Tag Archives: at-work/education

McMaster Engineering: Transforming Engineering Education and Fostering Research with Impact

Post Syndicated from McMaster Faculty of Engineering original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/mcmaster-engineering-transforming-engineering-education-and-fostering-research-with-impact

The Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., Canada is aiming to build on its ranking as one of the world’s top engineering schools by expanding its recruitment of both tenure-track and teaching track positions across multiple departments. This broad initiative is expected to continue the growth of McMaster as a leading destination for innovative teaching and research.

To support this growth and further develop McMaster Engineering’s longstanding strengths in research, innovation and graduate training, the positions being offered will include two Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC) and tenure-track positions, with specialization in the fields of micro-nano technology, smart systems, and bio-innovation.

“The rapid growth in the reputation of the Faculty of Engineering reflects our continuing focus on innovative research designed for impact and educating agile learners to become equipped to tackle our world’s greatest challenges,” says Ishwar K. Puri, McMaster’s dean of engineering.

In addition to successful applicants teaching both undergraduate and graduate level courses, they will also be expected to establish a strong externally-funded research program, supervise graduate students and foster existing or new collaborations with other departments and faculties.

“A range of perspectives leads to better insights and innovation, and our diverse and inclusive community is a key factor in our success. We welcome experts from around the world to be part of this next generation of growth and innovation in the Faculty of Engineering,” adds John Preston, McMaster Engineering’s associate dean, research and external relations.

The strength of McMaster Engineering has been its strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and an emphasis on research with impact.  This focus on R&D with real-world impact is demonstrated by how its research has scored in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in categories such as good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, and industry, innovation and infrastructure and climate action.

Earlier this year, McMaster ranked 17th in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and number one in Canada for good health and well-being and decent work and economic growth. The rankings recognize the important contributions universities make to their communities, countries and on an international scale.

In a combination of both its commitment to impactful research and collaboration, McMaster Engineering has also aimed at providing a supportive and inclusive environment that celebrates big ideas and commercialization while working with industry partners around the world to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

The Faculty’s mission to push the boundaries of discovery and innovation plays a significant role in helping McMaster University earn its reputation as one of Canada’s most innovative universities.

As Canada’s most research-intensive university, McMaster’s commitment to research continues to be reflected in its rankings. Most recently McMaster was named one of the world’s top 70 universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education rankings. As well, 14 academic disciplines at McMaster Engineering are ranked among the best in Canada by Shanghai Ranking.

Innovation extends to McMaster Engineering’s approach to education. In September 2020 after a two-year pilot, McMaster Engineering formally launched The Pivot, an historic $15 million initiative marking the largest transformation of the school’s curriculum, experiential learning and the classroom experience in the 62-year history of the Faculty.

This year, as part of The Pivot initiative, more than 1,100 first-year engineering students are experiencing the school’s new interactive course called Integrated Cornerstone Design Projects in Engineering. This novel course integrates concepts previously taught in four different courses into a single, seamless, project-based learning experience, allowing students to work in teams, design prototypes and solve real-world problems.

By transforming the engineering curriculum, reimagining the learning environment and amplifying experiential learning, The Pivot takes a project-based and experiential learning approach to developing future-ready graduates with design-thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets.

For more information on current opportunities within the Faculty of Engineering, view the postings here.

McMaster Engineering Grows Its Premier Program with Global Faculty Recruitment

Post Syndicated from McMaster Faculty of Engineering original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/mcmaster-engineering-grows-its-premier-program-with-global-faculty-recruitment

The Faculty of Engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., Canada is aiming to build on its ranking as one of the world’s top engineering schools by expanding its recruitment of both tenure-track and teaching track positions across multiple departments. This broad initiative is expected to continue the growth of McMaster as a leading destination for innovative teaching and research.

To support this growth and further develop McMaster Engineering’s longstanding strengths in research, innovation and graduate training, the positions being offered will include two Tier II Canada Research Chair (CRC) and tenure-track positions, with specialization in the fields of micro-nano technology, smart systems, and bio-innovation.

“The rapid growth in the reputation of the Faculty of Engineering reflects our continuing focus on innovative research designed for impact and educating agile learners to become equipped to tackle our world’s greatest challenges,” says Ishwar K. Puri, McMaster’s dean of engineering.

In addition to successful applicants teaching both undergraduate and graduate level courses, they will also be expected to establish a strong externally-funded research program, supervise graduate students and foster existing or new collaborations with other departments and faculties.

“A range of perspectives leads to better insights and innovation, and our diverse and inclusive community is a key factor in our success. We welcome experts from around the world to be part of this next generation of growth and innovation in the Faculty of Engineering,” adds John Preston, McMaster Engineering’s associate dean, research and external relations.

The strength of McMaster Engineering has been its strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and an emphasis on research with impact.  This focus on R&D with real-world impact is demonstrated by how its research has scored in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in categories such as good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, and industry, innovation and infrastructure and climate action.

Earlier this year, McMaster ranked 17th in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings and number one in Canada for good health and well-being and decent work and economic growth. The rankings recognize the important contributions universities make to their communities, countries and on an international scale.

In a combination of both its commitment to impactful research and collaboration, McMaster Engineering has also aimed at providing a supportive and inclusive environment that celebrates big ideas and commercialization while working with industry partners around the world to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

The Faculty’s mission to push the boundaries of discovery and innovation plays a significant role in helping McMaster University earn its reputation as one of Canada’s most innovative universities.

As Canada’s most research-intensive university, McMaster’s commitment to research continues to be reflected in its rankings. Most recently McMaster was named one of the world’s top 70 universities in the 2021 Times Higher Education rankings. As well, 14 academic disciplines at McMaster Engineering are ranked among the best in Canada by Shanghai Ranking.

Innovation extends to McMaster Engineering’s approach to education. In September 2020 after a two-year pilot, McMaster Engineering formally launched The Pivot, an historic $15 million initiative marking the largest transformation of the school’s curriculum, experiential learning and the classroom experience in the 62-year history of the Faculty.

This year, as part of The Pivot initiative, more than 1,100 first-year engineering students are experiencing the school’s new interactive course called Integrated Cornerstone Design Projects in Engineering. This novel course integrates concepts previously taught in four different courses into a single, seamless, project-based learning experience, allowing students to work in teams, design prototypes and solve real-world problems.

By transforming the engineering curriculum, reimagining the learning environment and amplifying experiential learning, The Pivot takes a project-based and experiential learning approach to developing future-ready graduates with design-thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets.

For more information on current opportunities within the Faculty of Engineering, view the postings here.

What We Lose When We Lose Museums

Post Syndicated from Allison Marsh original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/education/what-we-lose-when-we-lose-museums

It’s hard to overestimate the dire impact the pandemic is having on education. As clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks continue to pop up, kindergartens to graduate schools oscillate precariously between online, face to face, and hybrid instruction; administrators, educators, parents, and students struggle to plan and react.

But one important part of the education sector that hasn’t been getting much attention is the informal education that occurs outside the classroom, in museums, science and technology centers, and historic sites. These essential cultural institutions are in peril.

Consider the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Mountain View, Calif. Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, was admirably early in facing the pandemic, issuing its first shelter-in-place order on 16 March. With that, CHM’s doors shut to the public, and they remain so nearly eight months later. In this time, the museum has pivoted to digital and virtual offerings: online events, interpretive videos, virtual educational experiences, essays, and blogs.

The museum is fortunate in that it has a robust endowment and generous individual donors, but the fact remains that it has lost one-third of its revenue due to being physically closed. A combination of pay cuts, the Paycheck Protection Program, and fundraising appeals have helped offset the losses so far. But curators still have extremely limited access to the museum facilities, so carrying out activities intended to build the collections and make them accessible remains a real challenge.

Things are far more dire at thousands of other museums. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the major professional association for museum staff and volunteers in the United States, released a report in June that found one-third of U.S. museums to be at significant risk of permanent closure in the next year and a half. Let that sink in for a minute. There are 33,000 museums in the United States. The people in the best position to know think that 11,000 of them could be gone by the end of 2021.

In a statement that resonated strongly with the AAM’s findings, John Dichtl, CEO of the American Association of State and Local History, issued this eloquent statement: “Without substantial assistance, many museums, historical societies, preservation organizations, and other institutions will likely close forever. Communities across the country will be left without anchor institutions that provide context for contemporary challenges.”

Why does that matter and why should you care?

Museums are cultural institutions entangled in the lives of towns and cities. Museums have the power to transport visitors beyond their day-to-day experience. They can push you out of your bubble and into a whole new world.

For adults, they provide important opportunities for lifelong learning. Years or decades after someone has finished their formal schooling, museums are the one consistent outlet where they can find well-researched exhibits and engaging public programs.

For children, museums offer a lively learning environment outside the classroom, one that can be fully immersive and experiential. “I have always loved science museums in particular—the interactive hands-on museums.… They just exude creativity,” Kathryn Sullivan, a former astronaut and the first U.S. woman to walk in space, said in a recent interview with the Computer History Museum.

Sullivan might be a bit biased. After her NASA career, she served as director of the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio, and held the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Her career trajectory highlights the strong connection between museums and STEM education. Museums serve as powerful access points in our culture, Sullivan says, providing “engagement and understanding of nature or technology, or societal history, or natural history.”

Both of the authors of this post can also draw a line from our early museum visits to our current professions. Marsh began volunteering at the Science Museum of Virginia at the age of 14, and she went on to college internships at the Virginia Aviation Museum and the Franklin Institute.

Brock also shares a love of the Franklin Institute, especially the old mathematics gallery, and he often took his young daughters there, passing on to them a fascination with museums. The Air and Space Museum knocked his socks off when he was a kid, and he went there whenever he had the chance. Brock is now the Director of the Software History Center at the Computer History Museum; Marsh teaches history of technology and museum studies at the University of South Carolina.

Beyond their educational value, museums are also economic engines for their communities. In pre-pandemic days, museum-goers racked up more than 850 million visits to their favorite U.S. sites, which easily eclipsed the 483 million visits to all major league sporting events and amusement parks. Across the United States, museums employ more than 372,000 people directly and support an additional 325,000 jobs in the community, for roles such as exhibit design and fabrication, scriptwriting, and catering.

And yet, unlike other sectors of the economy, museums have been largely left to contend with the ongoing crisis on their own. Museums have had to share a tiny slice of the $2 trillion CARES Act funding—$200 million, or one ten-thousandth of the total—with other similarly shuttered performing arts institutions and libraries.

Do we as a society really value these vital cultural institutions, and the people who animate them, so little? How we choose to answer that question in the coming months, as the pandemic grinds on, may well determine the fate of thousands of museums across the United States.

About the Authors

David C. Brock is director of the Software History Center at the Computer History Museum. Allison Marsh is an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina and codirector of the university’s Ann Johnson Institute for Science, Technology & Society.

Are Electronic Media Any Good at Getting Out the Vote?

Post Syndicated from Steven Cherry original https://spectrum.ieee.org/podcast/at-work/education/are-electronic-media-any-good-at-getting-out-the-vote

Steven Cherry Hi, this is Steven Cherry for Radio Spectrum.

For some years and still today, there’s been a quiet but profound schism among political strategists. There are those who favor modern methods and modern media—mass mailings, robocalling, television advertising, and, increasingly, social-media advertising. On the other hand are those, including my guest today, who not only still see a value in traditional person-to-person messaging, but see it as, frequently, the better bang for the campaign buck.

Just last week [this was recorded Oct 5, 2020—Ed.] the attorney general of Michigan— a state that has been a battleground, not just for electoral delegates, but this methodological dispute—announced that two political operatives were charged with felonies in connection with robocalls that made a number of false claims about the risks of voting by mail, in an apparent attempt to discourage residents of Detroit from voting by mail. And last week as well, the Biden campaign announced a complete turnaround on the question of door-to-door canvassing, perhaps the gold standard of person-to-person political campaigning. Are they perhaps afraid of Democratic standard-bearers making the same mistake twice?

In the endless post-mortem of the 2016 Presidential election, an article in Politico argued that the Clinton campaign was too data-driven and model-driven, and refused local requests, especially in Michigan, for boots-on-the-ground support. It quoted a longtime political hand in Michigan as describing quote “months of failed attempts to get attention to the collapse she was watching unfold in slow-motion among women and African-American millennials.”

I confess I saw something of that phenomenon on a recent Saturday. I’m living in Pittsburgh these days, and in the morning, I worked a Pennsylvania-based phone bank for my preferred political party. One of my first calls was to someone in the Philadelphia area, who told me he had already made his absentee ballot request and asked, while he had me on the phone, when his ballot would come. “There used to be someone around here I forget what you call her but someone I could ask stuff of.” That was strike one.

In another call, to a man in the Erie area, the conversation turned to yard signs. He said he would like to put one out but he had no idea where to get it. Strike two. In the late afternoon, two of us went to a neighborhood near us to put out door-hangers, and if we saw someone face-to-face we would ask if they wanted a yard sign. One fellow said he would. “We were supposed to get one,” he told us. When he saw we had a stack of them in our car, he sheepishly added, “We were supposed to get two in fact, one for a friend.” That was my third indication in one day that there was a lack of political party involvement at the very local level—in three different parts of what could well be the most critical swing state of the 2020 Presidential election.

When I strung these three moments together over a beer, my partner immediately thought of a book she owned, Get Out the Vote, now in its fourth edition. Its authors, Donald Green and Alan Gerber, argue that political consultants and campaign managers have underappreciated boots-on-the-ground canvassing in person and on the phone, in favor of less personal, more easily-scaled methods—radio and TV advertising, robocalling, mass mailings, and the like.

Of particular interest, they base their case with real data, based on experimental research. The first edition of their book described a few dozen such experiments; their new edition, they say, summarizes hundreds.

One of those authors is Donald Green, a political scientist at Columbia University focusing on such issues as voting behavior and partisanship, and most importantly, methodologies for studying politics and elections. His teaching career started at Yale University, where he directed its Institution for Social and Policy Studies. He joins us via Skype.

Steven Cherry Don, welcome to the podcast.

Donald Green Thank you very much for having me.

Steven Cherry Modern campaigns can employ an army of advisers, consultants, direct mail specialists, phone bank vendors, and on and on. You say that much of the advice candidates get from these professionals comes from war stories and not evidence. Robocalls seem to be one example of that. The study of a 2006 Texas primary found that 65 000 calls for one candidate increased his vote share by about two votes.

Donald Green Yes, the robocalls have an almost perfect record of never working in randomized trials. These are trials in which we randomly assigned some voters to get a robocall and others not and allow the campaign to give it its best shot with the best possible robocall. And then at the end of the election, we look at voter turnout records to see who voted. And in that particular case, the results were rather dismal. But not just in that case. I think that there have been more than 10 such large-scale experiments, and it’s hard to think of an instance in which they’ve performed well.

Steven Cherry The two robocallers in Michigan allegedly made 12 000 calls into Detroit, which is majority black—85 000 calls in total to there and similar areas in other cities. According to a report in the Associated Press, calls falsely claimed that voting by mail would result in personal information going into databases that will be used by police to resolve old warrants, credit card companies to collect debts, and federal officials to track mandatory vaccines. It quoted the calls as saying, “Don’t be finessed into giving your private information to The Man. Beware of vote-by-mail.” You’ve studied plenty of affirmative campaigns, that is, attempts to increase voter participation. Do you have any thoughts about this negative robocalling?

Donald Green Well, that certainly seems like a clear case of attempted voter suppression—to try to scare people away from voting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. I haven’t heard the call. I’d be curious to know something about the voiceover that was used. But let’s suppose that it seemed credible. You know, the question is whether people take it seriously enough or whether they questioned the content, maybe talking to others in ways that undercut its effectiveness. But if robocalls seldom work, it’s probably because people just don’t notice them. Not sure whether this one would potentially work because it would get somebody to notice at any rate. We don’t know how effective it would be. I suspect not terribly effective, but probably effective enough to be concerning.

Steven Cherry Yeah, it was noticed enough that complaints about it filtered up to the state attorney general, but that doesn’t give us any quantitative data.

For decades, campaigns have spent a lot of their money on television advertising. And it can influence strategy. To take just one example, there’s a debate among Democrats about whether their candidate should invest in Texas because there’s so many big media markets. It’s a very expensive state to contest. What does the experimental data tell us about television?

Donald Green Experience on television is relatively rare. One that I’m most familiar with is one that actually I helped conduct with my three coauthors back when we were studying the Texans for Rick Perry campaign in 2006. We randomly assigned 18 of the 20 media markets in Texas to receive varying amounts of TV advertising, and various timings at which point it would be rolled out. And we conducted daily tracking polls to see the extent to which public opinion moved as ads rolled out in various media markets. And what we found was there was some effect of Rick Perry’s advertising campaign, but it subsided very quickly. Only a few days passed before it was essentially gone without a trace, which means that one can burn quite a lot of money for a relatively evanescent effect in terms of the campaign. I really don’t think that there’s much evidence that the very, very large amounts of money that are spent on television in the context of a presidential campaign have any lasting effect. And so it’s really an open question as to whether, say, the $300 million dollars that the Clinton campaign spent in 2016 would have been better spent least as well spent on the ground.

Steven Cherry In contrast to war stories, you and your colleagues conduct true randomized experiments. Maybe you could say a little bit more about how hard that is to do in the middle of an election.

Yes, it’s a juggling act for sure. The idea is, if we wanted to study, for example, the effects of direct mail on voter turnout, one would randomly assign large lists of registered voters, some to get the mail, some to be left alone. And then we’d use the fact that voting is a public record in the United States—and a few other countries as well—to gauge voter turnout after the election is over. This is often unsatisfactory for campaigns. They want to know the answer ahead of time. But first, we know no good way of answering the question before people actually cast their ballots. And so this is something that’s been done in increasing numbers since 1998. And now hundreds of those trials have been done on everything ranging from radio, robocalls, TV, direct mail, phone calls, social media, etc, etc.

Steven Cherry One thing you would expect campaign professionals to have data on is cost-effectiveness, but apparently they don’t. But you do. You’ve found, for example, that you can generate the same 200 votes with a quarter of a million robocalls, 38 000 mailers, or 2500 door-to-door conversations.

Donald Green Yes, we try to not only gauge the effects of the intervention through randomized trials but also try to figure out what that amounts to in terms of dollars per vote. And these kinds of calculations are always going to be context-dependent because some campaigns are able to rely on inexpensive people power, to inspire volunteers in vast numbers. And so in some sense, the costs that we estimate could be greatly overstated for the kinds of boots-on-the-ground canvassing that are typical of presidential elections in battleground states. Nevertheless, I think that it is interesting to note that even with relatively cautious calculations, to the effect that people are getting $16 an hour for canvassing, canvassing still acquits itself rather well in terms of its comparisons to other campaign tactics.

Steven Cherry Now that’s just for turnout, not votes for one candidate instead of another; a nonpartisan good-government group might be interested in turnout for its own sake, but a campaign wants a higher turnout of its own voters. How does it make that leap?

Donald Green Well, typically what they do is rely on voter files—and augmented voter files, which is, say, voter files that had other information about people appended to them—in order to make an educated guess about which people on the voter file are likely to be supportive of their own campaign. So Biden supporters have been micro-targeted and so have Trump supporters and so on and so forth, based on their history of donating to campaigns or signing petitions or showing up in party primaries. And that makes the job of the campaign much easier because instead of trying to persuade people or win them over from the other side, they’re trying to bring a bigger army to the battlefield by building up enthusiasm and mobilizing their own core supporters. So the ideal for that kind of campaign is a person who is very strongly aligned with the candidate that is sponsoring the campaign but has a low propensity of voting. And so that that kind of person is really perfect for a mobilization campaign.

So that could also be done demographically. I mean, there are zip codes in Detroit that are 80 percent black.

Donald Green Yes, there are lots of ways of doing this based on aggregates. No, you often don’t have to rely on aggregates because you typically have information about each person. But if you were to basically do it, say, precinct by precinct, you could use as proxies for the left—percentage-African-American—or proxies for the right demographics that are associated with Trump voting. So it’s possible to do it, but it’s probably not state of the art.

Steven Cherry You mentioned door-to-door canvassing; it increases turnout but—perhaps counterintuitively—apparently, it doesn’t matter much whether it’s a close contest or a likely blowout, and if it doesn’t matter what the canvasser’s message is.

Donald Green This is one of the most interesting things, actually about studying canvassing and other kinds of tactics experimentally. It appears that some of the most important communication at the door is nonverbal. You know, you show up at my door, and I wonder what you’re up to—are you trying to sell me something, trying to, you know, make your way in here? I figure, oh, actually you’re just having a pleasant conversation. You’re a person like me. You’re taking your time out to encourage me to vote. Well, that sounds okay. And I think that that message is probably the thing that sticks with people, perhaps more than the details of what you’re trying to say to me about the campaign or the particularities about why I should vote—should I vote because it’s my civic duty or should I vote because I need to stand up in solidarity with my community? Those kinds of nuances don’t seem to matter as much as we might suppose.

Steven Cherry So it seems reminiscent of what the sociologists would call a Hawthorne effect.

Donald Green Some of it is reminiscent of the Hawthorne effect. The Hawthorne effect is basically, we increase our productivity when we’re being watched. And so there’s some sense in which being monitored, being encouraged by another person makes us feel as though we’ve got to give a bit more effort. So there’s a bit of that. But I think partly what’s going on is voting is a social activity. And just as you’re more likely to go to a party if you were invited by a person as opposed to by e-mail. So too, you’re more likely to show up to vote if somebody makes an authentic, heartfelt appeal to you and encourages you to vote in-person or through something that’s very much like in-person. So it’s some gathering or some friend to friend communication as opposed to something impersonal, like you get a postcard.

Steven Cherry So without looking into the details of the Biden campaign flip-flop on door-to-door canvassing, your hunch would be that they’re making the right move?

Donald Green Yes, I think so. I mean, putting aside the other kinds of normative concerns about whether people are at risk if they get up and go out to canvass or they’re putting others at risk … In terms of the raw politics of winning votes, it’s a good idea in part because in 2018, they were able to field an enormous army of very committed activists in many of the closely contested congressional elections and showed apparently very good, good results. And the tactic itself is so well tested that if they can do it with appropriate PPE and precautions, they could be quite effective.

Steven Cherry In your research you found by contrast, door-hangers and yard signs—the way I spent that Saturday afternoon I described—have little or maybe even no utility.

Donald Green Well, yard signs might have some utility to candidates, especially down-ballot candidates who are trying to increase their vote share. It doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on voter turnout. Maybe that’s because the election is already in full swing and everybody knows that there’s an election coming up—the yard sign isn’t going to convey any new information. But I do think the door hangers have some residual effect. They’re probably about as effective as a leaflet or a mailer, which is not very effective, but maybe a smidge better than zero.

Steven Cherry You’re more positive on phone banks, albeit with some qualifiers.

Donald Green Yes, I think that phone banking, especially authentic volunteer-staffed phone banking, can be rather effective. You know, I think that if you have an unhurried conversation with someone who is basically like-minded. They’re presumably targeted because they’re someone who shares more or less your political outlook and you bring them around to explain to them why it’s an important and historic election, giving them any guidance you can about when and how to vote. You can have an effect. It’s not an enormous effect. It’s something in the order of, say, three percentage points or about one additional vote for every 30 calls you complete. But it’s a substantial effect.

And if you are able to extract a commitment to vote from that person and you were to be so bold as to call them back on the day before the election to make sure that they’re making good on their pledge, then you can have an even bigger effect, in fact, a very large effect. So I do think it can be effective. I also think that perfunctory, hurried calls by telemarketing operations are rather ineffective for a number of reasons, but especially the lack of authenticity.

Steven Cherry Let’s turn to social media, particularly Facebook. You described one rather pointless Facebook campaign that ended up costing $474 per vote. But your book also describes a very successful experiment in friend-to-friend communication on Facebook.

Donald Green That’s right. We have a number of randomized trials suggesting that encouragements to vote via Facebook ads or other kinds of Facebook media that are mass-produced seem to be relatively limited in their effects. Perhaps the biggest, most intensive Facebook advertising campaign was its full-day banner ads that ran all day long—I think it was the 2010 election—and had precisely no effect, even though it was tested among 61 million people.

More effective on Facebook were ads that showed you whether your Facebook friends had claimed to vote. Now, that didn’t produce a huge harvest of votes, but it increased turnout by about a third of a percentage point. So better than nothing. The big effects you see on Facebook and elsewhere are where people are, in a personalized way, announcing the importance of the upcoming election and urging their Facebook friends—their own social networks—to vote.

And that seems to be rather effective and indeed is part of a larger literature that’s now coming to light, suggesting that even text messaging, though not a particularly personal form of communication, is quite effective when friends are texting other friends about the importance of registering and voting. Surprisingly effective, and that, I think, opens up the door to a wide array of different theories about what can be done to increase voter turnout. It seems as though friend-to-friend communication or neighbor-to-neighbor communication or communication among people who are coworkers or co-congregants … that could be the key to raising turnout—not by not just one or two percentage points, but more like eight to 10.

Steven Cherry On this continuum of personal versus impersonal, Facebook groups,—which are a new phenomenon—seem to lie somewhere in between. Some people are calling them “toxic echo chambers,” but they would seem to maybe be a godsend for political engagement.

Donald Green I would think so, as long as the communication within the groups is authentic. If it’s if it’s automated, then probably not so much. But to the extent that the people in these groups have gotten to know each other or knew each other before they came into the group, then I think communication among them or between them could be quite compelling.

Steven Cherry Yes. Although, of course, that person that you think you’re getting to know might be some employee in St. Petersburg, Russia, of the Internet Research Agency. Snapchat has been getting some attention these days in terms of political advertising. They’ve tried to be more transparent than Facebook, and they do some fact-checking on political advertising. Could it be a better platform for political ads or engagement?

Donald Green I realize I just don’t know very much about the nuances of what they’re doing. I’m not sure that I have enough information to say.

Steven Cherry Getting back to more analog activities, your book discusses events like rallies and processions, but I didn’t see anything about smaller coffee-klatch-style events where, say, you invite all your neighbors and friends to hear a local candidate speak. That would seem to combine the effectiveness of door-to-door canvassing with the Facebook friend-to-friend campaign. But maybe it’s hard to study experimentally.

Donald Green That’s right. I would be very, very optimistic about the effects of those kinds of small gatherings. And it’s not that we are skeptical about their effects. It’s just, as you say, difficult to orchestrate a lot of experiments where people are basically opening their homes to friends. We need to talk to rope in more volunteers to bring in their friends experimentally.

Steven Cherry The business model for some campaign professionals is to get paid relative to the amount of money that gets spent. Does that disincentivize the kind of person-to-person campaigning you generally favor?

Donald Green Yes, I would say that one of the biggest limiting factors on person-to-person campaigning is that it’s very difficult for campaign consultants to make serious money off of it. And that goes double for the kind of serious money that is poured into campaigns in the final weeks. Huge amounts of money tend to be donated within the last three weeks of an election. And by that point, it’s very difficult to build the infrastructure necessary for large-scale canvassing or really any kind of retail-type politics. For that reason, the last-minute money tends to be dumped into digital ads and in television advertising—and in lots and lots of robocalls.

Steven Cherry Don, as we record, this is less than a week after the first 2020 presidential debate and other events in the political news have maybe superseded the debate already. But I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about it in terms of getting out the vote. Many people, I have to say, myself included, found the debate disappointing. Do you think it’s possible for a debate to depress voter participation?

Donald Green I think it’s possible. I think it’s rather unlikely to the extent that political science researchers have argued that negative campaigning depresses turnout, tends to depress turnout among independent voters, not so much among committed partisans who watched the debate and realize more than ever that their opponent is aligned with the forces of evil. For independent voters, they might say, “a plague on both your houses, I’m going to participate.” But I think that this particular election is one that is so intrinsically interesting that the usual way that independents feel about partisan competition probably doesn’t apply here.

Steven Cherry On a lighter note, an upcoming podcast episode for me will be about video game culture. And it’ll be with a professor of communications who writes her own video games for her classes. Your hobby turns out to be designing board games. Are they oriented toward political science? Is there any overlap of these passions?

Donald Green You know, it’s strange that they really don’t overlap at all. My interest in board games goes back to when I was a child. I’ve always been passionate about abstract board games like chess or go. And there was an accident that I started to design them myself. I did it actually when my fully-adult children were kids and we were playing with construction toys. And I began to see possibilities for games in those construction toys. And one thing led to another. And they were actually deployed to the world and marketed. And now I think they’re kind of going the way of the dinosaur. But there’s still a few dinosaurs like me who enjoy playing on an actual physical board.

Steven Cherry My girlfriend and I still play Rack-O. So maybe this is not a completely lost cause.

Well Don, I think in the US, everyone’s thoughts will be far from the election until the counting stops. Opinions and loyalties differ. But the one thing I think we can all agree on is that participation is essential for the health of the body politic. On behalf of all voters, let me thank you for all that your book has done toward that end and for myself and my listeners, thank you for joining me today.

Donald Green I very much appreciate it. Thanks.

Steven Cherry We’ve been speaking with Donald Green, a political scientist and co-author of Get Out the Vote, which takes a data-driven look at maximizing efforts to get out the vote.

This interview was recorded October 5th, 2020. Our thanks to Mike at Gotham Podcast Studio for audio engineering. Our music is by Chad Crouch.

Radio Spectrum is brought to you by IEEE Spectrum, the member magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

For Radio Spectrum, I’m Steven Cherry.

Note: Transcripts are created for the convenience of our readers and listeners. The authoritative record of IEEE Spectrum’s audio programming is the audio version.

We welcome your comments on Twitter (@RadioSpectrum1 and @IEEESpectrum) and Facebook.

Supporting Black Scholars in Robotics

Post Syndicated from Aaron M. Johnson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/at-work/education/supporting-black-scholars-in-robotics

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent positions of IEEE or its organizational units.

Robotics is a fast-growing field with important economic and societal impacts. Despite the relevance of robotics, however, there is little diversity among educators and researchers in the area. This problem is especially acute among Black scholars and is not improving. In this article, we outline the representation problem and introduce a reading list along with suggestions for how those in academia—researchers, teachers, students, conference organizers, and others—can take actions that increase Black representation in robotics. While our analysis focuses on the situation in the United States, we hope that our suggestions will be of use to colleagues in other countries as well.

Building a Quantum Computing Workforce from the Ground Up

Post Syndicated from Dexter Johnson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/at-work/education/building-a-quantum-computing-workforce-from-the-ground-up

Although quantum computing is still in its infancy, its potential means it has already become one of the fastest-growing STEM fields. Consequently, industry and academia are now starting to tackle the problem of creating a labor pool that can leverage the opportunities provided by this new field.

It’s likely that any future quantum workforce will have to come from a diverse universe of scientists and engineers, including material scientists and electronic engineers working on hardware and code developers and mathematicians working on software.

This was the view of education leaders from IBM, NYU and Howard University at a recent virtual meeting set up to discuss the challenges of the anticipated quantum computing talent shortage. 

“You have to have advanced education in order to make a good living in this industry,” explained Tina Brower-Thomas,  Education Director and Howard University Executive Director, Center for Integrated Quantum Materials. “So the question is are we preparing our K through 12 to go to the schools that have requisite curriculum that will then prepare them to be in the industry? I think, unfortunately, the answer is “no” and that’s a long-standing problem we’ve had in this country.”

IBM has been trying to pull both industry and academia together to prepare for the day when quantum computing requires a large number of trained professionals. One of IBM’s initiatives has been its Qiskit Global Summer School for future quantum software developers (prerequisites are the ability to multiply two matrices and basic Python programming experience). Qiskit has already had over 5,000 students from around the world apply to it.

Abe Asfaw, Global Lead of Quantum Education, IBM Quantum, noted that what’s really helped has been the advent of
cloud-based quantum computing.

Cloud-based systems mean no longer having a “huge barrier to entry where you have to learn quantum mechanics and then you have to learn several other things along the way. You can make the barrier a little bit lower to just a question of programming,” said Asfaw.

While being able to program cloud-based systems has democratized the field somewhat, Javad Shabani, Assistant Professor of Physics and Chair of the Shabani Lab, New York University, believes that if we’re looking for a generation that are really going to make breakthroughs, they’re going have to learn the hardware of quantum computers.

“In quantum computing at this stage in its development, you can’t separate software and hardware,” said Shabani. “We know that we don’t have a perfect quantum computer, so in order to make a little improvement you need to know the quantum computer inside and out [because of] the errors that exist in the quantum computers.”

The experiences of Shabani, Asfaw and Brower-Thomas all confirmed that even if you engage people early, broaden the spectrum of people who come into the field, a key issue is being able to offer students realistic and practical expectations of what they can expect in the immediate future for the themselves.

Shabani noted: “We all like to talk about the great potential of quantum computing, but these great capabilities come with great challenges. So we need to be careful about the hype and explain to students the realities of these great challenges and that they also create great opportunities.”

A Virtual Reality Bias Simulator

Post Syndicated from Charles Q. Choi original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/education/bias-simulator

In the wake of new Black Lives Matter protests, one company hopes to use virtual reality to help people better understand others by putting them in their colleagues’ shoes. The aim is to create better workplaces by helping employees develop and practice more respectful ways of interacting with each other.

By immersing people in realistic digital environments, virtual reality (VR) can lead to mind-bending experiences, such as making users feel as if they have swapped bodies with someone else. The effects of VR can persist long after these experiences; psychologists hope this can help in therapies for ailments such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Coronavirus’s Economic Blow Forces Universities To Adapt

Post Syndicated from Prachi Patel original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/education/coronaviruss-economic-blow-universities-adapt

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

The economic slowdown from the coronavirus pandemic presents daunting financial challenges for public and private universities as they face their biggest crisis in decades.

The University of Kentucky is dealing with a more than $70 million shortfall in funds. The university’s engineering school faces a 10 percent budget cut, about the average for other schools at the university. Rudolph Buccheit, dean of the college of engineering, says that while the state budget appropriation is expected to be the same as last year, academic colleges including the engineering school have “picked up expenses that are above and beyond normal leading to a budget deficit.”

Increased expenses for colleges include the cost of technologies needed for distance learning, facilities upkeep and sanitization, and returning students’ room and board fees, among others.

“A lot of public universities are in similar sort of situations,” Buccheit says, facing increased expenses in addition to reduced funding due to state budget cuts. “We want to see if the federal stimulus package will include support for states to protect higher education.” The $14 billion that higher education institutions are receiving so far under the coronavirus relief bill is nowhere close to meeting their needs.

Another big hit could come from lower tuition revenue, given the uncertainty about fall enrollment numbers. “Economic circumstances have changed for some families and there’s uncertainty with health,” he says. The University of Kentucky is planning for 20 percent reduction in first year class enrollment.

Even private schools with large endowments will reel from the tuition loss. And this especially acute for science and engineering schools, since a large part of the student body is international, and those students typically pay higher tuition.

“Undergraduate tuition is the bread and butter,” says Karen Panetta, an IEEE Fellow and dean of graduate education for the school of engineering at Tufts University. “And now you’ve got students saying I think I might defer a year, which is sending shockwaves through research institutions. Right now schools are panicking over this huge loss of revenue.”

Being a Research 1 institution, Tufts also depends on federal research funding, and pandemic-related laboratory closures will affect those research dollars, she says.

Meanwhile, costs keep ratcheting up. Tufts is planning for an anticipated opening in the fall in which they would have to implement social distancing. That means the way everything is done in an academic has to change: dormitories, libraries, classrooms, common spaces. “So the big thing is not just financial loss because that’s global,” Panetta says, “but also how much is it going to cost us for face masks and sanitization.

Plus, she adds, “I took definitive action and made a conscious decision that even if we are open we’re going to have classes available online.” That’s because international students might not be able to get into the country in October. So all the Tufts engineering departments have already started working on courses being available online, which comes at a cost.

Long-term impact on finances might depend on how long the pandemic and its after-effects last. For now, says Buccheit, “we have reserves we can use to help get us through what we hope will be a one or two year fiscal problem.” That means they won’t have to suspend or cancel any programs, or merge smaller departments. In fact, they plan to continue with the launch of a new undergraduate biomedical engineering program this coming fall, something that had been in the works for two years.

How Online Learning Kept Higher Ed Open During the Coronavirus Crisis

Post Syndicated from Robert Ubell original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/education/how-online-learning-kept-higher-ed-open-during-the-coronavirus-crisis

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

This spring, under the threat of mass infection and with little or no preparation or planning, millions of professors and instructors around the world shifted their lectures, seminars, discussion sessions, and other in-person classes to online learning platforms. Millions of college students made the shift with them. Steering the giant lifeboat of academia from on-campus to online in just a few weeks has to count as one of the most unimaginable and exceptional feats ever achieved in higher education. Before the pandemic, only a third of U.S. college students were enrolled in online classes. Now, essentially all of them are. 

Engineering a Repairable World

Post Syndicated from Kevin O’Reilly original https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/at-work/education/engineering-a-repairable-world

This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of 
IEEE Spectrum
 or the IEEE.

We are surrounded by digital electronics that are getting harder and harder to fix.

As manufacturers have built and sold us more and more devices, they have constructed barriers to fixing them. Schematics and repair diagrams, once widely distributed, are now considered proprietary. Software locks prevent the repair of devices small and large, from tablets to tractors, including coffee makers

This trend is worrying engineers, many of whom tinkered with their broken stuff as children. As a former engineer myself, I met countless colleagues who were able to point to repair as the start of their interest in the field. 

Repair is an important source of instruction and inspiration. And if we lose our ability to fix our devices, an important pipeline of young minds into the engineering world could be forced shut.

Once those young minds do decide to become engineers, the impact of the technology they design and build has consequences on real people’s lives. When a Nebraska farmer is unable to fix a broken fertilizer spreader, for example, his crop, and therefore his livelihood, can hang in balance. 

That’s why we need to view repair, not only as an entryway to the field, but also as an essential or even ethical element of sustainable design and engineering.

A New Generation of Tinkerers

Surya Raghavendran’s story demonstrates the power of repair to inspire. When Surya was in the 9th grade, he dropped his iPhone 5c and cracked the screen. He paid US$120 for a screen replacement at an Apple store, but a faulty part prevented his screen from working for long.

Surya could have brought the phone back to the Apple store, but not wanting his parents to think he was being careless with the phone, he decided to fix it himself. He watched DIY YouTube videos and bought the parts and tools necessary to complete the repair. Before long, he had mastered the process and started his own business repairing his classmates’ broken screens for about half the price that the Apple store charged him.

Repair allowed Surya to fix his phone and become an entrepreneur in high school. But more than that, it sparked an interest in engineering, which he now studies at the University of Wisconsin.

Stories like Surya’s are now at risk, with many manufacturers, including Apple, refusing to provide the public with the parts, tools, and information needed to repair their devices. Luckily, because Apple has a large user base and makes a limited number of phone models, there is enough of a community to troubleshoot iPhone problems, create instructions to fix them, and even find third-party replacement parts. Users of Android phones, with hundreds of phone models, aren’t so lucky.

To ensure that future Suryas can get their start, we need manufacturers to provide the public with the essential elements of repair. Right to Repair reforms would mandate this, helping to create a tech space friendly to curiosity and learning. But the impact of today’s restrictive repair environment goes beyond our students.

Right to Repair in the Cornfield

Across the heartland of America, farmers are similarly throwing up their hands in frustration. Despite their years of practical experience, they are increasingly unable to fix much of their equipment, threatening their ability to hit razor-thin planting and harvesting windows.

Again, know-how is not the problem—the rise of software in agricultural equipment is preventing repair. Functions that used to have an analog equivalent are now controlled by a central computing system. This provides some conveniences to farmers, such as adjusting certain settings that used to require getting out of the cabin, now with controls at their fingertips.

But along with this change came a significant number of points of failure. Settings that used to be determined by the turn of a valve now use controllers, software, wiring, sensors, and actuators. If any one of those goes down, a whole function is lost. When that happens, farmers are out of luck—only original-equipment manufacturers have access to the diagnostic software required to identify the issue preventing the device from operating correctly. Without these diagnostic tools or other repair information, there is often nothing that a farmer can do to fix the problem on the spot.

Instead, farmers have to take their machine into a dealership. This exposes them to high costs and wait times that the manufacturer’s repair monopoly enables.

Jared Wilson, a Nebraska farmer, talked about one such incident with Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign director. Shortly after loading up his John Deere fertilizer spreader, a problem developed. The machine was unable to create the hydraulic pressure needed to work properly.

Jared remembers hauling the machine into his dealer, where it sat full of fertilizer for 32 days. He said he called daily and spoke with the manager in person twice. In the time that he could have fertilized 10,000 hectares of land, the dealer found and fixed a mechanical valve that failed. This was the kind of problem that Jared said he could have fixed himself. 

Teaching Repairability

When creating equipment for farmers like Jared, engineers start with the problem that needs to be solved. Jared is not able to spread enough fertilizer fast enough, so engineers design a machine that can solve this problem at scale.

But the problem of fixing the device itself can often be overlooked. That’s why iFixit, the self-proclaimed online repair manual for everything, has teamed up with 80 universities around the world to instill the importance of repairability.

Over the course of a term, students in the program take electronic gadgets apart, identify common problems, and build repair guides that are then included in iFixit’s database. This allows them to acquire hands-on experience with everything from home appliances to the latest laptop.

Beyond technical writing and hands-on repair experience, students get exposure to how design decisions impact the lifespan of a given device. The use of adhesives, for example, might allow a cell phone to be a few millimeters thinner than one using traditional fasteners, but it presents real problems for repair and recycling. Is a slightly sleeker device really worth reducing its lifespan or making end-of-lifecycle processing more difficult and less effective?

These are the exact questions that iFixit wants engineering students to be asking. Indeed, they are topics we all should be thinking about.

Right to Repair and the Rest of Us

Despite the best efforts of the iFixit’s technical-writing project, our society is in danger of losing its ability to repair things. Many view the technology we use in our daily lives as almost magical based on the incredible feats they can perform. But this attitude scares lots of us away from opening our devices to fix them when they break.

This ‘fixophobia’ might help convince consumers to pay premium prices for repair or trust the manufacturers pushing upgrades to fixable devices. But at the most basic level, we have lost the agency that should come with ownership. When we buy something, we should have the right to keep it running for as long as we desire.

Due in part to this mentality, many of us now see our devices as disposable. Americans discard roughly 416,000 cell phones every single day. This is one reason that electronic waste is the fastest growing part of our waste stream. Only about 25 percent of materials comprising this e-waste gets recovered in the United States—the rest likely ends up in landfills, where it leaches toxic chemicals into our environment.

The more devices we toss, the more new devices we need to make, which stresses our limited natural resources. Manufacturing a single iPhone 6 requires 295 pounds of raw material. You don’t need to be an environmental engineer to see that we can’t continue this trend forever.

These practices have brought us to a crossroads: We can either continue on this path of unsustainable consumption and manufacturer reliance, or we can forge a new path towards a greener, more independent society.

I want to live in a world where we are conscious of the environmental impact of what we design, build and consume, where we make things that last, fix them when they break, and design them to be modularly upgraded, where we empower people to explore how their devices work, identify weaknesses, and develop ways to improve them, where access to information encourages dialogue so that innovations come from every corner of our society.

Who better to create this world than engineers? 

More than 100 engineering professors have started by signing this letter calling for Right to Repair reforms. Join us in creating this world by signing today.

There’s a lot we need to fix. We can start by ditching repair restrictions and enacting the Right to Repair. 

Kevin O’Reilly is a legislative advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

Education & Research Resources from Industry

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/education-research-resources-from-industry

There is a limited number of Keysight’s Education and Research Resources USB drives still available. Get over 200 technical items such as application notes, technical briefs, links to videos and webinars. Topics include materials research, test and measurement science, software and much more. Don’t miss out on this must-have educational tool that contains the latest educational resources to help you succeed in your classroom and lab.

Please note: This offer is only available in the United States and Canada.

photo

Energy Research User Handbook

Post Syndicated from IEEE Spectrum Recent Content full text original https://spectrum.ieee.org/whitepaper/energy-research-user-handbook

imagine

This book includes a select set of examples curated to show how researchers and industrial partners are changing the way we produce and consume energy. See what is possible when leveraging the NI platform.

Featured in Handbook:

· Renewables

· Nuclear

· Condition Monitoring

· Fusion

· Tidal

· Wind

· Photovoltaics

New Refinancing Option Offers a Reprieve from a Student Loan

Post Syndicated from Prodigy Finance original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/new-refinancing-option-offers-a-reprieve-from-a-student-loan

Packing up and moving your life halfway across the world to further your career can cost a lot. Of course, an advanced degree is often the key to that career growth and the tuition for that degree likely represents the biggest cost. To meet those costs, people often turn to student loans secured in their home country.

Such was the case for Anupam Tetu, who had completed his bachelor’s degree in India and landed a good job in his home country. But Tetu had even greater aspirations. More than three years ago he moved to the United States to begin his studies in a master’s degree program at North Carolina State University.

After completing his master’s degree in engineering, Tetu found a job in the US. All was going as planned, except that Tetu was saddled with an unfavorable student loan for the equivalent of $45,000.

“I had to secure my student loan from India and pay for it in Indian rupees,” explained Tetu. “The interest rate was fairly high at 12.5% and had to be paid over a 10-year term. Maybe the worst thing about it was that my parents had to be cosigners on the loan, using their house as collateral.”

As a solution to the issue, Tetu considered refinancing the loan. Refinancing involves taking out a loan from another bank or financial institution to pay off the original loan, which is usually set at a high interest rate while the new loan offers a lower interest rate. Tetu knew this made financial sense, not just because the refinancing would give him a lower interest rate: It would also give him the flexibility to shorten the loan’s term from ten years to just three. But Tetu had neither US citizenship nor green card status to secure a refinancing loan with most US financial institutions.

“I knew refinancing could be a solution because it would offer me a lower interest rate,” said Tetu. “I never planned on making payments for 10 years on my loan, I just wanted to pay it off quickly and invest in other ways. It did not seem possible to do it because every bank I checked with required a US citizen as cosigner.”

Just when Tetu had resolved himself to being stuck in his current loan situation, he learned from his girlfriend, who had taken a student loan from Prodigy Finance, that Prodigy Finance was now refinancing student loans originating with foreign banks.

After six months at his new job in the US and without citizenship or a green card, he successfully applied for a refinancing loan from Prodigy. In less than two months from the time he made his initial application, Tetu refinanced his loan. His interest rate dropped to from 12.5% to 9% and he was able to remove his parents as cosigners.

“The reduction of my interest rate by 3.5% was a big deal,” said Tetu. “But knowing that my parents’ house is no longer collateral for the loan has been a big relief for me and my family.”

The longest part of the entire process was coordinating the transfer of funds from Prodigy Finance to his lender back in India. Tetu said he remained involved in the process simply to ensure that communications were running smoothly.

“I had concerns about coordination between my Indian bank and Prodigy Finance and potential money transfer issues,” said Tetu. “Prodigy has a good service team and they were responsive to my questions and concerns, so it wasn’t that big of a hassle.”

Tetu says that he has enthusiastically recommended this refinancing avenue to some of his friends and colleagues who have found themselves in similar circumstances. He believes that if there is a greater awareness of this option for recent graduates, who have found jobs but are still saddled with unfavorable loans from their home country, it would alleviate some hardships for these people.

Tetu added: “I think Prodigy can extend their reach by establishing partnerships with foreign-based consultancies that provide GRE/GMAT coaching. Alumni associations and a presence at career fairs would help too.”

Foreign Graduates Gain Access to Refinancing of Student Loans

Post Syndicated from Prodigy Finance original https://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/foreign-graduates-gain-access-to-refinancing-of-student-loans

You graduated from one of the top universities in the world. You just started a great new job in your adopted country and you’re being paid well. Everything is going just as you had hoped, but you’re still saddled with a huge student loan at a high interest rate that takes a big chunk of your monthly wages. Plus, your family back home probably has collateral attached to that loan limiting their financial options.

It’s a bleak picture, but there is a way to improve your situation: Refinance your educational loan. You might have even considered it already, but you remain a foreigner in your new country. You’re not a citizen, you don’t have a Social Security number, and you don’t have a credit history in your adopted country. All of these factors make it difficult for you to approach a bank to refinance a loan that was taken out in your country of origin.

A little over a year ago, a remedy to this situation was introduced, one that had not existed previously in the refinancing marketplace. Last year, the UK-based company Prodigy Finance began offering to refinance student loans that originated from a foreign country.

Prodigy Finance has been in the business of providing student loans to foreign students for more than 10 years. But the firm recognized that foreign students who had not taken out loans from Prodigy were burdened with crushing interest rates on those loans from their origin country and had no avenue for refinancing them in their adopted countries.

“For example, someone from India has taken out a student loan in Rupees equivalent to $50,000 at somewhere around 14% interest rate, with their family’s house on the line as collateral—a very complicated and difficult situation,” said Ricardo Fernandez, head of new businesses and strategic partnerships at Prodigy Finance. “All of a sudden we tell them that we can refinance their $50,000 loan, reduce their interest rate to 7% and eliminate the need for the cosigner. We can do this all without collateral and they can develop their credit history in the US.”

While graduates from business schools are likely familiar with refinancing loans, many engineering students are not, according to Fernandez. Prodigy has been trying to get the word out to these people through a number of channels such as the schools from which they graduate, alumni associations, and engineering companies that are employing these graduates, to name a few.

After raising awareness in the foreign graduate community, they just need to get them to the Prodigy Finance website where the entire process can be executed online.

“Once they click on our website, it’s a very easy and fast application,” said Fernandez. “In five minutes, they can get a quote by giving some information about the school they went to, some employee information, some financial information. Then they get a provisional offer.”

At this point, the potential refinancer can decide whether they like the interest rates—which vary between from 6% to 9%—and the duration of the loan, which can be set at between seven years to 20 years. Additionally, any co-signers of the original loan can be released from any further loan responsibilities.

If the refinancers agree to the terms of their new loan, then the verification process begins. This involves uploading documents online. These would include your ID, passport, and recent pay slips from your job all to verify that the information you provided in your application is true. After all these documents are uploaded, the final approval of the loan can often be completed on the same day. Finally, the refinance payment is made to the bank that provided the original loan.

“We settle the money directly with the counter-party bank,” explains Fernandez. “It’s a very smooth process. Basically, we substitute the loan and you now have a Prodigy Finance loan versus a State Bank of India loan or a Discover loan or a Sallie Mae loan or a Credila loan. And you become a client of Prodigy Finance. So a pretty straightforward process.”

Prodigy has also created an app from which you can manage the loan online, making payments or setting up an automatic debit with a recurring monthly payment.

Fernandez added: “Once a person understands the value of this, the value proposition is quite good. It really does make sense. Instead of paying $900 a month, you’re paying $600, you’re releasing your family from any sort of debt burden, and you’re building up a credit history in the US. All of it makes a lot of sense.”