Photo by Richard Parkinson

When I set out to get licensed in 1995, most institutions of higher learning considered land surveying to be just another trade. Why would any school make it a priority to carry a program geared towards surveying? Today the licensing laws are changing and several states now require four-year degrees in land surveying before they will allow someone to sit for the exams. Some states license surveyors who have two-year degrees in land surveying or associate's degrees that are technical in nature paired with work experience under the guidance of a professional land surveyor. I think it is great that standards are now set higher because, in my mind, it helps to make land surveying more of a profession than a trade. But how can we expect people to meet these educational requirements when there are so few institutions across the country that offer such programs? In my area of Illinois, we found one way.

A Dual Need

When I was in school at the Morrison Institute of Technology in Morrison, Ill., I took a beginning survey course that was part of MIT's associate degree program in construction technology. I graduated from the institute with an associate's degree in design and drafting (a mechanical design program) in 1988. One day, while working as a draftsperson, I was pulled into the field to be a rodperson because the crew was short-handed. From then on, I was hooked on surveying. I continued to learn the "old way" of surveying from guys who had been surveying for years.

After several years of surveying I decided to try my hand at selling survey equipment. Precision Midwest, my local Trimble dealer, was expanding its business into Iowa and needed a couple of salespeople to cover the territory. I was offered the job and took it as my chance to prove what I was worth.

One of the most exciting aspects of my sales job, I quickly learned, was that Precision Midwest had been putting together an RTK network of Trimble VRS base stations around Chicagoland. With the amazing success of the VRS network in the Chicago area, Precision decided to start a small VRS network in Des Moines, Iowa. This network spread as well and soon covered more than a third of the state. Precision Midwest was getting extremely close to connecting its Illinois and Iowa VRS networks, but needed a few more GPS base stations along the Illinois-Iowa border.

I had been talking with several of my customers in the Quad City area near Chicago trying to get one of them to commit to putting up a base station. They all thought it was a great idea, but no one was ready to provide the funds. During a conversation with one of my customers, he brought up the fact that his company was having trouble finding new employees with GPS experience. He told me that most of the technicians they hired came from my alma mater, the Morrison Institute of Technology, and that they have had great luck with the MIT graduates. He explained that although the MIT grads had great CADD skills and basic knowledge of surveying, they had no hands-on experience or training with GPS. I knew that several of Precision Midwest's customers hire MIT graduates, and if the school had GPS gear to teach these students, a large portion of our customer base could benefit from it.

MIT's students were impressed by the modern equipment demo. Photo by Richard Parkinson.

A Dual Solution

I called Butch VanderSchaaf, PLS, the instructor of the surveying courses at MIT, to find out more about the status of my alma mater's surveying program. Butch is a professional licensed surveyor who is very involved with the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association (IPLSA) and has mentored many young people who have gone on to become professional land surveyors in both Illinois and Iowa. He asked me to come to the school to show his students some of the new survey gear available. For my presentation, I brought the new Trimble S6 robotic total station and the Trimble R8 GPS system. The students were amazed by the equipment. They couldn't believe how quick and efficient the gear was. One student asked if I knew of any other schools in the state of Illinois that offered classes using this kind of equipment. I told him that the University of Southern Illinois was the only school I knew of that offered training with modern equipment. I asked Butch after my presentation if MIT was planning to buy any new surveying gear; he said they would like to but were short on funds.

About a month later one of my customers showed me a flyer from MIT requesting donations of old survey equipment or cash to help the school offer GPS classes. I was impressed that my trip to the school had made an impact and the school was making an effort to get something started.

After reading the flyer I decided to call my boss, Tim Kukla, to see if he would be willing to help the school. To pitch my idea, I explained to him that MIT is about 20 miles east of the Iowa border and would make a great location for a VRS base station, connecting the Precision Midwest network from Illinois to Iowa. Tim thought the idea had merit, so we presented it to Rick Fisher, co-owner of Precision Midwest, who had always expressed an interest in working with schools. After we had all discussed MIT's financial situation, we decided that if the school would allow Precision Midwest to mount one of the Trimble VRS base stations on one of its buildings, we would allow the school to use the base station for free. MIT would only need to buy a new Trimble GPS rover; Precision Midwest would install the base station and pay for the licensing.

I thought this was a great deal for the school-and so did the school. This arrangement allowed MIT to offer GPS training and it only cost half the price of a full GPS system. Butch and his department took our proposal to MIT's board, which accepted the deal. Tim and Rick ordered the equipment, and about a month later I was up on the roof of MIT's computer lab installing the Trimble VRS antenna.

Tim Johnson (center) demonstrates the Trimble R8 for MIT's construction technology students and their instructor, Butch VanderSchaaf (right). Photo by Richard Parkinson.

A Bright Future

This was a great opportunity for both my company and my alma mater. Precision Midwest obtained prime real estate to spread its Trimble VRS network, and the Morrison Institute of Technology is now able to offer more surveying classes and GPS training. This solution should help the school enroll more students who are interested in surveying and give MIT the opportunity to offer GPS training to private companies. It is the surveying department's goal to give the surveyors in northern Illinois and northeastern Iowa another choice closer to home to get this specialized training.

Precision Midwest answered the call for help from Morrison Institute of Technology by making this new technology affordable. And I hope that in the future our customers will experience additional benefits if they hire MIT graduates. These graduates will be better prepared to enter today's surveying workforce with the kind of advanced GPS training that employers hope for.