Guest Column: Hey, Don't Shoot The Teacher!
The bearing taken by Philip Adams in recent columns conveys his opinion that the biggest threat to the land surveying profession in decades is a trickle of highly educated but technically inept four-year graduates that thrive in calculus and physics, but could not find an iron pipe to save their lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In this observation, I would like to rebut three of Mr. Adams’ key points:
- Four-year graduates are expected to obtain a mix of education and experience to guide them through their professional careers
- We are graduating more land surveyors every year, which could be substantially increased with the help of the profession
- Heavily experienced but uneducated surveyors will redefine the term “terminal career path”
Adopting a plan where university degrees are marginalized and experience-based licensure is brought back once again will put land surveyors at a disadvantage with respect to civil engineers, architects and even lawyers, as well as create serious issues with technicians using sophisticated technology and depress the cost of our work (if lower cost is even possible).
It is true that eliminating the four-year degree requirement would allow us to greatly increase the number of Professional Land Surveyors in every state. But at what cost? Each state licenses land surveyors in part to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Allowing undereducated, “field-trained” technicians to become Professional Land Surveyors would defeat that goal. Even if these technicians were allowed to sit for the exams, it is unlikely they would ever to be able to pass them. The solution of Mr. Adams’ solution is to lower the test standards. Feel safe?
Over the past three decades, dozens of people including Gary Jeffress, Dave Gibson and Paul Wolf dedicated their entire careers to elevating the land surveying profession by creating several generations of well-educated, publicly-minded Professional Surveyors. Throughout that time, the profession has evolved from traditional cadastral surveying into a much more complicated vocation. Today, geomatics is a melting pot of cadastral surveying, remote sensing, unmanned aerial systems, GIS and many other sub-professions that require the practitioners to apply higher-level principles in mathematics and physics to deliver their work product. Without a strong education foundation, the profession would never have the expertise to undertake many of these new tasks.
The purpose of a college education is to provide the theoretical foundation for one’s entire career; it is not to practice turning angles or to be able to setup a tripod in less than 90 seconds. Geomatics educators spend four years instructing students how GPS tells us a location on the earth, how to compute measurement errors and then adjust for them, and the legal principles and ethical considerations that the public and government expect of our profession. These are the building blocks of a true professional; the need for students to learn practical skills has not fallen on deaf ears.
Educators, at every level, have never voiced a notion that “you can’t replace experience without education.” In fact, we at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi conduct two field camps (technical instrument training and boundary location) each year, and students are required to take internships at least one summer while in the program. We host lunches and seminars from various businesses in order to place our students in internships and permanent employment.
Geomatics educators do not live in ivory towers. We understand the students must be well versed in the practical aspects of the profession. However, learning how to quickly set up a tripod or take a series of GPS measurements should be learned on the job after graduation, because there is simply not enough time to train both theoretical and practical aspects of geomatics in four years of university. The Texas Board knows this limitation, and that is why it requires two years of employment in responsible charge before allowed to sit for the RPLS.
The higher-education community shares Mr. Adams’ view that too few surveyors are graduating from our geomatics programs each year. The profession is turning gray and new blood is in high demand. Recruiting young people should not be the sole burden of the geomatics program, but should be shared between the universities, the state societies and the professionals in the field. Instead of suggesting we simply do away with all of the four-year programs, I propose that we reinvigorate the profession by creating a stronger relationship between these organizations.
At Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, we are working to properly prepare a new generation of geomatics professionals. We are working with community colleges to attract young people to community colleges, transfer their existing credit hours, and provide them a clear path to a four-year degree. On weekends, we host open houses where high school students can learn about the fascinating aspects of our profession and how becoming a Professional Land Surveyor will benefit them and provide a lifelong career. Within our own community, the professors attend almost every major land surveying and GIS event, such as the Esri user conference, National Society of Professional Surveyors annual conference and the Federation of International Geographers working weeks and bi-annual conferences. Professors at other geomatics programs are no less dedicated. Will you join us?
The frustration Mr. Adams expresses regarding the future of surveying and surveyors, to a great extent, is shared. I am of the opinion that a duty to the profession is to ensure quality education of members and future members. Recall the fundamental charge to protect the public safety and welfare. Lowering the professions standards, in this case standards of education, will not improve our situation in my view. In other arenas, unfortunately, we have witnessed many examples in our current society where standards have been lowered and now regretted.
The art and science of land surveying as reviewed above become more complex daily, and education to this writer is vital to our future. We need to attract future surveyors and educate them sufficiently in the technical sense and the practical field sense using high standards, not lower the bar. We will always have some degree of frustration with the product of our efforts, but let us not lower the bar only to genuinely regret it later.
The views of all, both educators and professionals, are appreciated. Working together, we can create a bright and prosperous future for the next generation of surveying professionals.