As workloads increase and as technology advances, I have noticed a disturbing trend in our profession: a lack of training and mentorship that was readily available when I first started land surveying. As a green hand, I remember my boss writing up trigonometry problems on a legal pad for me and then sending me home to solve horizontal and vertical curves. Long before he would let me learn any COGO programs (such as those on the HP 41 with Survey Pac), I remember thinking that this mentoring must be a standard in our profession. I was very thankful for his teaching. Now, years later, I realize that the teaching I received as a surveyor-in-training does not happen very often and ask myself, “What can I do to change this trend?”
From Frustration to Motivation
Six years ago, I decided to take it upon myself to change this disappointing trend by creating my own mentoring program. The impetus to form the program came from witnessing a handful of applicants who filled the position of party chief at my office without the right qualifications. The applicants were good instrument men but not yet qualified to supervise a crew and make decisions for the land surveyor. Only afterward did our firm realize they weren’t ready for the job. I often went home in frustration and called my boys’ teacher to toss the idea our for a mentoring program. A few months later, I found myself in the classroom reading to second and third graders.
Armed and Ready
With the help of the Oklahoma Society of Land Surveyors (OSLS) and colleagues, I was able to begin the program by introducing students at my sons’ school to land surveying. In support of the program, OSLS provided me with coloring books, reading literature and some OSLS supplies to give to the kids. These helped with the limited patience kids at that age commonly have.
With the help of a co-worker, I went to the school armed with basic surveying equipment: a total station, a prism and range pole, some radios, a handheld GPS unit, a couple boxes of flagging, some lathe, a 100-foot tape, a plumb bob, an iron pin (with my boss’s cap) and the OSLS gear.
The teacher informed me I had about 10 minutes to show the 15-page coloring book to the kids (again, because the attention span of the second graders is next to zero). While I read the surveying book aloud and answered the kids’ questions, my co-worker went outside to the playground to set up the surveying equipment for the hands-on portion of the lesson.
An Eye-Opening Experience
After introducing the kids to the land surveying profession inside, we went outside to “play” with the equipment, map the playground and bury a time capsule filled with photos, a newspaper and a list of current events. The contents of the capsule were then enclosed in a watertight container and buried so the children could later retrieve the items on the date of their graduation from grade school.
The looks on the kids’ faces while they inspected the equipment were priceless. Some of the second graders gazed into the prism and saw everything coming to a center. My co-worker and I watched them laugh as they keyed the microphone on the radio, played with the radio, or walked in circles looking for an object I had hidden and logged with GPS.
Listening to the questions from the second graders as they engaged the equipment would make some chuckle; their questions, however, were sincere. As they soaked up what little knowledge I was able to give to them in the short amount of time, I could see their little brains working at a fast pace.
A Six-Year Tradition, and Counting
With the help of the OSLS and my colleagues, the mentoring program has continued for six years. The program has broadened and now involves the local Cub and Boy Scouts troops. As my own sons get older, I realize it is important to continuously come up with better ideas on how to teach them in order to keep them interested in the surveying profession.
Shaping the Surveyors of Tomorrow
The few hours I spend mentoring our community’s potential future surveyors isn’t much out of my busy day, and I get much enjoyment in doing so. I also get a lot of pleasure-much as my boss did back when I was first starting as a green hand-when a young student asks, “What am I doing when I hit ‘inverse’” or “Can you teach me some trig?” I look forward to someday seeing one of the children I have taught at an OSLS seminar, or maybe even with an RTK rover slung over his or her shoulder, walking boldly to the point or searching for a PLSS stone.
My hope is that the surveyors of today will take some time out of their schedules to mentor the people of their community, including kids, assistants or laymen. We all know how hard it is to find good surveying help these days, and I think we can do something to change this problem. We need to take the time to educate the youth of our communities about the benefits of a surveying career and answer people’s questions to promote the future of the surveying profession.