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Board # 125 : Spatial Skills Training Impacts Retention of Engineering Students – Does This Success Translate to Community College Students in Technical Education?

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

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

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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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Sheryl A. Sorby Ohio State University

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Dr. Sheryl Sorby is currently a Professor of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University and was recently a Fulbright Scholar at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin, Ireland. She is a professor emerita of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University and the P.I. or co-P.I. on more than $9M in grant funding, most for educational projects. She is the former Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech and she served at the National Science Foundataion as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education from January 2007 through August 2009. Prior to her appointment as Associate Dean, Dr. Sorby served as chair of the Engineering Fundamentals Department at Michigan Tech. She received a B.S. in Civil Engineering, an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, all from Michigan Tech. Dr. Sorby has a well-established research program in spatial visualization and is actively involved in the development of various educational programs.

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

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 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.

In the project’s second year (2015-2016), 95 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 (79%) as compared to male students (56%) was eligible. A higher percentage of Hispanic (71%) and African American students (76%) as compared to white students (54% ) was eligible (Since we did not request a socioeconomic status (SES) indicator, differences in race/ethnicity could be due to SES).

Preliminary evidence from four partner community college institutions is encouraging. Students who completed the SVS training course earned higher grades in their technical education courses than eligible students (those who took the PSVT:R and feel below 70%) who did not take the SVS course.

Since the 2015-2016 school year, community college partners have been offering a hybrid face-to-face/ asynchronous online format for the SVS training course. Also being tested is 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. It is anticipated that data collected in the third year will compare the outcomes of the face-to-face and online SVS training and the iPad App, and will track the persistence of the community college students who completed the SVS training course as compared to students who did not.

Metz, S., & Jarosewich, T., & Sorby, S. A. (2017, June), Board # 125 : Spatial Skills Training Impacts Retention of Engineering Students – Does This Success Translate to Community College Students in Technical Education? Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27719

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