PRISM Magazine - Exploring the future of engineering education
briefings - research

Counterespionage or Counterproductive?

Photo Illustration by Steve WilliamsIn the wake of the recent Chinese spy scandal, foreign students in the U.S. may encounter a virtual great wall around sensitive supercomputers.

According to a Congressional report on suspected Chinese espionage at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Chinese spies posing as students at U.S. universities may have gained access to the supercomputers that are used to design U.S. nuclear weapons.

The solution, according to the House of Representatives committee on Chinese espionage, is to bar students who are not U.S. citizens from using the computers unless they obtain export licenses from the Commerce Department.

Faculty members and students at several major research universities are currently allowed to use supercomputers at the three national nuclear weapons laboratories. "Hundreds of research students and staff at these universities have access to the [supercomputers] used by the national weapons laboratories for U.S. nuclear weapons research and testing," the report states. "As many as 50 percent of these research students and staff are foreign nationals, some of whom may have foreign intelligence affiliations."

The report does not state, however, that any foreign students have actually logged-on to the sensitive supercomputers. And university officials, noting that few foreign students have been granted supercomputer access, disputed the report's conclusions.

Still, that may not stop a virtual great wall from going up.

briefings - trends

School's Out?

    Forget the diploma. More and more engineering students are taking dollars over graduate degrees.
    Enrollment has been falling at some graduate engineering schools as students—seduced by lucrative salaries, stock options, and signing bonuses—opt for suits rather than master's degrees.
    The University of Virginia's engineering school, for example, has seen its total enrollment drop from 701 students in 1991 to 516 last fall. Enrollment in some University of Maryland, College Park, graduate engineering programs is down by as much as 10 percent.
    Meanwhile, recruiters are increasing their visibility. UVA had roughly 30 percent more businesses on campus for last fall's recruiting events than the year before.

Back to Work

    Though the fight for the unionization of University of California teaching assistants has been won, the battle for collective bargaining rights is not yet over as negotiating teams meet with university heads to hash out the T.A.s' contracts.
    The final results of UC elections, announced this summer, are "a victory for the campaign to organize academic-student employees nationwide," says Ricardo Ochoa, president of Berkeley's union.
    UC teaching assistants began the unionization battle 16 years ago, but it was not until a system-wide strike in December (Prism, February 1999, p. 11) that national attention was drawn to their fight for collective bargaining rights.
    With graduate students making up 8 percent of total higher-education employment, or 198,000 workers, according to the National Education Association's latest numbers, the results of the UC teaching assistants' negotiations could have dramatic effects on graduate education nationwide.

briefings - technology

Workers Distracted by High-Tech Tools

Too many e-mails tying you up? Does your voice-mail light flicker every time you step away from the phone? You aren't alone. American office workers are increasingly getting entangled in technology, according to a recent study commissioned by Pitney Bowes, Inc., an office equipment maker.

The average office worker sends and receives more than 200 e-mail messages a day, the study found, based on research conducted by the Institute for the Future, a consulting firm in Menlo Park, California, and the Gallup Organization. And nearly half of the people surveyed said they had difficulty keeping up with the work generated by the high volume of messages.

"User frustration is growing," says Meredith Fischer, vice-president of communications at Pitney Bowes. "Communication demands are driving the workday and the conduct of business, instead of the other way around."

That outcome is a far cry from the idyllic future technology touters promised when e-mail first came out. Electronic communication was supposed to save time and ease communication, but the study shows it is increasingly becoming a burden. In part, that is because the new communication tools haven't replaced traditional ones. Remember the paperless office that was promised decades ago?

So what's ahead? "Not only can companies ill-afford to ignore the hidden costs of communications," Fischer says, "but they must also consider the impacts on employee morale, productivity and the bottom line."

No doubt, an e-mail addressing the problem is heading your way soon.

navigation bar