Southern Illinois University's Land Surveying Specialization


The discussion concerning more stringent licensing and higher education requirements for surveyors throughout the United States is decades old. Some states are new-comers to the discussion, while others, like Illinois, have been working with local surveyors for quite some time in order to ensure the perception of the surveyor as a professional as opposed to a tradesman.

Illinois’ Evolution of Licensing Requirements

In the fall of 1968, Bob Church, the executive director of the Illinois Professional Registered Land Surveyors Association (IPLSA), was part of early discussions about licensing requirements at an East Central Chapter meeting. These discussions were with professors Ken Curtis and John McEntyre of Purdue University, and Church believes that the seed was planted with Curtis and McEntyre. In 1969 Ben Buckner offered additional discussion and reports on requiring a degree program to be licensed as a registered land surveyor.

All land surveyors know that any changes to the laws in any state face significant challenges. It wasn’t until 1974 that IPLSA established an education committee whose commission was to look at the educational requirements for licensure and consider requiring a degree program.

The committee and all chapters discussed this issue for over four years. The biggest obstacle was the licensed surveyors who had no education beyond high school. These surveyors felt that they were qualified surveyors who didn’t need the additional education, which in many cases was true. But most of those surveyors realized that for the future of the profession it would be necessary to be on the same plane as other design professionals and that surveyors must rise to meet these higher standards.

The discussions focused on a variety of subjects, including advances in technology, government information systems, computers, global positioning systems, total stations with collection capabilities, the importance of a more comprehensive training on the legal aspects of surveying, and equality within the design profession with engineers and architects who had already moved to a degree program for licensure.

It wasn’t until 1978 that IPLSA made a recommendation to the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation (now known as the Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation) to establish a degree program requirement for licensure. The model used for the curriculum was the existing program at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, which offered survey courses within the engineering school. It was critical to show that an in-state university had a program that would support the new education requirements.

The IPLSA sunset committee, with recommendations from the educational committee and Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, presented revised sunset legislation that passed in 1989. This new legislation required an applicant to have a baccalaureate degree in a related science or in land surveying from an accredited college with 24-credit hours of surveying coursework, but it also allowed any applicant to apply for the land surveyor in training (LSIT) certificate without the degrees until the end of 1999. This 10-year window was due to the previous legislation that allowed an individual to sit for the exam with only a high-school education and eight years of experience. The new degree requirement took affect during the 1999 sunset period.

Since then the testing has become more academia-based with the advent of the National Testing Requirements for LSIT, both in the colonial and public land system states.

Land Surveying Specialization

In the wake of the changes in Illinois, the state via the university system has developed a new land surveying specialization program at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. (This program was approved by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Division of Professional Regulation.) The specialization is offered through the engineering school and is embedded in the construction management degree program. It has an approved land-surveying-related curriculum offered within the engineering, construction, and geography curriculums, giving students choices in their career/degree paths.

It is a 139-credit-hour curriculum, containing the required 24 semester-hours of land surveying along with preparation for the LSIT national exam. It boasts state-of-the-art equipment that includes a laser scanner, robotic and total stations, global positioning systems, data collectors, and applicable computer software for student use.

People at the heart of the construction and land surveying specialization programs have been working on a variety of projects involving faculty, students, and specialized equipment from the department. For example, the state of Illinois, through the Department of Transportation District 8, awarded the department a research project on the laser scanner’s ability to provide earthwork volumes on a major roadway extension of Governor’s Parkway from Illinois Route 159 to Interstate 55 in Madison County. The roadway corridor was scanned after clearing was completed and prior to rough grading. This scanned surface was compared to the final grade surface to verify planned engineering volumes excavated and placed.

Another example is a wind turbine project that the construction survey and advanced systems classes worked on. Class members provided improvement, topographic, and design surveys (including heights of forested areas on campus) for analysis and determination of tower superstructure heights. The goal of their project was to maximize wind-turbine efficiencies and to review potential wind-resistance factors.

The campus at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville has a botanical garden area that is becoming nationally acclaimed. The land surveying specialization program worked on the lake shoreline, amphitheater stone seating, and a beautiful Japanese style pergola.

The program recognizes job experience in surveying as a good compliment to the academic experience. Summer employment in land surveying is encouraged, and a formal internship with some level of managerial responsibility is required after the student’s junior year.

The land surveying profession continues to evolve as technology advances, from chains and compass, transit and tape, total station and EDM, robots and GPS, to laser scanning and computer mapping. Education is key to keeping the surveyor abreast of technological advances, uses, and applications, so that when mentored, that professional land surveying candidate will be well prepared to become the future for this great profession, not only nationally but internationally and beyond.

Special financial assistance is available for students majoring in construction management. Professional organizations such as the IPLSA offer scholarships; click here for information on eligibility and application deadlines and forms.
David J. Sherrill, PLS is on the faculty of and is the land survey coordinator for the land surveying specialization program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Illinois. He is a practicing land surveyor licensed in IL, MI, NE, AK, KY, and IA. He is a past chair of the Land Surveyors Exam Board for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, past governor for the National Society of Professional Surveyors, and past president of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association.

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