STEM students successfully recruited and enrolled? Now retain them!

Give beginning students a powerful boost with spatial visualization training

Spatial visualization skills (SVS), particularly the ability to visualize in three dimensions, are vital to engineering and other STEM disciplines. They’re critical for student retention, and because practicing and improving these skills impacts different student populations differently, they play an important role in achieving student equity.

On April 27 ENGAGE Engineering co-sponsored an exciting 1-hour webinar, Spatial Visualization: A Promising Intervention for Promoting Student Equity, with Drs. Jacob Segil and Jacquelyn Sullivan from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Their intervention model is producing impressive results.

The webinar recording and several related resources are now available online. If you missed this important session, want to hear it again, or share it with colleagues, take advantage of this online access!

You may be wondering how it’s possible to marshal the commitment and resources to provide SVS training for at-risk students. According to Jackie Sullivan, co-director of the CU-Boulder program, “We decided that the literature was so clear on this. This was an issue of broadening participation. Look what we spend on recruiting women students, look at the money we hemorrhage when we lose these talented young women from our pool of future engineers. For us, it was a societal imperative.”

Segil and Sullivan shared data and powerful insights from the CU-Boulder spatial visualization skills (SVS) effort that has trained 1500+ students over four semesters. They also provided a content and logistics overview of their replicable, scalable 8-week intervention workshop.

Data from CU-Boulder’s program clearly shows the positive impact training and practice has on student proficiency in SVS, especially for those most at risk of dropping out of engineering.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Aggregate data on the overall percentage of students passing the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test: Rotation (PSVT:R) can look really good, while masking inequities based on gender and other factors.
  • While women and underrepresented minorities are known to face challenges with SVS when they enter engineering programs, the data showed that international students do, as well.
  • In post-workshop testing, all student groups achieved higher scores, with the greatest gains realized by women, underrepresented minorities, and international students.
  • Best results were achieved when the workshop was mandated for students whose scores on the PSVT:R fell below an established threshold.

Be sure to view the webinar recording and take advantage of the related resources available online. Share the data and workshop model with your colleagues and discuss ways you might offer SVS training at your institution.

Spatial visualization is indeed a cognitive skill that can be learned and improved with practice. Strengthening SVS is one of three strategies employed by ENGAGE Engineering to foster student success. For more information, visit the ENGAGE SVS web resources on why it works and how to take action.