Dr. Sheryl Sorby‘s groundbreaking research on spatial visualization brought awareness of spatial reasoning to engineering education worldwide. Sheryl’s work highlights the importance of educational research and illustrates how applied research can make a real difference in the way we learn and teach.
Sheryl is a pioneer in engineering education research — the area where I’m now working to establish myself. She was doing this type of research long before Engineering Education Research (EER) was recognized as a distinct field of study. As such, she helped pave the way for all of us who are working to understand how people learn engineering and design today. Today, she’s actively leading research teams on this topic.
Last year, Sheryl served as Ireland’s Fulbright Scholar in Engineering Education (that’s the post I held the year before) and she made noteworthy contributions. Whereas I applied for the Fulbright position when I was a “baby doc” (straight out of grad school), Sheryl brought the wealth of experience of a professor emerita (which essentially means she retired with academic kudos). Awards she has received include the 2011 Sharon Keillor Award for Women in Engineering Education bestowed by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).
Recently, Sheryl delivered a TED talk at the 2014 TEDxFulbrightDublin event organized by the Fulbright Commission in Ireland, an event pictured above. The TEDx talk, “Recruiting Women for Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths,” is available on YouTube. YouTube also features her webinar presentation on “The Importance of Spatial Skills.”
Her TEDx talk describes ways spatial-thinking skills correspond to academic performance in engineering. Her research has identified gender-related discrepancies in spatial visualization skills and, as a result, she has developed and implemented programs to help alleviate students’ weaknesses in this area. Her work has made a clear and measurable difference! (I hope someday, I can say the same of mine!)
Sheryl researches other engineering topics as well. Michigan Tech’s website explains she “is known for preparing engineering students and middle school students to think like engineers. Her research interests include advanced composite materials for use in civil infrastructure and 3-D computer graphics for visualization of complex behaviors.”
The National Science Foundation has supported many of her projects, and she even worked (or, “did a rotation”) at the NSF headquarters, as Program Director in NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education.
I’m proud to walk in Sheryl’s footsteps, and thankful for the work she’s done!