Competing For the Stars

December 20, 2002
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How the NSPS Trig-Star program can benefit the profession.



The Trig-Star program, a high school math skill award program sponsored by the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), is an excellent public relations tool for the surveying and mapping profession. High school students, their parents, teachers and the public see first-hand the work that surveying and mapping professionals undertake. The program also rewards academic achievement and teaching excellence.

The purpose of the annual competition is to recognize and stimulate the best students of mathematics from school districts across the United States through a competition with scholarship awards. The Trig-Star program promotes excellence in the mastery of mathematics, honors high school students who have demonstrated their superior skill among classmates at the local, state and national levels; acquaints high school students with the use and practical applications of mathematics in the surveying and mapping professions; and builds an awareness of surveying and mapping as a profession among mathematically skilled high school students, career guidance counselors and high school math teachers. The basic requirement for establishing a Trig-Star contest is a willing sponsor and a receptive high school. Finding these two components in conjunction is sometimes difficult.

The contest begins at the local level. A sponsor completes an application form and pays an application fee of $25. NSPS also offers state surveying societies a yearly license option (currently $500), which allows unlimited high schools within a state to compete. Materials are sent to the local sponsors at the participating high schools. Each sponsor arranges a time to conduct the competition and to declare a winner. Local winners are also eligible to compete for the title of state Trig-Star champions. The state champions compete in the National Trig-Star competition, where the contestants compete for $1,000, $500 and $250 scholarship prizes for first, second and third place, respectively.

Teachers of the national winners are also recognized through the Richard Lomax Teaching Excellence Awards, which provide cash awards in the same amounts as what the national winners receive. Many local and state contests also reward the winners with scholarships and prizes; the NSPS Trig-Star Committee estimates that another $40,000 in prizes and scholarships is given out annually at the state and local levels. The Trig-Star program operates on a budget of $12,000 per year, of which $7,000 a year is given out as awards. The program depends on the hard work of many volunteers at the national, state and local levels.

Trig-Star History

In 1983, Russell E. Kastelle, RLS, a member of the North Dakota Society of Professional Land Surveyors, and ACSM (American Congress for Surveying and Mapping) delegate and NSPS governor for North Dakota, desired to make a positive contribution to the profession during his tenure. The idea for the Trig-Star program came to him from the success of National Engineer’s Week. To help promote the profession, Kastelle wrote a proposal for the Trig-Star program and presented it to the NSPS Board of Governors in Salt Lake City, Utah. The idea was embraced and by the fall of 1984, the Trig-Star contest packets were sent to land surveyors across the United States. The contest is still run in much the same way as Kastelle proposed, and he still sponsors the contest at the local level every year.

Although Kastelle’s vision was that the contest would be a local event, matching surveyor with high school, the program evolved into a national contest with scholarship awards. The initiative for the national contest began with a Trig-Star sponsor from the North Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Society of Professional Surveyors, Kent Green, who had been successful in promoting the program at the chapter level. In 1993, Green proposed that NSPS sponsor the program as a national contest. Then NSPS President Richard Lomax assisted Green to begin a national contest. The process of determining the National Trig-Star winner began. NSPS formed a Trig-Star Committee and Larry Doss of Tennessee became the first chair of the committee. Doss crafted guidelines and implemented the national contest format. He secured scholarship awards from NSPS and funds to bring the contest winner and his or her teacher to the ACSM Annual Convention.

I was active on the Trig-Star Committee for two years and took over as committee chair at the ACSM annual meeting in 1998. My first task was to standardize and improve the quality of the contest materials. With the help of committee member Don Murphy of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the test has improved every year. The program’s format allows teachers to guide the test, allows students of varying abilities to score and allows the best and brightest to be identified. With the help of the dedicated volunteers on the Trig-Star Committee and input from state societies, we have developed complete and easy-to-follow instructions to ensure the success of each local contest.

The Trig-Star Committee also created the NSPS Foundation Trig-Star Scholarship Endowment Fund (a 501c (3) entity) in 2000. The purpose of the scholarship fund is to provide financial assistance to high school graduates who demonstrate excellence in the field of trigonometry and to enhance and expand the Trig-Star program. Scholarship fund distribution is limited to high school graduates who became the Trig-Stars of their respective high schools, or individuals who became the state Trig-Star winner and placed first, second or third in the National Trig-Star competition.

Star Experiences

Many long-time Trig-Star contest sponsors have developed interesting ways to use the contest as part of a larger program to promote careers in surveying and mapping. Duane Senn of Aurora, Colo., has been a Trig-Star sponsor for 19 years. In the city of Aurora, Senn sponsors the program at the nine high schools in the municipality. The high school winners are all brought to the city council for an awards ceremony with proclamations and official congratulations. Each winner is given a calculator and participates in a reception after the ceremony. The parents are presented with a picture of their child taken at the reception. The high schools have also asked him to do a presentation on careers in surveying and mapping to the students as a result of the Trig-Star program.

Trig-Star contests also promote the study of trigonometry. Russell Kastelle’s sponsorship at Breckenridge High School in Minnesota began in the spring of 1984. At that time there were seven students enrolled in trigonometry class. By 1987, the enrollment in the trigonometry class rose to 37 students, where it remains today. In Texas, Dr. Gary Jeffress of Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi has the names and addresses of the contest winners sent to him so he can mail out information about the college program at the university.

Future Vision

My goal for the future of the Trig-Star program is to develop a curriculum-based program. High school mathematics teachers are frequently looking for real-world applications to show students that they can—and will—use the math they are learning. Surveying lends itself to this purpose. After completion of the curriculum-based program, the Trig-Star contest would be an optional exercise at the end of a course of instruction given to the students. This way careers in surveying and mapping could be presented to a much wider audience. The NSPS Foundation Trig-Star Scholarship Endowment Fund provides a vehicle to attract a sponsor for this endeavor, which I hope to accomplish. I would also like to see the endowment fund grow to the point where we have enough money to offer the national contest winner a scholarship to a four-year surveying and mapping program. That would certainly generate some interest in the contest!

Star Pupil: Erin Dunbar

The Trig-Star program succeeds due to the dedication of local land surveyors across the country and their companies. One such surveying company is MacKay and Sposito Inc. of Vancouver, Wash. Frank James of MacKay and Sposito sponsors the Trig-Star contest every year at La Center High School in La Center, Wash. In 1994, a senior named Erin Dunbar won the contest. Dunbar was invited along with other High School Trig-Stars to attend the local chapter meeting of the Land Surveyors Association of Washington (LSAW) to receive her award. Mike Cooney of MacKay and Sposito asked the Trig-Star winners if any were interested in summer jobs at MacKay and Sposito. Dunbar said “yes.” Dunbar began her job expecting to go to a local community college in the fall. She was an office “grunt” but was interested in the kind of work that was performed in the office. She decided to continue with the job when fall came. She began performing more and more surveying related tasks for MacKay and Sposito. Starting with calculating grades, she progressed to working with AutoCAD drafting, digitizing, model space working drawings, and eventually, paper space completed plans. She now works on projects from field to finish and is a surveying technician. Most of her work includes ALTA surveys and cell tower leasing plans. Cooney and associate Jon Yamashita have facilitated her on-the-job training. In total, MacKay and Sposito have hired three or four Trig-Stars since Dunbar began working at the company as summer help. One other Trig-Star still works for the company.

In the true spirit of Trig-Star volunteering Dunbar became involved in the Trig-Star program. She sponsors the test at her alma mater. Since the time allotted for Trig-Star is usually one class period, Dunbar felt (as many do) that additional time with the students would give them a better understanding of careers in surveying and mapping, so she created and organized a Saturday field event. Dunbar also became the LSAW’s local chapter Trig-Star Coordinator, and soon after became the State Trig-Star Coordinator. During her tenure, she has convinced LSAW to increase support for the Trig-Star program, but finds that she really has to continue pressuring the land surveyors to sponsor the contest at the local level. Dunbar also creates a state Trig-Star test given to all of the local winners in order to pick the state Trig-Star champion. She has created a manual that includes a poster to be displayed in the schools prior to the contest and is developing a website for the state contest as well. Dunbar recently joined the National Trig-Star Committee.

Dunbar believes that Trig-Star is one of a number of tools that surveyors can use to promote the profession to the next generation. She believes that allowing students to use surveying tools in a Career Day setting is a great way to promote careers in surveying and mapping. She wishes that there were more time available in the classroom to demonstrate “just how cool surveying equipment has become.”

To download an application to be a TRIG-STAR sponsor, click on this link http://www.acsm.net/nsps/sponsorapp.doc

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