A member of Point of Beginning’s advisory board, LiDAR USA Founder Jeff Fagerman, PLS, is a seasoned surveying professional. But he isn’t the only Fagerman in the field.
Over the past 45 years, four Fagerman brothers have been drawn to the surveying profession. The brothers were born and raised on a cattle farm in northern Michigan and learned to love the land. They all wanted to be able to run their own farms, however, that was not a financially tenable option in the beginning.
Reviewing the options for education that would allow the brothers to be in the outdoors and be able to use their math and writing skills, surveying was at the top of the list. The ability to become licensed and to be your own boss was also a major factor in this decision. The brothers had uncles that were Civil Engineers.
The beginning of the saga started with oldest brother David enrolling in the BS Surveying degree at Ferris State in the mid-‘70s. David enjoyed the program so much that he encouraged his brothers, Jeff and Tim, to get the same degree. His youngest brother, Pat, went to Central Michigan and Michigan State Universities to pursue his Electrical Engineering degree. Jeff and Tim received a Master’s degree at Purdue in Photogrammetry, while Pat also received a Master’s degree at Purdue University in Electrical Engineering. David, on the other hand, went directly into the field in the Louisiana swamps performing “doodle bugging” seismic surveys.
Jeff went from the University life to working at Intergraph in the Photogrammetry department in the mid-‘80s. He polished his skills in this job, which enabled him to move on and create his own photogrammetric firm. He then evolved this into LiDAR USA, an innovation-based company that optimizes the best of breed in hardware and software. Jeff creates industry leading LiDAR and imaging systems.
Tim took another route, becoming an expert at Industrial surveying and photogrammetry. He has worked for a large contractor for many years making their software and hardware meet the trying needs of the military. Tim worked with David in the field in the early years of his career, nearly being bitten by a 7-foot rattlesnake when surveying a hog farm.
Pat followed his Electrical Engineering education, became a licensed professional engineer and worked for many years with an engineering design and testing firm. He designed and commissioned electrical power & control systems for unique specialized testing systems, to be used in the aerospace industry, built in various countries worldwide. He took this background and initiated his own consulting professional electrical engineering firm. He also worked with his brother, David, surveying when he was not tied up with his own electrical consulting jobs and works periodically with LiDAR USA to solve electronic issues and optimize electrical components.
David initially stayed in the consulting world, moving from Louisiana to Texas to leave the swamp life for the petroleum industry to work on boundary surveying and construction surveying. He also learned how to design subdivisions during this time, with several subdivisions having his stamp on them in the ‘80s. In ’89, Jeff convinced David to move to the software industry portion of surveying and engineering. This started with Intergraph and migrated to Bentley Systems and then Autodesk. During this period, David became an expert in all the surveying and civil engineering applications at each company. Just as Jeff evolved into LiDAR USA, David started a surveying and engineering firm in Alabama.
Understanding the backgrounds of the combined brothers, the brothers say it’s clear that the initial BS Surveying degree from Ferris State provided an “outstanding start.” Practical experience from working in the surveying, photogrammetric, engineering and GIS world has enabled the brothers to bring their various skills together to develop world-class solutions to multiple issues.
It’s no wonder that the children and grandchildren of the brothers are coming into the surveying and engineering professions. Pat’s son, 15-year-old Jesse, works with his uncle David doing the tough field jobs, climbing the mountainous terrain with his uncle. Jeff’s son, Daniel, works directly with him at LiDAR USA (along with two of Jeff’s sons-in-law). He is responsible for many of the technologies they are creating with drones, cameras and scanners. Daniel also works with his uncle David performing advanced scanning projects. David also has two granddaughters that want to start surveying with him.
“That makes me very happy,” David adds.
Thanking Surveyor Educators
The Fagermans credit teachers for their success and dedication to the vocations of math and geosciences. Ferris State Civil Engineering Professor Sayed Hashimi was an outstanding source of knowledge for all the brothers. They say he was a tough teacher; however, he ensured his students knew their materials.
“In the surveying profession, when you put iron in the ground, there is no way to say I didn’t do it (when your cap is on the pin) or it wasn’t my fault,” David says. “Surveyors must have extreme focus at all times, to ensure they do not end up in court or in a gun fight at a job site.”
Professor Hashimi drove this mindset into all the brothers.
Jeff and Tim had a professor they say pushed them through their Master’s program at Purdue. This instructor was Professor Mikhail. He provided the deep technical knowledge that they would need in their careers in photogrammetry and surveying.
Of Ferris State, Jeff says: "The surveying program we went through was tough as nails.” In every one of the brother’s classes, only a handful graduated. That helped prepare the brothers for trials ahead.
While they are thankful for their teachers, Timothy says: “I do wish the surveying education had included more industrial skills. I need people that can drive laser trackers, CMM arms and even terrestrial photogrammetry type stuff. And hopefully, someday, LIDAR. There are jobs for those people.”
When asked about what he’d change if he had the chance, Jeff says: “Even to this day, I would like to have one company with all of us. We could have all pooled our talents together as one company, but at the same time, it’s good that we’re separate too. We all do still work together, but not under one company.”
On a side note, several of the brothers now have their own farms, going full circle back to the early days. But when it comes to identity, the Fagermans wear the job title of Surveyor with pride.
“The surveying profession has been very good to all of us,” David concludes. “It has let us enjoy the great out of doors, make an excellent living, and be able to help mankind with tools that optimize the human experience.”