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Improving The 3 D Spatial Visualization Skills Of Women Engineering Students

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.251.1 - 1.251.5

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Paper Authors

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Sheryl A. Sorby

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Beverly J. Baartmans

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

.— ..- . Session 1692

Improving the 3-D Spatial Visualization Skills of Women Engineering Students

Sheryl A. Sorby, Beverly J. Baartmans Michigan Technological University


Three-dimensional (3-D) spatial visualization ability is important to success in engineering studies. Unfortunately, studies show that 3-D spatial visualization skills of women often lag behind those of their male counterparts. In the fall of 1993, a course was developed at Michigan Technological University (MTU) to aid students in overcoming deficiencies in spatial visualization ability. This paper describes this course and presents some results from this study.


Traditionally, scientists and engineers have been white males, but there are compelling reasons to increase the number of women who choose engineering as a career. The engineering profession is faced with significant problems that need solutions. If we are to attract the best people to engineering, recruitment must occur from all of the population, not just from 50% of it. By increasing the number of women engineers, different perspectives and different solution methods will be proposed. In a study of the leadership qualities of men and women in executive positions, it was found that, “Executive women are more likely than executive men to move in new and original directions“1. Since executive positions more often go to employees coming from the technical ranks, increasing the number of women who study engineering should also, over the long run, increase the number of women executives in industry. The engineering profession and its image will be enhanced by greater participation of women. It may become a more caring and balanced profession that considers the impact . of engineering designs and projects on society, the environment, and the health of individuals The abilities of women cannot be ignored if this country is to solve its problems. Unfortunately, the number of women who choose to study engineering is still only a fraction of the total number of engineering students, despite years of concerted effort to change this trend. Visualization skills are critical to success in engineering, but women are much more likely to have deficiencies in this area than are their male counterparts . This paper will focus on 3-5 efforts at MTU to address these differences and enhance the ability of women to complete their engineering studies.

Spatial visualization ability develops in three stages according to Piagetian theory. In the first stage of development, children learn to distinguish a shape in relation to its surrounding environment. This stage of development is primarily concerned with two-dimensional shapes and nearly all children have achieved this level of spatial ability by the time they have started school. In the second stage of development, children learn to visualize what a three-dimensional object will look like from different viewpoints. This stage of development is usually achieved by the time students are in junior high school where students are correctly able to visualize what This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DUE-9254207

$iiii’ ) 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘.JRYRL.: .

Sorby, S. A., & Baartmans, B. J. (1996, June), Improving The 3 D Spatial Visualization Skills Of Women Engineering Students Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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