Scouting out new blood.

Boy Scouts from a Merit Badge College in Tennessee try for their Surveying Merit Badge.
Be Prepared. That’s not a bad motto to have in any situation, in any profession. This means that we can all take a lesson from the Boy Scouts of America, the organization founded in 1910 that coined that motto a year later. The Scouts can learn a lesson from surveyors, too. Someone realized this when it designated the Surveying Merit Badge as one of the original 57 merit badges for the Boy Scouts of America. Merit Badges are awards presented to Scouts when they complete the requirements for any of the merit badge subjects. So, not only is the profession of land surveying one of the oldest in history, it is also one of the professions originally recognized by one of the most renowned organizations of its kind. Not a bad track record.

But, what about today’s Boy Scouts? What do they think of surveying? And what about the surveyors who spend time with the Scouts to teach them of a profession so old in its roots and so important in its purpose? To answer those questions, I looked to the Scouts and the counselors and volunteers who teach them.

The boys were excited to get outside and use the field equipment.

A Day in the Field

James (Jay) B. Caughman, RLS, land surveyor for Allen & Hoshall of Memphis, Tenn., has worked with Boy Scout groups for three years. His groups have varied, but on average there are about 15 boys per class ranging in age from 12 years old (7th grade) to 16 (11th grade). This year, he and a group of colleagues supported a troop through a Merit Badge College, a collection of several local troops that join to provide a collective opportunity for the Boy Scouts to earn their merit badges.

“Several of our Tennessee Association of Professional Surveyors (TAPS) Southwest Chapter members were either Boy Scouts themselves and/or Scout masters as adults,” Caughman says. “[We] had been looking for ways to introduce and encourage the local community into surveying. What better opportunity for us to teach the young generation and introduce them to surveying than through the Boy Scouts! We found out that a Boy Scout Merit Badge College was taking place, so we contacted them to offer our time and efforts toward helping the young Scouts earn the Surveying Merit Badge.”

But we all know that kids have energy and need continuous stimulation to keep them interested in any particular activity—even if it is the fabulous world of surveying. The answer to this challenge is easy: fieldwork. And since fieldwork, real fieldwork, is required to obtain a Surveying Merit Badge, it gives the Scouts even more incentive.

“The classroom history lesson provided by one of the more experienced surveyors didn’t seem to keep their attention for too long as they were all excited to go outside and use the field equipment,” Caughman says.

The group headed out to a field across from the engineering building on the University of Memphis campus for two sessions one day. The first session ran from 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon; the second from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m.

“The field we used was ideal in that it was close and easy to access, had several trees and bushes to get around, was open enough to perform the required exercises and allowed for close parking to access equipment,” Caughman says. “As with any group of adolescent kids, it’s hard to keep their attention span for too long. We had the Scouts broken up into three groups of four to five boys each. Each scout had his assignment (rodman/i-man/party chief/noteman). At each of the traverse stations, the roles would change for each Scout so each one had the opportunity to play every role. That seemed to keep their attention and interest.

“At first, all the excitement was to look through the scope. Then they wanted to ‘shoot the laser’ (EDM) and hold the prism rod and ‘see the laser.’ The level run was exciting as each Scout was able to hold the level rod, read the rod and keep level notes. Once the fieldwork was complete, we gathered back in the classroom to draw maps from the field notes. They all liked to draft (and some had never used) with a protractor and scale to see their results. It was a great feeling when the Scouts understood how the fieldwork and office work relationship worked and were able to read the field notes and draft a map from them.”

How to Earn the Merit Badge
Now, just because a boy has been enticed, encouraged and perhaps bribed to learn about surveying — doesn't mean he automatically obtains his Merit Badge in Surveying. There are requirements. And these requirements are nothing short of an average surveyor's work day. Boys are presented with two choices of fieldwork, both including the measuring of a line according to certain specifications, marking of points along the line and taking compass readings with current technology, instruments, accuracies and methods. After this requirement has been fulfilled, Scouts are to draw a map (to scale, mind you) of the survey and submit a neatly drawn copy (that last part may be the challenge). Scouts then take one of the corner markers, established from their measurements and use it as a bench mark with an assumed elevation and determine the elevation of the other four corner markers using a level and rod. Then, (and here is where the mathematicians come to be known), without measuring the distance, the Scouts are to determine the length between two points and measure the length using a tape or current instruments. The outcome must be within five percent of the length measured.
Step Five calls for Scouts to determine the height of a point that can be checked using a tape or level rod. The right height (checked using current instruments and methods) must be within five percent of the measured height. And finally Scouts are to discuss (yes, discuss!) the importance of surveying with a licensed surveyor or equivalent. Scouts and surveyors discuss the various types of surveying and mapping and applications of surveying technology to other fields. (I'm sure this is where the new ACSM brochure "A Career in Surveying and Mapping: Is it for you?" comes in handy.) Scouts then learn of career opportunities in the profession and discuss the qualifications and preparation for such careers.
For more information on the Boy Scouts of America organization, visit or

The boys took turns performing tasks in various roles.

Tomorrow’s Surveyors?

So, how did they do? Caughman says the required field exercises took a considerable amount of time and effort to accomplish.

“There was plenty of good-natured practical joking going on during the exercises,” Caughman says. “We found two Scouts putting leaves and twigs in the shoes of another Scout while he was sighting in on a foresite. A good sign of a future surveyor!”

In the three years Caughman has been working with Boy Scouts, he can only think of one boy who did not receive his Surveying Merit Badge. So, do we have a plethora of new blood for the profession? Will Caughman’s boys pursue a career in surveying?

“[It’s] probably too early to tell, but we all could pick up on the ones that were particularly interested,” Caughman says. “Generally speaking, two to three of the Scouts in the group showed a genuine interest in what we were doing. Some had mentioned that their dads had previously surveyed. Others mentioned that they had seen surveyors before and didn’t fully understand what they do.”

Caughman says a Scout Base will be held in Millington, Tenn., this month, and is expected to draw 8,000 to 9,000 Cub and Boy Scouts (not including parents). Caughman and his group have been asked to provide as many surveyors as possible to handle the number of Boy Scouts attending who hope to obtain their Surveying Merit Badges.

Surveyor volunteers and counselors, amid their sweat, long hours and dedication to the Boy Scouts, not only promote the profession and potentially help it to grow through their tireless efforts of training, but they—perhaps without even knowing it—fulfill the Boy Scout Slogan: Do a Good Turn Daily.

Scout Oath (or Promise)
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.