Removing Barriers to Success for Women Engineering Students: Improving 3-D Spatial Thinking Skills

January 25, 2022
12:00 pm


The ability to visualize in three dimensions is a cognitive skill that has been shown to be important for success in engineering and other technological fields. For engineering, the ability to mentally rotate 3-D objects is especially important. Unfortunately, of all the cognitive skills, 3-D rotation abilities exhibit robust gender differences, favoring males. The assessment of 3-D spatial skills and associated gender differences has been a topic of educational research for nearly a century; however, a great deal of the previous work has been aimed at merely identifying differences.

For nearly three decades, Sheryl Sorby has been conducting research aimed at identifying practical methods for improving 3-D spatial skills, especially for women engineering students. Her current research focuses on the role that spatial thinking skills play in engineering design and problem-solving. This presentation details the significant findings obtained over the past several years through her research and identifies strategies that appear to be effective in developing 3-D spatial skills and in contributing to student success.



Available to WEPAN members only. Log-in required.
Available to WEPAN members only. Log-in required.


Sheryl Sorby

Dr. Sheryl Sorby  is a Professor of Engineering Education at the University of Cincinnati. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the Dublin Institute of Technology conducting research in engineering education and is a professor emerita of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech. She is the former Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Engineering at Michigan Tech and served at the National Science Foundation as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education for nearly three years.

She received a BS in Civil Engineering, an MS in Engineering Mechanics, and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, all from Michigan Tech. Dr. Sorby has a well-established research program in spatial visualization, receiving her first grant from the NSF in 1993 to develop a course and course materials for helping engineering students develop their 3-D spatial skills. She has received numerous follow-up grants from the NSF and the Department of Education to further her work in developing and assessing spatial skills. Her spatial skills curriculum has been adopted by several engineering programs across the country.

In 2005 she received WEPAN’s Betty Vetter award for her work in improving the 3-D spatial skills of engineering students. She received ASEE’s Sharon Keillor award for Outstanding Woman Engineering Educator and the Claire Felbinger award for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from ABET. She is a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education, a fellow of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI), and is the immediate Past President of ASEE.

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