I write this letter with an optimistic view of our "profession." This letter is not meant to be a venomous invective with nefarious intent. I have been in the surveying/civil industry since 1988. I currently maintain professional surveying licensure in three states and professional engineering licensure in five states. So I have viewed the surveying profession from both sides of the desk.
The big buzz in the surveying industry seems to be "professionalism." Many people have their own definition of a professional, so I will not waste time subjecting you to my definition. One thing is certain, the general public does not view field surveyors as professionals. The vast majority of field surveyors are great people with [great] intelligence and a love for the great outdoors. However, people swinging a machete and wearing boots will never be perceived as professionals by the general public (I know from personal experience).
Our industry has made great strides in promoting the surveyor as a professional. But we [are] still fall[ing] short. It seems nearly every surveying magazine I open has a multi-page article dedicated to some historical reenactment somewhere. What does the general public think when they witness surveyors performing a historical reenactment? Why does our industry put so much effort into historical reenactments? Do historical reenactments help to promote a professional image of surveyors? I think not.
Do medical doctors frequently stage historical reenactments in which they amputate limbs using bone saws? Have you seen a dental reenactment complete with hand-drills and pliers? Would such a display help draw young people to the medical profession? Why then do hundreds of surveyors take to the fields each year with plane tables, steel chains, compasses and full historical garb? Many of the participants adorn [themselves with] an inordinate amount of facial hair and huge mustaches. The historical surveying instruments and colonial costumes only serve to debase the image of all modern professional surveyors. The general public does not understand the historical significance of surveyors and it is not our duty to "teach" them. After all, it would take many hours to convey the importance of the GLO, the BLM, the Public Lands Survey System, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, etc. Par-ading around in colonial attire with steel chains does not help our cause.
The modern-day professional surveyor has tried to shake the image of steel chains and machetes for years. We are highly educated professionals dealing directly with other professionals daily. A client is more comfortable writing a large check to a well-groomed professional rather than a machete-wielding woodsman (sad but true). Most laypeople do not understand the level of effort that goes into a survey, so a strong professional image serves to "justify" our significant fees.
Indiana happens to be one state in which I maintain a professional surveyor's license. During the last CE course I attended in Indiana a member of the audience made a bold statement regarding the dwindling college enrollment for surveying degrees (in Indiana). This problem plagues many states besides Indiana. Referring to my earlier statements, do historical reenactments help to increase college enrollment numbers? Believe it or not many college-bound students want a degree that will provide them with great earning potential and respect. Most college-bound students today have grown up using computers, the Internet, cell phones, PDAs and video games. Why would they major in a profession that uses steel chains, compasses and machetes? Perhaps the next historical reenactment should be replaced by a high-tech display of GPS units, [laser] scanners, CAD software, data collectors, total stations and laser measuring devices. In the field, our high-tech gadgets always catch stares from the general public. Inquisitive people of all ages approach us field surveyors to get a closer look at our electronic gadgets. However, I cannot remember any inquisitive people approaching me while I dragged a steel tape (with or without colonial garb). Let's remember our past but place more emphasis on our future.
This letter is not an attack on surveyors' dignified historical contributions. Several years ago I personally donated cash to the Abraham Lincoln surveyor monument effort in Illinois. Our past is glorious and significant but not necessarily the best tool to achieve professional status among our peers and the public at large.
Matthew Mokanyk, PS, PE