Back on Track

December 21, 2000
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As recently as six years ago, Colorado was on the brink of losing its only surveying and mapping degree program. Metropolitan State College of Denver (MSCD) had made the decision to no longer admit students into the program; it was attracting fewer and fewer candidates and not meeting the needs of the industry in general. The program was—in a sense—sentenced to die.

It was at that time that the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado (PLSC) decided to take action. The society realized that the local surveying industry needed a source of newly educated employees, especially at a time when construction activity of all types was booming in the state. They committed much of its time and resources to breathe new life into the program and to help it flourish. Leaders within the PLSC and many others across the state fully realized the task at hand but would not be content until they could get the program back on its feet.

“What we saw, in many respects, was the future of our companies and the surveying profession in general, ‘drying up’ before our very eyes,” says Tom Cave, president of Accurate Consultants, Broomfield, Colo., one of the region’s leading surveying companies. “Our pipeline for young employees, who were well-educated in the surveying profession, was going to be shut down entirely and we realized something had to be done.”

Originally established in 1976, MSCD’s surveying and mapping degree program never really came into prominence. But it did serve some of the immediate needs of surveying companies throughout the state who looked to it for potential employees. Regardless, over the years the average number of students in the program was never higher than 15, and between 1976 and 1994, there were only 30 graduates. In 1994, the program only offered 16 courses and had 30 declared majors. The numbers made it difficult for MSCD not to take a serious look at the program’s future.

With a movement afoot to discontinue the program (MSCD made the decision to no longer admit students into the program in the early ’90s), the PLSC took action. Unfortunately, most of what they discovered in 1994 was equally discouraging to what MSCD had found. Leaders within the PLSC quickly realized that the courses being offered were not up to modern surveying standards, and that the program had only four traditional students. The program was failing, and new goals had to be set.

“We put the program under a professional microscope as much as MSCD was putting it under an educational microscope,” says Cave, who sits on the PLSC Board of Directors. “It was an eye-opening and fairly unpleasant experience, but one that had to be done.”

The goals that the PLSC created were far-reaching and included, but were not limited to, establishing a foundation, getting financial support, creating a new curriculum and recruiting students. It was no small undertaking, yet the committee that set out with these goals would not be deterred. Late night meetings were held at the end of busy workdays, volunteers dedicated their weekends to help the program meet its goals and the program slowly began to show new life.

As the months progressed, more and more positive things happened. A formal committee was established among PLSC leaders to direct and lead the surveying and mapping degree program into the future. Officials at MSCD agreed to support the PLSC’s efforts and made a commitment to support the program. PLSC members and private companies established a fund of more than $50,000 to support the program. Students were introduced to the program with special on-campus events. Rallies were held to gather used equipment. And, perhaps most importantly, one of the most respected individuals in the surveying profession was recruited and hired to direct the surveying and mapping program and instruct its students.

That individual, Dr. Herbert W. Stoughton, came to MSCD in 1996 after having spent 35 years as a professional land surveyor. After earning his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, Dr. Stoughton worked for consulting firms in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Syracuse, N.Y. He joined the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in 1966, performing geodetic and engineering surveys.

In 1973, he moved on to the SUNY Agricultural and Technical College at Alfred (New York) surveying program. He also was appointed to the New York State Board for Engineering and Land Surveying. In 1980, Stoughton received his doctorate at the University of Michigan and joined the Defense Mapping Agency’s Geodetic Survey Squadron in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Since the early 1970s, Stoughton has been active in local, regional/state and national professional organizations, including acting as director of ACSM, and president and secretary/treasurer of the Professional Land Surveyors of Wyoming. He has received two awards and has authored over a dozen books, 80 literature reviews and 100 technical papers. Prof. Stoughton is a licensed land surveyor in eight states, a professional engineer in three states and an ASPRS certified photogrammentrist.

Beyond Dr. Stoughton’s professional accomplishments, he is also proving himself as an outstanding educator, according to students.

“In the Survey Data Adjustments course, I learned more clearly and specifically about data adjustments, statistics and error analysis than I had ever known before. This course has proven invaluable in my professional work,” a Stoughton protégé says.

Dr. Stoughton and Paul Lukacovic of BLM.

“The survey comps course taught by Dr. Stoughton is outstanding,” another student says. “His lectures are organized, and he presents theory, applications and historical background, which demonstrate his dedication to teaching.”

With all of this positive activity—and attitude—the surveying and mapping degree program at MSCD is not only surviving, it is thriving.

At the start of the 2000 fall semester, and under the direction of Dr. Stoughton, various individuals from the PLSC, Dean Robert K. Mock, and John C. Schmidt, Ed.D. Professor and Director of the MSCD Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Studies, the surveying and mapping program at MSCD has nearly 100 declared majors and offers 32 courses. While the future of the program is immensely important, it is already showing significant results now. Recent graduates have been able to secure their LS licensure and find entry-level and management position work with surveying companies in Colorado and other states. More and more companies are looking to MSCD for employees as a result of the program’s comeback.

The program is also successfully attracting more students, due in large part to the establishment of the Equivalency Credit Evaluation. This evaluation system provides students at other colleges with a way to transfer their “equal credits” to the MSCD surveying and mapping program quickly and easily. Thirty-six regional institutions are now part of the evaluation system.

“The Equivalency Credit Evaluation enables us to more readily identify transfer courses and admit students into our surveying and mapping degree program without students losing previously earned credit hours,” Dr. Stoughton says. “We are very careful in our review policy, but we also want to be fair to students and make it easy for them to enroll in our program.

In addition to the ability to transfer, students are also enrolling in the program from organizations such as the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Under the leadership of Paul Lukacovic, a land surveyor at BLM, students are able to enroll at MSCD. The BLM then provides tuition assistance and an opportunity to work. Upon graduation the students have excellent career opportunities at the BLM.

The program has also increased interest from abroad. Its website, http://engrtec2.mscd.edu, processed more than 180 inquiries from around the world within 65 weeks. The degree program also includes: video courses providing distance learning opportunities; evening classes and weekend laboratories (enabling professionals to have easier access to instruction); and rare educational opportunities including classes such as Surveying for GIS Users.

The evening courses allow students to continue their work lives while advancing academically.

“The main benefit of the surveying and mapping degree program at MSCD is that the evening and video courses allow students to pursue a career while continuing their education,” one student says. “I have been able to apply the information learned during my classes to my job, allowing me to jump ahead of people relying on job training alone to advance.”

“The surveying and mapping degree program at MSCD makes it easy for a full-time employee to continue study by allowing students to work full-time and attend classes in the evening,” another student says. “Without the program, I would have had to either suspend my educational goals or seek another career.”

Without the efforts of the PLSC and MSCD, Colorado would have faced a serious dilemma in regards to the health and staying power of its surveying industry. Thankfully, a few individuals, backed by the strength and commitment of the PLSC, were able to save this important program at MSCD. Not only is the surveying and mapping program back on track, but it is looking forward to becoming one of the strongest degree programs in the nation.

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