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Board 103: Spatial Skills Training Impacts Retention of Engineering Students – Does This Success Translate to Community College Students in Technical Education?

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Susan Metz Stevens Institute of Technology (School of Engineering and Science)

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Susan Staffin Metz is the Executive Director of Diversity & Inclusion and Senior Research Associate at Stevens Institute of Technology. She is a long time member of the Stevens community serving as executive director of the Lore-El Center for Women in Engineering and Science and in 1990 launching WEPAN (Women in Engineering Proactive Network), a national organization catalyzing change in the academic climate for women in STEM fields. Under Susan’s leadership, both Stevens and WEPAN were recognized by the White House with the prestigious President’s Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. She has substantially contributed to the national STEM diversity policy agenda through participation on boards including the National Academy of Engineering Diversity Task Force, National Science Foundation Engineering Directorate and consultant to the National Academy of Engineering’s Center for Advancement of Scholarship in Engineering Education.

As PI or Co-PI on multi-institutional collaborative projects, Susan has secured nearly $10 million in grant funds and published or contributed to dozens of academic and scholarly papers, book chapters, conference proceedings and seminars on STEM diversity at the pre-college, college and workforce levels. She is a recipient of the Maria Mitchell Association’s Women in Science Award and is a Fellow of the Association for Women in Science.

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Tania Jarosewich Censeo Group

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Dr. Jarosewich leads program evaluation projects at Censeo Group. She was an associate director at the Indiana Center for Evaluation (Indiana University-Bloomington), postdoctoral research fellow at Duke University, and for many years worked as a school psychologist with the Cleveland Municipal School District. She is co-author of the Gifted Rating Scales, published by Elsevier and an author of a number of peer reviewed journal articles. She is an active member of the American Evaluation Association and a member of the Ohio Program Evaluators’ Group program committee. Dr. Jarosewich received her PhD in School Psychology from Kent State University and a BA in Psychology from the University of Cincinnati.

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Susan Staffin Metz Stevens Institute of Technology (School of Engineering and Science)

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Spatial Visualization Skills (SVS) include the ability to imagine what an object would look like from a different vantage point. A rigorous body of research indicates that SVS are critical for success in undergraduate engineering programs, and faculty maintain that engineering graphics should be considered a gateway course because of its impact on student retention. In one study, 80% of students who did poorly in their first engineering graphics course transferred out of engineering and into another major. Of all of the cognitive processes, SVS exhibit some of the most robust gender differences, favoring males. Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) groups, who are disproportionately underrepresented minorities (URM), are also at risk for poorly developed SVS. Low SVS for women and URM impact our ability to broaden participation in technician programs. The good news is that SVS are malleable and there is considerable evidence that spatial skills can be learned. Students who improve SVS persist in engineering at a higher rate than those with weak spatial visualization skills who do not improve their skills. This project is extending the work conducted in four-year institutions with face-to-face SVS training by investigating the impact of SVS training for community college students in technical education and is also investigating optimal formats. The project is assessing student SVS skills using the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotation (PSVT:R) at the start of the semester and again at the end of the semester, student course grades, and student persistence in an engineering technology major. Over the three years of the project, 175 students in technical education courses in four partner community college institutions completed an SVS training course using a tested curriculum, Developing Spatial Thinking. All students in eligible courses took the PSVT:R and students who earned scores below 70% were invited to participate in the SVS training course. A higher percentage of female students (82%) as compared to male students (58%) was eligible. A higher percentage of Hispanic (70%) and African American students (79%) as compared to white students (54% ) was eligible (Since we did not request an SES indicator, differences in race/ethnicity could be due to SES).

Preliminary evidence from four partner community college institutions is encouraging. Eligible students who completed the course earned a higher score on the post PSVT:R than students who did not complete the course. The higher scores on the assessment is a positive outcome that indicates improved spatial skills among course completers. An even more compelling outcome is that eligible students who completed the spatial skills course earned a higher grade in their credit-bearing course than did eligible students who did not complete the spatial skills course

Since the 2015-2016 school year, community college partners offered a hybrid face-to-face/ asynchronous online format for the SVS training course. Also tested was an iPad App for sketching course assignments that provides immediate feedback to students, removes teacher grading, tracks student progress to allow for early interventions, and allows students the option to take the training course on their own schedule. A combination of student-faculty connections and face-to-face support, new online course materials, and the iPad sketching app provided multiple means for engaging students and increasing student success.

Metz, S., & Jarosewich, T., & Metz, S. S. (2018, June), Board 103: Spatial Skills Training Impacts Retention of Engineering Students – Does This Success Translate to Community College Students in Technical Education? Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--29862

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