Thursday Welcome Luncheon Address

Sheryl A. Sorby
Professor Emerita
Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics
Michigan Technological University
Houghton, Michigan
Keynote Title: "Retaining First-Year Engineering Students through Targeted Strategies"
Keynote description: Universities are being strongly encouraged to increase the number of engineering graduates that they produce. Typically this can be done through recruitment or retention or a combination of the two. The resources required to improve retention rates are often much less than those required for recruitment efforts, so one path to increasing the number of engineering graduates is through improving retention, particularly in the first year. In addition, many state funding formulas and college ranking schemes include first-year retention and graduation statistics. For these reasons, Colleges of Engineering are under increasing pressure to improve the retention rate of first-year students. This presentation will include the results from three targeted strategies aimed at improving retention of first-year engineering students: 1) implementing a common first-year program, 2) developing a program aimed at students who are underprepared in mathematics, and 3) delivery of an intervention for students who initially have weak 3-D spatial skills. The impact of these strategies on student retention will be highlighted during the talk.

Dr. Sheryl Sorby was recently a Fulbright Scholar at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin, Ireland and will return in the fall to the Engineering Education and Innovation Center at The Ohio State University. She is a professor emerita of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Technological University and the PI or coPI 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. In this capacity, she was responsible for the development and delivery of the newly adopted First Year Engineering Program at Michigan Tech. 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 and is actively involved in the development of various educational programs. She received her first grant from the National Science Foundation in 1993 to develop a course and course materials for helping engineering students to develop their 3-D spatial skills. She has received numberous follow-up grants from the NSF to furhter her work in developing and assessing spatial skills. Her spatial skills curriculum has been adopted by nearly 30 engineering programs across the U. S. In 2005 she received the Betty Vetter award for Research on Women in Engineering through the Women in Engineering Program Advocates Network (WEPAN) for her work in improving the 3-D spatial skills of engineering students. She has published more than sixty papers in journals and conference proceedings and is the author of seven textbooks.

Dr. Sorby has been a member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) since 1991 and has served the society in various capacities. She was chair of the Engineering Design Graphics Division in 2002 and has served as program chair for EDGD for several conferences. She was Director of Programs for EDGD from 2010-13. In addition, she was conference chair for the 2010 midyear meeting of EDGD. She is one of the inaugural Associate Editors for Advances in Engineering Education, ASEE’s online journal. She was recently elected to the Board of Directors for ASEE.

She was the recipient of the Dow Outstanding New Faculty Award in 1996 and the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1998, both for the North Midwest Section of ASEE. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the Engineering Design Graphics Division of ASEE in 2007. In 2009 she was inducted as a Fellow in the ASEE and in 2011 she received the Sharon Keillor award for oustanding woman engineering educator from ASEE.

Teaching Interests

  • Advanced structural analysis
  • Finite elements
  • Computer applications/mechanics

Research Interests

  • Advanced composite materials for use in civil infrastructure
  • 3-D computer graphics for visualization of complex behaviors

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