Lisa Peterson, PE, PLS, CME, specializes in highway and roadway geometrics, right of way, and infrastructure replacement projects. The department manager of transportation services has been with Dewberry for 10 years and recently became a licensed land surveyor. “Jokingly, or not, a co-worker challenged me to obtain the four-year degree and experience needed for the position. I applied within weeks to the nearest university offering the degree,” Peterson says.
Her experience working with a surveying team for the past few years led her to find enjoyment in boundary work related to the design projects she was working on. She also came to realize that there were far fewer licensed surveyors than engineers based on the time it took the company to fill surveyor positions. Peterson says receiving her professional land surveying license called for a four-year degree in land surveying from an ABET-accredited university, in addition to four years of combined field and office experience. She remembers the coursework as engaging and the field work as the biggest challenge. “I now have an entirely different view of projects — not just a computer-generated view. I also had the opportunity to work on a variety of field projects and coordinate with team members on why meticulous fieldwork is so vital in design,” she explains.
Peterson has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., as well as a bachelor’s degree in surveying engineering technology from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J. She works out of Dewberry’s Mount Laurel, N.J., office, mostly serving state and county agencies. Peterson places a high value on positive influences and teammates.
“Frankly, it did not dawn on me that I was a woman interested in a male-dominated profession until others pointed it out, she says. “All through grade school and high school, I had mentors supporting me, recognizing my potential and guiding me to what I enjoyed. These mentors also encouraged me to embrace my natural assertiveness and learn how to best approach others who may feel threatened by my goals.”
Peterson expects that keeping pace with new technology will be important for surveyors looking ahead. She recognizes that data collection tools and techniques are advancing at a rapid pace, but highlights the importance of staying in touch with traditional practices.
“It’s equally important to understand, from a historical perspective, how boundaries were established and developed. We need to have an appreciation of history to best shape the future,” Peterson says. “Users of total stations, GPS units, LiDAR scanners, etc., need to understand the physics of how these instruments work and not solely rely on the numbers generated. Overall I am optimistic that we will find more ways to be innovative, and push data collection and modeling to a completely new level.”
POB: What path did you take to end up where you are today?
PETERSON: I think my mother could have told everyone 30 years ago that this would be my career. I was a meticulous child that would organize all my toys, sketch up plans for my Lego castle and pillow forts, and draw maps for our childhood missions.
As I grew out of childhood games, I channeled this energy into my extracurricular career development, mainly volunteering and taking up golf. I was willing to take risks and try new things. I tested out different companies and even countries. For four years my husband and I lived in Canada. In every new assignment, task or project, I’ve learned a lesson. The hard lessons were usually the most memorable.
I can do my job well because I am a strong-minded and goal-oriented person. I continue to plot my career path, establish new clients and win new projects that span into other industries. What I have learned is that success takes time and the ability to recognize when risks need to be taken.
POB: What did you want to accomplish when you were first getting started?
PETERSON: I wanted to be the best. I had top marks in all classes, honors designations in both universities and inductions to academic excellence national honor societies. I did not intentionally set out to prove anything because I’m a woman; that’s just my competitive personality. I do, however, recognize the disparity among genders in our profession and do what I can to promote STEM to girls and boys.
POB: Which of those accomplishments have you achieved at this point?
PETERSON: I’ve learned that being the best and getting to the “top,” can be more meaningful and more of a challenge when you coach and bring others along with you. I’m proud of the development of my team and our collective accomplishments. In addition to being dual-licensed, I’m a certified municipal engineer and the youngest female department manager at Dewberry.
POB: What have you done that wasn’t on that list or may be a bit unexpected given where you thought you would go?
PETERSON: I’ve learned to set more realistic expectations so I don’t disappoint others or myself. So far, I believe I’ve done what I’ve set out to do.
POB: What has been your most significant career lesson?
PETERSON: Be humble and willing to be wrong.
POB: What advice would you offer someone who is still at the early stages of their career in surveying?
PETERSON: Read. I encourage everyone to read as many articles about projects, technologies, geographies, cultures, mentors, concepts, history, etc., as possible. Read industry journals and magazines, learn about trends in the surveying profession, and continue to gain training and knowledge on various topics. Have an understanding of and respect for associated disciplines. There is so much to gain from reading and asking questions. Don’t waste time on vapid topics; be present for your friends, family and community. Have passion for what you do and share it with others, especially those who may be inclined to follow in your path.
Lisa Peterson, PE, PLS, CME, is department manager of transportation services at Dewberry’s Mount Laurel, N.J., office. Peterson is a professional engineer, professional land surveyor and certified municipal engineer. She can be reached at lpeterson@Dewberry.com.
Career Notes is a regular feature in POB magazine that aims to help surveyors learn from how others work. To share your story in a future issue, please email editor Perry Trunick at email@example.com.