Judging from interest among students at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture at Knoxville, the land surveying field has a bright future. According to a professor who teaches land surveying skills as part of broader curricula there, the ongoing infusion of technology into the field is what currently generates so much interest--both in his case and as far as students are concerned.

Like many universities, UT Knoxville has expanded its agricultural engineering curriculum. Dr. Robert S. Freeland, PhD, PE, agricultural engineering professor in the Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science Department, says that the university changed the name of the Agricultural Engineering Department in 1998 to address student interest in broader biological studies curricula. The department, which is also part of the UT Institute of Agriculture, has four academic programs: biosystems engineering, soil science, environmental science and biosystems technology. Biosystems technology has four concentration areas: agricultural systems technology, construction technology, land surveying technology--Dr. Freeland’s area--and off-road vehicle technology.

Ezra Glafenhein, a Biosystems Technology graduate student at UT Knoxville, deploys a multi-sided prism for use with a GTS 800A robotic total station. Also mounted on the pole are an RC-2 infrared device (at top), an FC-2500 data collector and a Satel radio that provides a communication link back to the total station. Photo by Robert Freeland

Freeland points out that students do “application surveying” in many courses, such as laying out farm ponds, erosion control structures and drainage control structures in agriculture. Developing an official land survey is entirely different but something in which an increasing number of students have become interested after they’ve received a taste of the skills involved. “As more and more people were taking surveying courses, they were asking about becoming a professional surveyor,” he says. “So we added courses to our [Land Surveying Technology Concentration] and structured our coursework so that students take a certain set of courses and upon graduation are eligible to sit for the Tennessee Professional Land Surveyor-In-Training Exam.”

More than one path to becoming a licensed surveyor exists within the Tennessee state university system. A four-year land surveying undergraduate degree is offered at East Tennessee State University. Students can also earn an undergraduate degree at UT Knoxville in environmental and soil sciences, or in a major outside of the department, such as forestry or civil engineering and take state pre-approved land surveying courses in biosystems technology.

Earning an undergraduate degree with a minor in biosystems technology takes four years but might allow some students to keep their future career options open to a greater extent than earning an undergraduate degree in land surveying. “What I’m finding out is that students do not want to change their major at the undergraduate level,” Freeland says. “They want to stay in forestry, ornamental horticultural and landscape design or civil engineering. But they want the land surveying coursework to make them eligible to sit for the exam, although it falls under a minor in biosystems technology.”

Dr. Robert Freeland provides classroom instruction on surveying at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Seated (from left) are Dan Curry, Eric Miller, Ezra Glafenhein, Will Nichols, Chris Drinnon and Eugene Lackey. Photo by Ryan Bolcar.

A third method of qualifying to sit for the state exam is also available through Tennessee’s state university system--a graduate-level degree through UT Knoxville. “The big demand I’m finding is from people who already have an undergraduate degree,” Freeland says. “They’ve finished school and they want to become land surveyors, but they don’t want another undergraduate degree. In that case, they come to graduate school and they get a master’s degree in biosystems technology and then take the courses that are needed to sit for the state exam.”

Freeland contends that the high-tech equipment is driving interest in land surveying these days. “My personal opinion is that if it wasn’t for the technology, you would not see this level of interest in land surveying,” he says. “I definitely would not be interested in land surveying if it wasn’t for the technology. The generation coming through here now is technology-savvy and when we’re in the field surveying, we have lasers, we’re communicating with satellites and we have a Wi-Fi hot spot. So it’s very, very technology-oriented. All of the data are generated by computers and we plot the data out with computers. It’s really attractive to people who like technology. I think the technology makes the work more interesting, more challenging, more professional--the work has more of a professional tone to it.”

Ezra Glafenhein, a graduate student from Knoxville, earned his undergraduate degree in construction management from East Tennessee State in 2009. He subsequently worked for two contractors and got some exposure to architectural surveying and developing CAD drawings. Additionally, he learned about boundary surveying and locating structures on a construction site. “I found that was something I really liked,” Glafenhein says.

Glafenhein is the grandson of an agricultural engineering professor at UT Knoxville who taught Freeland there years ago, and he decided that he wanted to become a licensed surveyor. However, “I wanted to go a route where I wouldn’t have to go back to school for more than two or three years,” he says. “I found out that I could get done at UT Knoxville in a year and a half.”

Glafenhein records data on the FC-2500 data collector as the prism receives signals from the GTS 800A robotic total station. Also mounted on the pole are an RC-2 infrared device (at top) and a Satel radio that provides a communication link back to the total station. Photo by Robert Freeland

After taking the graduate record examination in spring 2010 and enrolling in the biosystems technology graduate program in mid-2010, Glafenhein has been exposed to several new areas of technology and skills. He has learned boundary law principles, created plat drawings using software and used GNSS receivers to locate structures on a site. By the summer of 2011, he expects to complete his studies and aspires to become a licensed surveyor and develop a career in land management. While pursuing his master’s degree, Glafenhein has worked for a surveying firm, LandTech Surveying and Planning in Knoxville, where he hopes to become employed full-time after graduation.

The graduate school route also suits Jimmy Pierce of Nashville, who anticipates completing his master’s degree studies at UT Knoxville this spring.. Pierce completed a few surveying-oriented courses while pursuing his undergraduate degree in agricultural engineering technology at Technological University in Cookeville, Tenn.; however, he says that Tennessee Tech did not offer all of the state pre-approved courses necessary for Pierce to sit for the state licensing exam. Ultimately, Pierce says, he wants to work as a licensed land surveyor.

According to Pierce, the hands-on nature of land surveying instruction reinforces classroom learning. “I’ve always been a better hands-on learner,” he says. “It’s one thing when you sit in class and go through slides with people explaining and trying to figure out what it’s all about. When you’re out in the field and you’re using the equipment, it all comes together.”

The land-surveying studies at UT Knoxville give students plenty of exposure to the various surveying instruments and surveying software that they are likely to be exposed to in the real world.

The Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science Department has gained easier access to some equipment through Topcon Positioning Systems’ Educational Partners Program. The program, which is normally implemented through Topcon’s dealer network, provides financial support and training for educational institutions. More than 300 educational institutions in the United States are involved in the program. At UT Knoxville, Hayes Instrument Co., Shelbyville, Tenn., has provided equipment and training under the program for the past several years. Freeland reports that the department purchased a Topcon HiPer Lite+ base and rover real-time kinematic (RTK) GNSS unit through the program. The department also uses nine conventional total stations; a GTS 800A robotic total station and SATEL Radios; a network-capable Topcon Hiper-L1 RTK GNSS receiver; FC-100, FC-2500 and FC-25 data collectors; and five TDS Recon units equipped with TopSurv software.

Freeland deploys a HiPer Lite+ base station before a class. Photo courtesy of UTIA Communications

Freeland, Glafenhein and Pierce say that learning different surveying software programs is one of the most valuable aspects of the land surveying curricula. They have used Topcon’s TopSurv and Autodesk’s AutoCAD program for field data collection and CAD drawings, respectively, as well as Topcon’s SiteMaster for integrated design, surface modeling and construction surveying.

Pierce says he likes the flexibility of Topcon’s software. TopSurv data can be exported into SiteMaster. AutoCAD can also interface with SiteMaster, which is equipped with surveying-specific tools that allow students to perform functions such as adding annotations to surveys. Students can also use SiteMaster to generate survey plats or 3D surface models for use in Topcon automated grade-control systems. “SiteMaster has different options where you can enter points manually or you can pull points in,” Pierce says. “I just think it makes it a lot easier for surveyors and cuts back on a lot of headaches of trying to figure out how to get points in, how to draw text maps. Also, it measures boundaries for you.”

Glafenhein, who has also used Carlson’s Survey program while working for LandTech, recently gave a presentation on different surveying programs to local surveyors, including Carlson Survey, SiteMaster and Traverse PC. Because AutoCAD was the first program he worked on, he purchased his own student software license. “SiteMaster has a lot more icons,” Glafenhein says. “It really depends a lot on what you learned first.”

And learning is at the heart of the issue. As technology evolves and agricultural and other fields deal with increasingly complex data management challenges, Freeland believes the need for well educated, highly skilled surveyors will grow. UT Knoxville intends to nurture that growth by fostering the right environment.