education, students enrolled in the virtual university will continue to earn diplomas and degrees from their home universities, but will be able to transfer credits easily from other consortium schools. Students will have a wider variety of courses to choose from than those available on any one campus, and member universities will be able to avoid duplicating each other’s courses. Students will pay tuition to the university that offers the course. See


The Open University of Israel has been offering distance education courses in the states of the former Soviet Union since 1993, in some 280 cities. According to Haim Watzman writing in the Chronicle, some 7300 students are currently enrolled in one or more of seven courses that have been translated into Russian. Delivery is not high tech – courses are based on specially written textbooks, with course work sent through the mail. Some online materials are available at a Russian language site, but access to the Internet is quite limited in the former Soviet Union. Funds from the Rothschild Foundation enable students to receive these Open University courses at no cost. In-person discussion groups are available in many of the cities served. Courses are centered on Jewish history, religion, and culture. See


In 1992 Harvard University received a $57 million contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to help Russia make the transition to a free market economy. Now, according to a report by Beth McMurtrie in the Chronicle, the U.S. government is suing Harvard and the directors of the program, alleging that the program was mismanaged and used for personal gain. The project was aimed at encouraging openness and fair play in the Russian economy, by providing advice on establishing capital markets, privatizing government assets, and reforming the legal system. The government claims that key officials in the project made investments in the Russian economy, although the contract specifically prohibited such investments and required disclosure of any financial dealings. Harvard claims that the damage claim of $ 120 million sought in the suit is disproportionate to any university responsibility. Harvard has removed the accused persons from the project, and has announced its intention to close the Institute for International Development within which it was housed. See



U.S. developments


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has sworn in a Science and Technology Advisor, in a newly created position designed to provide appropriate training, expertise, and information on science related issues to senior State Department officials. Dr. Norman Neureiter has served in industry (most recently as Vice President of Texas Instruments Japan), in the federal government (including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy), and with several advisory boards. In his capacity as Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. Neureiter will chair a senior level science policy committee, and will serve as the State Department’s principle liaison with the science, engineering and technology community.


During September, both houses of Congress held hearings on electronic surveillance and privacy in the digital age. In each hearing, the focus was on Carnivore – a computer program used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to monitor electronic communications and collect messages that are the subject of court orders. There appears to be a growing concern that federal surveillance laws are out of date and increasingly ill suited for the needs of law enforcement in cyberspace. Several privacy bills are pending before Congress, but none is likely to pass in the current session. See Senate Judiciary Committee hearing testimony at  and the White House Fact Sheet on Assuring Security and Trust in Cyberspace at



The Department of Justice has chosen Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute to review Carnivore, its controversial electronic surveillance system. According to Andrea Foster writing in the Chronicle, the research institute is to test Carnivore to determine whether it operates without intruding on the privacy of ordinary citizens, as Justice Department officials have promised. Carnivore is capable of intercepting millions of e-mail messages every second, but is supposed to only gather electronic communications going to and from criminal suspects. I.I.T.R.I. was one of only two academic institutions applying to review the system – the other being the University of California at Davis. Nine technology firms also submitted proposals to test Carnivore. Several other universities declined to apply, expressing concerns that the Justice Department would have too much control over the review. See


Congress has finally voted to raise the cap on H-1B visas, and has sent the measure to President Clinton for an expected signature. The number of visas for skilled professionals in high technology areas has historically been capped due to fears that mass hiring of foreign workers by U.S. companies will displace American workers. The new measure increases the number of such visas from 115,000 to 195,000 per year, starting in 2002. Some engineering societies had opposed the legislation, stating that it would reduce incentives for companies to hire and train U.S. workers. This concern led to a provision in the bill that provides for a $500 fee for each visa application, with the $300 million raised to go for education and training programs to help American workers obtain the skills needed for high tech jobs. According to Jennifer Yachnin writing in the Chronicle, the legislation exempts foreign workers employed by colleges from the annual cap. See


In a recent media briefing sponsored by a coalition of ten engineering, professional and industry groups, Dr. Lance Davis, Executive Officer of the National Academy of Engineering, stated that “the future of aviation is at risk”. He noted that aeronautics research is essential to finding solutions to the nation’s air transportation problems, and stated that “to ensure that appropriate federal resources are made available, we need a national aviation R&T policy”. Citing a 1999 National Research Council report, Davis noted that the U.S. market share of aerospace products has declined from 70% in the mid 1980’s to 55% in 1997. Other speakers at the briefing discussed a coalition statement entitled “The Crisis in U.S. Aviation Research and Technology”. The statement is available at


As state lawmakers demand more accountability from colleges and plan for a surge in enrollments, reorganizing how public higher education is governed has become common. According to Jeffrey Selingo writing in the Chronicle, one-fifth of the states reorganized their governance of higher education in the 1990’s. This statistic comes from a report citing results of a 50 state survey, conducted by the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research. The report indicates that more states are linking budget appropriations to how well colleges achieve certain goals, such as increasing graduation rates and reducing class sizes. The report contains interesting statistics, such as the fact that in 14 states the percentage of minority students enrolled in four year colleges is larger than the percentage of minority citizens in the state. See


The National Science Foundation has awarded $24 million for four new Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, according to an article by Karolina Augustynowicz in the Chronicle .The new centers are at California Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, University of Oklahoma/University of Arkansas, and the University of Virginia. NSF has also awarded $110 million for 11 existing materials science centers. All awards are for five years. See




Information technology


Students returning to campus this fall found that many of their campuses have begun to change the way they connect their laptops to the campus network and beyond. As reported by Florence Olsen in the Chronicle, dozens of colleges have set up wireless networks to give students and faculty electronic access from anywhere on campus. The new networks do not yet match wired systems in speed or security, but colleges believe that ease of access will enhance teaching, learning and research. Apparently the adoption of a technical standard in 1999, IEEE 802.11b, has standardized the equipment offerings of manufacturers sufficiently to make wireless networks on campus a feasible investment. See . In a companion article in the Chronicle, Scott Carlson explores what universities find attractive about wireless systems. Wireless technology is often less expensive than standard wiring for network access, and in older buildings may only cost one-fifth as much. In addition, student use of laptops with a wireless network may substantially decrease the demand for college owned desktop computers in student computer labs. Several of the universities moving to wireless systems to date have worked special financial arrangements with vendors, although that window is expected to close as demand grows. The move to wireless also requires that students move to laptops rather than desktop computers, and some universities are offering special deals for incoming students to make that change. See


Scientists working on large experiments that generate huge amounts of data are collaborating on development of a new shared computational network, or data grid. According to an article by David Voss in the 29 September 2000 Science, the U.S. federal government has provided a $11.9 million grant to build such a grid. It will allow users to tap into a broad spectrum of electronic information, regardless of its origin or location. The scientific system will be similar to currently popular file sharing programs such as Napster, which use a central computer to allow Internet users to exchange files between their individual computers. The Grid Physics Network, funded by the National Science Foundation, will serve several large physics projects, allowing peer-to-peer data sharing. See


The inventor of many assistive technologies, Ray Kurzweil, looks forward to the time when ordinary people can have computer circuits implanted in their brains to make themselves smarter. Kurzweil is the inventor of the Kurzweil reading machine for people who are visually impaired, a music synthesizer, and several voice activated word processors and artificial intelligence systems. According to an article by Florence Olsen in the Chronicle, Kurzweil believes that the computer’s inherent superiority to the human brain in computational speed and accuracy will make such developments likely within the lifetime of current young people. He argues that people will then use their extra intelligence to create computers that are even smarter than human beings. Kurzweil says that research is leading to a spiritual ideal of infinite intelligence, where the information that is in human minds is not lost when the human hardware crashes and disintegrates. These ideas are developed further in his latest book, The Age of Spiritual Machines. See



Distance education


The University of Oxford is joining an alliance formed by Princeton, Stanford and Yale to offer distance learning courses online – initially to their own students, alumni and families of students. According to an article by Sarah Carr in the Chronicle, the alliance will develop liberal arts courses in an online format. Two initial courses, in classics, are to be ready for offering this winter. The alliance may eventually admit additional institutions, and broaden subject matter fields covered. See


Colorado State  University is developing a virtual college to help train workers for the information technology industry, according to an article in the Chronicle by Dan Carnevale. Using distance learning techniques, the University hopes to increase the number of graduates with technology degrees by 60 percent – from 460 to 735 – in four years. Distance learning techniques will allow this expansion using current courses from the existing organizational structure instead of building a new bureaucracy, according to the university. Driving forces for the expansion include the desire to accommodate as many students as possible in this popular area, and to better meet the needs of Colorado’s high tech industry for workers. See


Virtual reality on a desktop computer may be the next tool to enhance distance education. According to an article by Jeffrey Young in the Chronicle, such graphics-rich online tools can bring a more human dimension to online learning. Some observers express concern, however, that building 3-D environments for everyday distance education would be too time-consuming and costly. Supporters of such developments point out that high school students are coming to college with extensive experience with 3-D video games, and that they will expect similar sophistication in their learning environments.  Some universities now offer virtual campus tours on their web sites, allowing prospective students to walk through virtual buildings and stroll through virtual academic quads. See


Researchers have found personal social bonds to be important to make distance education interactions between students more effective. Writing in the Chronicle, Dan Carnevale describes a program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which has new distance education students spend two weeks on campus in a dorm for a ‘boot camp’. During this period, the students get to know one another and take an introductory course – then they return home, often to foreign countries, and take courses via the Internet. The program uses synchronous online discussions between faculty members and students to enhance individual study, and encourages individual interactions among distance education students. The program has a 3 percent dropout rate, and 70 percent of the students come from outside Illinois. See


Farleigh Dickinson University has added a requirement that all of its undergraduate students take at least one distance learning course annually, according to an article by Sarah Carr in the Chronicle. The requirement that all resident undergraduates do so takes effect next year. The university feels that all students should become skilled in learning by distance techniques, and the new requirement will typically be fulfilled by taking a course via the Internet. Faculty members who will teach these courses will be trained in appropriate techniques over the next several months. See


Western Governors University, created in 1997 to allow students to use online courses to earn degrees and certificates through courses and competency-based assessments, has received a critical audit by the state of Utah. According to an article by Dan Carnevale in the Chronicle, the audit criticizes W.G.U for low enrollment and poor performance. The audit states that as of January, only about 200 students were enrolled after three years of operation, and that an online associate degree from W.G.U costs significantly more than an equivalent degree from a regular Utah college. W.G.U has been stymied in its efforts to gain regional accreditation, as the accrediting agencies determine how to evaluate such a unique distance learning institution. W.G.U.’s current president criticized the audit as a political document in an election year. He says that the university is engaged in an intensive marketing campaign, and expects a 50- to 100-percent increase in enrollments by this coming January. See





The U.S. National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, chaired by former Senator John Glenn, has issued its report: “Before It’s Too Late”. To improve math and science teaching, three major goals are cited: establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12; increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation; and improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers. The commission estimates that the strategies proposed to meet these goals, such as holding summer institutes and setting up inquiry groups for teachers, will cost over $5 billion annually. The report is available at


The October 2000 Prism, publication of the American Society for Engineering Education, has an interesting article by Dan McGraw: “Getting Down to e-business”. The author states that engineering educators can help make their students more marketable by adding commerce to their shopping carts. He notes that the Internet has changed everything in business, including the roles engineers play within the corporate world. Quoting a Stanford Professor: “We have to teach the soft skills, the ability to negotiate, the ability to synthesize tangible and intangible data. This is the stuff you don’t normally teach – but it is absolutely critical for success in the entrepreneurial economy.” The article describes in detail the approach being taken at North Carolina State University at Raleigh. See


A web site has been developed to help faculty members assess their instructional goals, according to a Chronicle report by Jessica Ludwig. Based on a survey in the book Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (by Angelo and Cross, Jossey-Bass, 1993), the web site allows faculty members to assess and improve

their instruction and to develop more effective syllabi and curricula. A scoring report at the site helps instructors match theory and practice. See, or the teaching goals website directly at


The Working Group on Curriculum Development of SEFI, the European Society for Engineering Education, conducted a workshop in September at the SEFI annual meeting, on the impact of internationalization on engineering curricula. Chaired by Otto Rompelman and Peter Powell, the seminar featured speakers from several European countries and beyond. A short report on the workshop can be found at


At that same SEFI conference, the Working Group on Continuing Engineering Education organized a workshop on the topic “Truth and Lies about using the Internet in Engineering Education”, chaired by Patricio Montesinos. For more information, see the conference web site at





Hispanic Americans lag in attainment at every level of the educational system, according to the final report of the President’s Advisory Committee on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. As reported in the Chronicle, the report argues that students, parents, colleges, schools, and the U.S. government must play a role in bettering their performance. The panel noted that 30 percent of Hispanic Americans drop out before high school graduation, and that the completion rate has not improved significantly in recent years. The commission offered many recommendations to meet its goal – raising the performance of Hispanic Americans to the same level as other students by 2010. See


The current issue of the International Journal of Engineering Education, volume 16 number 4, contains an interesting article by Duyen Q. Nguyen, “The Status of Women in Engineering Education”. The author has conducted a longitudinal study of the status and participation of women in engineering courses at Monash University in Australia over 30 years. She finds that the statistical data indicate that participation rates by women in both undergraduate and graduate courses are unsatisfactory. She concludes that increasing the input of women to engineering programs depends heavily on the manner in which the message about opportunities in engineering is presented at the secondary school level. See http://www/


Due to declining enrollments of males, some college admissions officials are considering affirmative-action programs for men, according to an report by Andrew Brownstein in the Chronicle. Speakers at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling noted that boys are late bloomers and tend not to come into their own academically until late in high school, and that this factor should be taken into account in admissions. Fewer than 45 percent of today’s undergraduates are men, down from 57 percent in 1970. One speaker suggested that the downward trend was partly due to the diminishing role of the man as the sole family breadwinner. See



Engineering practice


Professional engineering examinations have been altered in favor of modern electrical engineers, according to Terry Costlow writing in the 18 September 2000 issue of Electronic Engineering Times. After years of suggestions from IEEE and industry groups, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying has agreed to alter its test to focus less on electric power and more on the diverse aspects of electronic engineering. The new format has a breadth section uniform for all EEs, focusing on basic electrical engineering, electronic circuits and components, and controls and communication systems. It then follows with a depth section where modules focus on computer engineering, communications engineering, and power engineering. Only 10 to 15 percent of U.S. members of IEEE have received PE licenses to date, and those who have worked to revise the test hope that many more will now be interested in licensure.


The October 2000 issue of Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice contains a forum on Ethics Cases in Professional Practice. It presents results of the Ethics Case program of the Professional Engineering Practice Liaison Program, which is aimed at presenting real situations from engineering practice in order to stimulate greater attention to ethical issues, and to allow participating engineers to avoid similar pitfalls in their own careers. A web site offers individuals the opportunity to read and respond to case studies. See


An article by Jeff Johnson in the 2 October 2000 issue of Chemical and Engineering News argues that there is new life in nuclear power. While many experts have felt that nuclear power in the U.S. was on its death bed over the past several years, the author states that the industry had its best year ever in 1999: the 103 functioning power plants ran at 88.5% of their capacity, and increased their annual production rate by 8%. And there are plans to build more nuclear reactors, with $1.3 billion spent in the last ten years to develop new nuclear power plant designs. While the nuclear industry is optimistic about the prospect of being able to build a new plant within the next five years, outside energy analysts do not agree. They say that it is too risky and expensive, and that increasingly popular energy sources such as solar power, fuel cells, and wind power are more likely to grow in use. Also cited as problems are the nuclear waste problem, and the negative public image of the nuclear industry.


Computer related jobs in the U.S. are well liked and seen as most secure, according to the Job Related Almanac. Web site managers, computer systems analysts, computer programmers, web developers, and software engineers were voted among the best jobs. The 10 top rated jobs in 1999 and 2000 surveys were all in math and computer related fields. See


Increases in the world’s population without a corresponding increase in arable land is putting adequate food production at risk, according to a presentation made by Dr. Fedro Zazueta at the September 28th meeting of the International Activities Commission of the American Association of Engineering Societies. The situation today is that 40,000 people die each day from starvation or malnutrition – half of them children. This driving force has led to the development and utilization of genetic modification of food, to produce food products that provide greater yields, are more disease resistant, have longer shelf life, etc. Genetic modification is not new – humans have been modifying organisms for thousands of years by selective cross breeding. But modern bioengineering techniques allow such modification to be done much more rapidly and effectively by gene manipulation techniques. Concerns about the safety of food from such processes have been raised by some, but Zazueta argues that we should evaluate the end product, not the process – and that no problems have been found with genetically modified food products.


“Blocking the Tide”, an article in the October 2000 issue of Civil Engineering, reviews the situation of Venice and indicates possible solutions to its problem of periodic flooding. The city is imperiled as a result of increased tidal flooding, according to authors Harleman, Bras, Rinaldo and Malonotte. If the city is to be saved for future generations, engineering solutions must be found. The authors evaluate a proposal to build movable gates at the three inlets to the lagoon, and conclude that it offers the most promise for safeguarding the city. See


Workers say that the Internet is a vital tool for doing their jobs. Some 37 percent of current full time U.S. workers have access to the Internet at their jobs, and say that they are using it primarily for work related research and e-mail, according to a report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. See



Positions of interest


Positions listed in the 29 September 2000 Chronicle of Higher Education:


Ø      Dean of Engineering and Applied Science, University of New Haven, CT

Ø      Chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Northern Illinois University

Ø      Vice President Research, University of Alberta, Canada

Ø      Dean, College of Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign

Ø      Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Nebraska – Lincoln


And from the October 6 Chronicle:


Ø      Dean, College of Engineering, Villanova University, PA

Ø      Provost and VPAA, Georgia Institute of Technology

Ø      Provost, Purdue University, IN

Ø      Assistant Dean, Office of Minority Education, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ø      Dean of the Graduate College, University of Illinois – Chicago


And from the October 13 Chronicle:


Ø      Chair, Electrical/Computer Engineering, Indiana U/Purdue U at Indianapolis, IN

Ø      Dean, Engineering and Technology, Ohio University

Ø      President, University of Hawaii

Ø      President, Harvard University, MA






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