Point of Beginning

From the Field

August 1, 2004
The story of Jennifer Marks, LS, and her impact on land surveying.

Jennifer Marks, LS, and Scott Leamon, LSIT, investigate the setting of a permanent GPS base station at BL Companies' headquarters in Meriden, Conn.


Fresh out of college with a bachelor's degree in geology from Boston University, Jennifer Marks began working in the early 1980s as a drafter for a Madison, Wisconsin-based land surveying firm. "I've always had an interest in drafting and mapmaking"¦ I took quite a bit of cartography courses as well as mechanical drafting in college," Marks said. But soon enough her drafting work in the office slowed down, and Marks started heading out to the field with the survey crews. Marks quickly realized she loved surveying. "You work in a variety of environments," she said. "I loved the freedom of going to a different site every day and doing something different every day."

Now, in 2004, Jennifer Marks, a licensed professional land surveyor, is the director of surveying services at BL Companies, an architectural, engineering and environmental sciences consulting firm in Meriden, Conn. She is also currently serving her second term as the president of the Connecticut Association of Land Surveyors (CALS).

Land surveying is a natural match for Marks' aptitudes and abilities, but she didn't learn about the profession until she moved to Wisconsin in her 20s. There were, however, early indications of her future career. Since her childhood in Branford, Conn., Marks had enjoyed being out-of-doors. When she was very young, she made a map of the swamp near her house where the neighborhood children played. "I mapped out the different features, such as a series of hills called the Seven Sisters [and] this giant log we hopped around," Marks said. "It all emptied into a river."

Her youthful interests continued to be reflected by her educational choices. "In high school I took a lot of drafting and math classes, and I was always very successful," she said. When she started attending Boston University after high school, Marks planned to study oceanography, but on the advice of one of her father's friends she chose to major in geology instead.

"In geology [class] we had to produce topography maps and maps of the bedrock," Marks said. She also minored in environmental science, which further developed her knowledge of mapping. But, she reminisced, "[Even] at that point I still didn't know about land surveying."

In 1985, Marks, along with co-worker Scott Snow, took cross sections in New Milford, Conn., for a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mapping project.

Lucky in Love

Although it may have been a roundabout path to land surveying, Marks certainly doesn't regret her decision to study geology. She met Paul Muniz, her future husband, at a geology field camp during her senior year of college. Since he was attending graduate school in Wisconsin, Marks decided to move there after she graduated from Boston University. "I wasn't sure what I was going to end up doing since I was in a new place," Marks said. "My first day out, after exploring some companies in the yellow pages, I landed a job [as a drafter] with a surveying company." Marks got lucky with her job-it helped her discover that her true passion was not drafting, but rather surveying.

Although there were few women in the field working on the survey crews, Marks didn't feel singled out as a woman. "I've never really felt discriminated [against] or intimidated in the field," Marks said. "I can do pretty much just about everything a male surveyor can do"¦ I wasn't afraid to get my hands dirty and really prove myself. The key was keeping a positive attitude."

Marks enjoyed the work. "One of the things I always like is discovering the history of a piece of land," she said. "Our profession combines so many different aspects of our life, [including] history, mathematics and technology." As a land surveyor, Marks said, "figuring out the boundary is like figuring out a puzzle by combining all these different aspects."

For another part of the FEMA project, Marks worked in the field taking stadia measurements in northeastern Connecticut.

Back to Her Point of Beginning

Although she enjoyed surveying in Wisconsin, Marks was still a New Englander at heart. She left the Midwest when she became homesick and returned to New Haven, Conn., where she got a job as an instrument operator at a large engineering company. It was there that she met Bob Landino, a professional engineer.

Several years later, after Landino had started up his own firm, he called on Marks to join him. She became his eighth employee. "I started at BL Companies in the fall of 1992 and have been here ever since," Marks said. She began her career at BL as an instrument operator and advanced fairly quickly to a party chief role.

Over a period of 10 years, from 1992 to 2002, Marks became a licensed surveyor in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island. She has worked in every state that she is licensed in. Marks has now been working for BL for 12 years, and she currently serves as the firm's director of surveying services.

"We do mostly private and commercial development," Marks said. "I'm in a managing role, mentoring and training my staff and personnel. We have 20 surveyors company-wide."

The other director of the land surveying department, Bob Roper, LS, has also worked for BL for 12 years. "We started within a month of each other," Marks explained; she refers to him as her partner. "Bob handles the daily operations of the field crews; I oversee the project management and the quality of all our projects," Marks said.

One personal challenge that Marks has faced during her tenure at BL has been her lack of training as a business person. According to Marks, surveyors are not generally trained as business people, so she feels it is important for them to develop confidence in their business abilities. "Understanding the financial workings of a business, recognizing overhead, profit and loss-[those are all things] I have worked on," she said.

Marks also stresses communication and training as being elemental to land surveying. "Open and honest communication with our clients and our staff has been one of our successes," she said. "Mentoring my younger staff is [helping to keep] people in the profession. I like to joke that the ones who leave come back." She added, "It's happened more than once!"

Evidently, BL Companies' way of doing business is working because it has experienced incredible growth. Marks has seen the firm grow from eight employees to 200 in 12 years. "Our company is a young and energetic company"¦ [and] we have very happy clients," she said.

Presiding Over CALS

In addition to her duties at BL Companies, Marks became involved with CALS 10 years ago and has progressed within the organization. "I started off on the board of directors," she said. "I believe it's very important to be involved in the profession, not only for networking, but also for keeping on top of current affairs, educational benefits"¦ and regulation by our board of examiners."

Marks plans to be involved with CALS for some time to come. "As in any organization, once you get involved you're involved forever," she said with a laugh. She was the only woman on the board originally; now there is one other woman, who Marks herself recruited.

Currently serving her second term as president, Marks said that improving education is the top initiative of CALS. But that doesn't mean that CALS focuses solely on professional development hours and continuing education for licensed surveyors. "We are focusing on education "¦ [as a way] to attract young people into our profession," Marks said.

CALS would like to establish formal education for land surveying students through an associate's program within a state university or a community college. "At high school fairs, the CALS booth members tell the teenagers to check out land surveying as a career option, but then are forced to admit that the students have to go to Maine or New York to find a college program," Marks said. Since there are no local educational options in Connecticut, CALS hopes to set up such a program to ensure that there will be land surveyors in the future.

In addition to the education of future land surveyors, Marks is also concerned with educating the public about land surveying. "I'd like to see a little more education [for] the public and our clients about the value of our services," she said. She wants to counsel the public to make sure surveyors are qualified and have the proper insurances before hiring them. On the flip side, Marks' advice for surveyors is simple: "Take a hard look at what we're offering to make sure that the value is appropriate for that service."

A Balancing Act

As she progressed in her career, Jennifer Marks married the environmental geologist she met in Wisconsin. She and Paul Muniz have two children, Elena, 6, and Alex, 8. She's proud of the way she has raised her family and still maintained her professional status.

When asked how she manages to balance family and work, Marks said that a supportive spouse, flexibility in the workplace and good babysitters are all necessities. But part of her successfulness is simply due to her personality. "I'm able to juggle a lot at once," Marks said.

She wakes up every morning by 5:30 and starts her day before she leaves home. "I do work before I get into the office," Marks said. "[I] read and review so it's not a barrage when I step in the door." Despite the many demands placed on her by CALS and BL Companies, Marks still finds time to ski, actively support her Boston University alumni group, and go boating and traveling with her family.

As for Elena and Alex, although they may not yet understand very much about what their mother does, they are learning. "They like to help me when I do surveys in the neighborhood," Marks said. "[Alex and Elena] love the metal detector." Maybe they will grow up to love land surveying as much as their mother and perhaps even follow in her footsteps.