UMBC logo

Undergraduate Researchers

Nishay Raja

Nishay Raja

Major: Mechanical Engineering
“Improving Spatial Visualization Skills of Engineering Majors at UMBC”

Spatial reasoning is a cognitive skill that helps engineering students understand and interpret space in mentally manipulating two-dimensional and three-dimensional figures. Nurturing this ability in engineering students has shown to increase retention in their engineering program according to research. To assess this variable, a case study was performed on UMBC ENES 101 students in the fall of 2014. The Purdue Spatial Visualization Test (PSVT), a validated assessment tool, was administered through BlackBoard to all students enrolled in ENES 101. Participants who scored below a 70% on the test were recommended to enroll in ENES 100, Spatial Reasoning. Students in this course were required to re-take the PSVT at the end of the semester. In addition, self-efficacy of all students was evaluated, using a validated survey, and then compared to their PSVT scores. Data from the post-PSVT assessments, as compared to the pre-test, showed an increase in scores. Future assessment and results would give a more defined conclusion. It is recommended that students who score below a 70% on the PSVT be enrolled in ENES 100 making it a permanent standardized practice for College of Engineering and IT.

How did you find your mentor for your research, scholarship, or artistic project?
Dr. Anne Spence is my faculty mentor as a T-SITE Scholar through the Center for Women In Technology (CWIT) and I was a teaching fellow for Mrs. Jamie Gurganus.

How did you know this was the project you wanted to do?
I knew I wanted to do something related to STEM education. When I found out about Dr. Spence wanting to introduce ENES100 (Spatial Visualization pilot course) at UMBC that could potentially help the retention of engineering students at UMBC in the long run, I knew that this was it.

Is this your first independent research project?
Yes.

How did you hear about the Undergraduate Research Award (URA) program?
Through my T-SITE Scholarship program mentor, Dr. Susan Martin.

What academic background did you have before you applied for the URA?
I was just a regular undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering with no prior research experience.

Was the application difficult to do?
I do not think it was difficult at all but it was definitely time consuming.

How much did your mentor help you with the application?
A lot. Even though, officially, I have one mentor, I also had two other mentors who helped me through the process and they still continue to be my support. A big shout out to all three of my mentors: Dr. Anne Spence, Mrs. Jamie Gurganus and Dr. Susan Martin for being there for me all the way and making it possible for me to even consider research.

What has been the hardest part about your research?
I like working in groups. This research is more independent work, so it gets a little hard to motivate myself to keep going, especially for the paperwork and preparation preceding the actual research, which can seem daunting at times. But once I started the actual research, it was all worth it.

What was the most unexpected thing?
Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Having no prior experience in research, I did not know that there was work that needed to be done before I could even get started. After having put in all that effort into the URA application itself, I could not believe that I had to do another application. But it is for good reason and was a great new learning experience.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
Its not easy but it is not impossible either. If you are thinking about research, I think it is definitely worth trying. There are so many professors willing to help, find one and just go for it.

What are your career goals?
I am actually divided between two things right now. I want to pursue a career in STEM education and/or work in renewable energy.

Did you transfer to UMBC from another institution?
Yes, I transferred from the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC).

10/7/2014