June 1, 2006
"I'm known for being a grade point average wrecker," says Roy Frank, PLS, an assistant professor in the civil and environmental engineering department at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, which offers 27 credits of surveying courses. "Getting an "A' out of me is very tough. "A' is excellent, and I don't water down grades at all," he says. Frank believes that demanding a lot from his surveying students is the way to get them to rise to their potential, and he is satisfied his technique is working.
To learn more about what is happening at surveying education programs around the country, POB interviewed a few educators tasked with teaching and training future surveyors. In addition to SIU's Frank, we interviewed Jim Coan, PLS, instructor of the two-year surveying program at Renton Technical College in Washington; Jerry Miller, PLS, coordinator of the two-year civil and surveying technology program at Santa Rosa Junior College in California; and Peter Messier, PLS, PE, coordinator and instructor of the two-year surveying technology program at Southwestern Community College in North Carolina. Here's what we learned.
Seeking Potential SurveyorsAn analytical mind, love of the outdoors, unafraid of math. Most surveyors possess at least one of these characteristics-if not all of them. Prospective students with these traits are a good fit for college surveying programs. Renton Technical College's Coan describes an ideal applicant to a surveying program as "someone who likes to work with their brain and their body."
A keen love of the outdoors is an oft-cited trait of surveyors. SIU's Frank notes, "You don't really need to be outside to have a career in surveying, but a lot of people are drawn to it because they can be outside."
Then there's the math. Professors approach this aspect carefully with prospective students. Santa Rosa's Miller says, "I don't go into the math aspect. The math can be learned. Having a math background is a good thing, but there's more to surveying than math. A surveyor has to have some common sense and the ability to analyze things." Southwestern Community College's Messier is concerned about his students' ability to handle geometry and trigonometry, but agrees with Miller's perspective that they can take courses to learn these topics. The greater concern for Messier, rather, is when potential students "have a mental block against any kind of math." Renton's Coan adds, "They don't necessarily have to love math-just not be afraid of it."
Other, perhaps more obvious qualities that indicate surveyor potential include an affinity to technology, mechanical ability and an understanding of how to communicate graphically. Surveying programs will fare well to highlight these aspects to potential candidates.
Not-quite-traditional StudentsMany of the students currently enrolled in surveying programs are quite nontraditional. The majority are locals who choose to attend a school near home and find out about the educational programs in various ways. "A lot of them "Google' our website, and I get a lot of cold calls," Miller says. "They know somebody who knows somebody whose uncle's brother was a surveyor."
Today's college programs offer flexibility for a wide variety of surveying students. Many of the students have previous professional experience. At Santa Rosa, the average student age is 32. "It runs the gamut from 18 to 58, so we have a real mix of students," Miller explains. He adds, "About 30 percent are women." Many of Miller's students are pursuing a second career.
The situation at Renton Technical College is similar. "Most of our students are making a career change in their mid-thirties, or are looking to start a career for the first time," Coan says. About 25 percent of Coan's students already hold bachelor's degrees. At Renton, no night or weekend classes are offered, so students must commit to attending class on weekdays. "We're a two-year technical school," Coan explains. "It's not like most colleges. We have the students five days a week, six hours a day."
Southwestern Community College, however, offers most of its classes on nights and weekends to cater to the needs of students who must work full-time. Messier praises his students, saying, "They're mature, the majority have work experience and they're easy to teach. They have to go to school three and a half years to complete the program while working full-time to support their families." Many of Messier's students put in a full day of work, then go to class three or four nights a week and return Saturday morning for their lab. "My hat goes off to them," Messier says.
At Southern Illinois University, Frank serves two pools of students while teaching at two campuses. The students that attend his classes in Carbondale are traditional students ranging in age from 20 to 25. In his classes at Joliet Junior College, however, he says, "I'm getting a lot of people who are changing careers. Up there all the people are already working in the surveying/engineering profession." Frank started teaching surveying courses at Joliet Junior College in 1998 when an Illinois law requiring a degree and 24 hours of surveying credits to practice went into effect. "It was originally intended as a one-time deal for those in the process [of attaining licensure who] didn't make it through the system before the law went into effect," he says. The Joliet courses have been so successful that Frank has continued running the program. It takes 21/2 years to complete the seven courses, with one course offered per semester.
Helping Students SucceedOnce students have enrolled in a surveying program and are facing the rigors of lecture and lab, their professors strive to inspire them to succeed. To his nontraditional students, Messier says, "I tell them to keep focused-it will be over before they know it. It's worth the extra effort now because they'll be better off [later]." He offers advice with a different theme for younger, traditional students: "For a new person coming in, I encourage them to hone their math skills and seek part-time employment [in surveying] while they're here because it supplements their learning experience."
Because most of the students who fail out of Renton's surveying program do so because of the math, Coan returns to the basics and tells students they must learn proficiency in the subject. "Surveyors use math like people drink coffee," he says, "so they can't be afraid of it. We use it every day in some form or another, so they need to be comfortable with it."
Miller advises students to be committed to what they are doing in their educational program. "If [my students] are willing to put in the time and effort, so am I," he says. "If you want it, you get it."
Roy Frank coaches his students with the ethical lessons they will need in their future careers. "Word hard and be totally honest," he says, adding that he is like most surveyors in putting a lot of weight on honesty. "Your reputation is what your license falls on," he explains. "Everybody is going to make mistakes, but as long as you're honest about it and have integrity, most people will work with you to solve them." Developing focus, proficiency, dedication and honesty will certainly guarantee any student the capability to succeed in surveying.
"Selling" the ProfessionNaturally, the professors at these educational institutions are enthusiastic supporters of surveying. "It's a great profession," Miller says. His message to potential students is that becoming a surveyor "is something you can really be proud of." He actively advocates and shares this message because he considers "outreach and PR" to be one of his job requirements. "You're not getting students if you're not beating the bushes," he says. "You have to get out of your office and visit an elementary school."
At Renton, Coan's maximum capacity of 30 students per class is generally filled. Although his school's public information office handles much of the active recruitment efforts, Coan and his partner Martin Paquette, LS, always make themselves available for career days at high schools and are eager to talk to prospective students who tour the program with school counselors.
"I'm a pretty good salesman," Frank says, which is one of the reasons he enjoys teaching the basic surveying class that is required for all civil engineering students in his college. It gives him the opportunity to promote the profession to students who may not previously have considered surveying as a career option.
Messier participates in his college's "20th Century Scholars" program to inform high school students about opportunities in land surveying. Messier also works with Southwestern's admissions office to schedule promotional visits to technical math classes in local high schools. One of the best recruitment events he was invited to was a North Carolina Department of Transportation career day. "Twenty or so high schools were invited, and I set up a booth there," he says. "It was a great opportunity to talk to students from several high schools." Messier participates in these events because he is worried about the attrition rate of surveyors. "There are not enough young people coming into the profession. Surveyors have a hard time finding people [employees], and that is the number one crisis the profession [faces] right now."
In addition to the formal career days and fairs that professors attend, they are also active in Trig-Star, the annual high school mathematics competition sponsored by the National Society of Professional Surveyors based on the practical application of trigonometry. "We have an extensive Trig-Star program that began in 2002 and ran countrywide," Miller says. When the test is given, Miller tries to make it fun. "We put on a presentation about surveying, give them the test, feed them, grade the tests, and show them equipment and [give] demonstrations." Frank has also worked in conjunction with his state society to host presentations on surveying at high schools participating in the Trig-Star competition.
While professors and college counselors make great strides in the area of surveying education, they alone cannot be held responsible for increasing enrollment in surveying programs. Responsible members of the profession must do their part to support and grow the programs near them to help the future of surveying. It can be as simple a step as encouraging young employees and coworkers to tour an educational program or offering to help at a high school demonstration or career day. This type of recruitment effort is invaluable in attracting prospective students with the interest in and capabilities required for the surveying profession. And no matter how traditional or nontraditional a prospective student may be, there are flexible options and opportunities that will help students of all kinds to reach their educational goals. Instructors dedicated to the profession are doing their best to ensure that surveying students receive excellent educations and the practical experience needed to succeed in their chosen profession.