The role of GIS in surveying education.



Surveying programs have experienced big changes in the past five to 10 years. Many courses are different, the equipment used by students is different, and in many cases the departments that are home to the programs are different. Many factors have contributed to these changes. Ten years ago most surveying programs around the country were found in engineering departments. Several of these surveying programs are now stand-alone programs, and many are labeled as "geomatics." Others are found in the geography, math and forestry departments of schools.

In the past the licensed engineer was automatically licensed as a surveyor in many states. Ten years ago most surveying programs were still using transits or theodolites and steel tapes in field classes. Students weren't exposed to the technology they would be expected to understand when they graduated. And very few programs incorporated GIS software in their curriculum. A sampling of some of today's programs shows that a large spectrum of courses now deal with the current technology.

I asked several professors around the country about the integration or addition of GIS software and principles into their surveying curriculums. Here is a synopsis of their remarks.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi has one of the first programs that combined geomatics (digital surveying and mapping) with a GIS degree program. The four-year degree requires 139 credit hours with 24 hours that depend on the student's emphasis. The program enrolls about 75 students and graduates approximately 15 every year. It is doing very well, especially considering it is a fairly new program established in 1995. According to Dr. Gary Jeffress, RPLS, professor of GIS, one of the benefits of the program is that the GIS aspect attracts students; a drawback is the difficulty of finding faculty members who know both GIS and surveying. Jeffress said that graduates of the program find jobs quite easily. Interestingly, about 60 percent of graduates go into surveying jobs, and about 40 percent go into GIS-related jobs. And with the aging population of professional surveyors, this influx into the profession is crucial.

The University of Maine now offers a four-year surveying engineering technology degree in its School of Engineering. This is now separate from its GIS program, Information Systems Engineering (ISE). Concentration in GIS studies is still offered within the surveying program. In fact, all students must take one course in GIS. (In addition, engineering, construction, business, legal and entrepreneurial minors are available.) The separation appears to have been good for the surveying program. More than 40 undergraduate students are enrolled in the surveying program and about 10 graduate each year. Students seem to have little problem finding jobs upon graduation. According to faculty member Knud Hermansen, the combined program was predominantly staffed by non-licensed faculty members who didn't advocate the need for surveying studies and didn't appreciate the positive aspects surveying afforded when combined with GIS. Contact with the surveying professional societies was minimal. When asked if integrating GIS and surveying is a good idea, Hermansen stated, "Yes, but under the umbrella of the surveying profession, not the other way around."

John Bean, an associate professor at Paul Smith's College in New York, said the school has added one course on GIS into the surveying curriculum. In addition, it offers a GIS certificate program that some of the surveying students are currently pursuing. "It is definitely of great benefit to the surveying students to be knowledgeable in GIS," Bean said. He added that many of their surveying courses are specialized, where the surveying students are isolated from students in other fields. Thus, it is good for the students to be exposed to other viewpoints. Paul Smith's College has about 40 students in the two-year surveying technology program with approximately 18 graduates per year.

Dave Gibson teaches surveying and GIS courses at the University of Florida. Gibson notes that surveying IS a geographic information system. According to Gibson, surveying is 90 percent building geographic data, especially the base layers, and maybe 10 percent applications of GIS; most other users of GIS will be just the opposite-90 percent applications of GIS and 10 percent building geographic databases. The four-year program at the University of Florida adopted the name "geomatics" about 10 years ago, and moved from the engineering department to the School of Forest Resources and Conservation in July 2004. The engineering department placed its emphasis and resources on research. There wasn't a strong undergraduate mission, so it wasn't a good fit for the geomatics program. The program at the University of Florida is designed to accept transfer students from associate degree programs around the state. The program graduates about 15 students per year. Like other universities, the graduates have little problem finding jobs, with about two-thirds of them going into traditional surveying jobs and one-third going into other types of jobs including GIS and remote sensing.

The program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello has a two-year surveying technician program and a four-year degree offering in Spatial Information Systems. The bachelor's program in the School of Forest Resources requires 124 credit hours with options in either surveying or GIS. A basic knowledge of GIS software, photogrammetry, remote sensing and databases is important for both degree programs. All students in the Spatial Information Systems program take courses in boundary surveying, GIS, programming and photogrammetry; this will allow them to understand and appreciate what must take place to determine boundaries and what must take place for the data to be useful in a GIS software program. I say that this learning is more than measurement and you can't do it from an aerial photograph. Many of the licensed surveyors in Arkansas got their start at UAM. There are 57 students in the program. It is expected there will be 10 to 15 graduates per year.

The surveying engineering program in the School of Civil Engineering at Penn State Wilkes-Barre was started in 1994, and GIS has been a key component of the curriculum since its start. Dr. Charles Ghilani, program chair, said that at Penn State they see GIS as an integrating tool. "GIS is just a tool in a bag of tools available to a spatial information specialist," Dr. Ghilani said. "The person working in GIS needs to understand how maps are created, the accuracy of maps, and legal issues such as gaps, gores and many more. Managing the system requires more background than how to use the software"¦ again, GIS is just a tool. For some it is never any more than this. For our students it is a solution to a problem." There are 65 students in the program and about 15 to 20 graduates per year. Several of the undergraduate students have published papers by the time they graduate. The graduates find positions utilizing GIS, boundary surveying, GPS, construction, photogrammetry and LiDAR.

Dr. Steven D. Johnson, associate professor in the geomatics engineering program at Purdue University in Indiana, said that geomatics should be an accredited separate degree program at the bachelor's level. The undergraduate program at Purdue has been in existence since 1974 and has always been focused on land surveying practice and land development. In Indiana, a land surveyor can perform engineering design for land development. They have not made GIS a required course in the undergraduate program, but it is emphasized at the graduate level. Most students take a course in GIS as an elective and take photogrammetry, remote sensing, map projections, GPS, etc. About two-thirds of the students are dual surveying and civil engineering majors. It takes five years of study to get both bachelor's degrees. About 10 to 12 students graduate per year and, according to Dr. Johnson, all find jobs related to their degree and career interests. "To produce graduates that can design and build GIS systems, it is essential to combine surveying (geomatics) and GIS. Users of GIS can come from any discipline," Dr. Johnson commented.

The program at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota was originally more concentrated in GIS than surveying, but now offers 27 credit hours of surveying and 18 credit hours of GIS/cartography. It is primarily a program for transfer students from surveying and civil technology programs at other colleges. Kenneth Wong, the director of land surveying at St. Cloud State, said that having GIS provides more flexibility for graduates, but may take time away from other surveying courses. The program has about 12 graduates per year that, for the most part, undertake surveying positions. Minnesota requires a bachelor's degree for licensure that, according to Wong, is the goal of all the students. It appears that the four-year degree requirement for licensure had a role in determining the direction of the program.

Dr. Steve Ramroop, associate professor at Troy State University in Alabama, said that GIS was added to the curriculum of the four-year geomatics program in 2001. Students with surveying as their majors also take courses in remote sensing and photogrammetry along with traditional surveying courses. Dr. Ramroop sees GIS as aiding the graduate by expanding the job market. About five to ten students graduate each year from the program and have no difficulty finding employment, Ramroop reports.

Almost all of the universities I contacted see GIS as an important tool for surveyors, and see surveyors as the appropriate professionals to design and build GIS systems. Most of the country's surveying programs are using and teaching the theoretical basics of GIS, GPS, photogrammetry and remote sensing as well as other technologies. The common thread in successful programs is that they have a great deal of autonomy and focus on solving geospatial problems (including but not limited to boundaries) with whatever technology is available.