Bridging the Gap II

November 1, 2004
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An overview of the second ESRI-hosted Survey and GIS Summit.



In August, sunny San Diego once again hosted surveyors from around the globe-26 countries and 46 U.S. states-at the second annual ESRI Survey and GIS Summit. The summit, held August 7-10 at the Omni Hotel and San Diego Convention Center, complemented the ESRI User Conference, which convened simultaneously. The running theme of the conference, "Bridging the Gap," invited both surveyors and GIS professionals, and those related, to meet and learn together. According to ESRI, the industry breakdown of the summit's attendees was 49 percent surveying and engineering, 45 percent GIS, and 6 percent education and other fields.

Participants of seminar courses accrued Continuing Education Units (CEUs) and Professional Development Hours (PDHs) with the possibility of earning up to 14 hours of credit. Through the opportunities of several seminar courses and vendor exhibits, attendees were offered a chance to "bridge the gap." As Mike Weir, ESRI's surveying industry manager, indicated at the start of the conference, the goal of the ESRI conference was to integrate surveying and GIS technologies through "training, promoting and learning new technology ... and building partnerships."

Surveyors and GIS professionals join together for the opening session of the summit.

Opening Day

Weir opened the plenary session of the summit on Saturday morning by asking the crowd, "Well, is there really a gap?" He then shared that the people at ESRI certainly think so-and that's why they created an event dedicated to bridging the gap between surveyors and GIS professionals. He was followed by a line-up of speakers that comprised a veritable "Who's Who" of the movers and shakers in the GIS and surveying professions.

Charlie Challstrom, director of the National Geodetic Survey (NGS), gave the keynote address, speaking on advances in GPS technology while promoting NGS programs that have helped to solve problems in the geospatial industry. Several speakers followed, a mix of surveyors and GIS professionals, each speaking on their various areas of expertise. Beginning the first session, Dr. Joseph V.R. Paiva, PLS, PE, spoke on measurement technology, followed by Clint Brown, ESRI's director of software products, who described the varieties of GIS data integration from land records management to crime analysis. This alternating pattern of speakers reflected on ESRI's emphasis to incorporate the two groups of attendees.

J. Peter Borbas, PLS, of the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors, took a different approach to "bridging the gap" between surveyors and GIS practitioners. In the beginning of his presentation, he asked all of the surveyors present to stand up. He then asked them to turn to the GIS users sitting near them and say, "Thank you for coming." This moment encapsulated the goal of the conference: to open or continue the dialogue between the surveying and GIS communities.

Closing out the Saturday presentations was Curt Sumner, LS, executive director of ACSM, who emphasized that the key to progressing forward as surveyors and GIS professionals is to "listen to each other." Following the close of the plenary session, ESRI hosted a Survey and GIS expo and reception to showcase the technology of the conference sponsors and other vendors.

Mike Price, a certified ESRI instructor, demonstrates some uses of ArcGIS software in his "GIS 101" course.

Bridging the Gap 101

On Sunday, approximately 35 break-out sessions were held in four concurrent session tracks in the Omni Hotel. Topics ranged from land management and geodetic control to GPS technology to integrating survey data and GIS.

The most elemental sessions focused on bridging the gap were titled "GIS 101" and "Surveying 101," presented by Mike Price and Dr. Joseph Paiva, respectively. Price's "GIS 101" session began with an introduction to ArcGIS. After sitting through this session, Kent Whittaker, PLS, said, "I feel like I'm behind the curve. I haven't been willing to ride the horse-this is saddling up." Whittaker works for the USDA Forest Service in San Diego, and his employer paid for him to attend the conference.

Also attending "GIS 101" were Domingo Laborin and Carolina Perez, both engineering technicians and military surveyors with the U.S. Air Force, based in Mountain Home, Idaho. Laborin had been to the ESRI User Conference before, but came to see the survey side this year. He said, "I'm learning there's new technologies." Perez, making her first visit to the conference, said "I'm seeing a lot of it for the first time."

At the other end of the bridge, the "Surveying 101" class was filled with GIS users ranging from soil scientists to seismic industry specialists to oil and gas land analysts. Dr. Paiva said of his class, "Light bulbs went on for many GIS users and managers during this course. The principal understanding many left with was why it is impossible to put together an error-free mosaic of real estate parcels because of the ambiguities in descriptions, interpretations of descriptions and locations of cadastral control. They left thinking about how to make such representations more flexible and more useful for users." And, according to Paiva, the GIS professionals who attended "Surveying 101" also "left realizing that definitive, irrevocable statements on a GIS about property line locations cannot be done simply by analyzing all the property descriptions, or even with a little bit of on-the-ground surveying of a few parcels."

Educational Emphasis

Presenters at the conference also emphasized the education of future surveyors and GIS professionals. Colleges represented at the summit included the University of Arkansas-Monticello, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, University of Akron (Ohio), Paul Smith's College (New York), New Jersey Institute of Technology and California State Polytechnic University-Pomona.

The educators at the conference highlighted their accomplishments in advancing surveying and GIS education, but also pointed out lapses in the current educational system. Larry Shubat, assistant professor at the University of Akron, shared how his university established a two-year GIS degree with an emphasis on surveying. Dr. Gary Jeffress, RPLS, related the process involved in establishing a four-year geomatics degree at Texas A&M's Corpus Christi campus. Jeffress also noted that there are currently no undergraduate programs in the United States focusing on hydrographic surveying, so Texas A&M is planning to create an option with an emphasis on hydrography.

A few students accompanied their professors to the summit. James Hartshorn, a master's degree student in the GIS program at the University of Arkansas-Monticello, said he came to the summit because of the learning opportunities. "I get to see the new technology and the increased ability of the new software releases," he said. "It's also great to see all of the small companies that will be major players [in the future]."

Joining Together

Day three of the conference gave participants the opportunity to join 12,000 other members of the GIS community in the ESRI User Conference plenary session. Jack Dangermond, ESRI's president, reviewed successful applications of GIS and demonstrated some of the latest in technology. The final day of the summit included technical workshops and paper sessions, as well as the semiannual meeting of the Surveying Special Interest Group (S-SIG), a multi-disciplinary group consisting of surveyors, GIS professionals and people with a general interest in affiliated fields that work together to integrate surveying and GIS.

At the S-SIG meeting, the 2004-2005 board of directors was created. The board members are as follows: John Hohol, chair; Mike Weir, vice chair; Mickie Warwick, PLS, communications/ recording director; Wayne Herbert, membership director; Robert L. Young, RPLS, industry outreach director; John Bean, PE, academia outreach director; and Donny Sosa, information officer.

Summing Up the Summit

As the summit drew to a close, people seemed excited by what they had heard and learned. Michael Dennis, a geodesist from Arizona, said he enjoyed the conference. "[I'm] hearing people saying things I've been thinking," he said.

David Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor for NGS, said that the summit felt like a "big GIS group hug," and added that surveyors who attended the conference need to "go back and use whatever outlets we have to say, hey-this [GIS technology] is really dynamic and this is a group [GIS users] that wants to embrace us and that we can have an impact on." In particular, Doyle mentioned that state associations, online bulletin boards and educational arenas are places where surveyors can spread the word about GIS applications.

Donny Sosa, ESRI's surveying industry coordinator, said at the conclusion of the Summit that the numbers show it was better than last year. When asked if he felt the gap was being bridged, Sosa admitted, "It's going to be a long road, [but] we have the common ground-it's geography and information. Surveyors and GIS people are speaking the common language ... it shows surveyors are welcoming GIS and GIS [professionals] are welcoming surveyors." Next year's Survey & GIS Summit will take place July 23-26 in San Diego.

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