An Optimistic Graduate? Yes!

by Wade Ward

My surveying experience began when a friend was listening to me complain about how I disliked my job at the local do-it-yourself megastore. He was working for a surveying firm looking for an extra crewman and suggested I give it a shot. I knew nothing about surveying, but the thought of working outdoors was something I couldn’t pass up.

My first day began with a crash course in the firm’s parking lot on how to operate the Wild total station with its trusty HP 48 data collector. Then, I was off to the field. I caught on fast to this new world of surveying and really began to enjoy it. 

Among all my positive early experiences, my fascination and passion for surveying can be traced to one event. While traversing through some river bottomland to tie to a section corner, I was performing my usual task of staking the professional land surveyor to his calculated point. Once at the point, he didn’t grab the metal detector, but began to rake away the thick, undisturbed layer of leaves. After a few minutes, he called me over. He was flagging what appeared to me as nothing more than a stick in the ground. I didn’t know it at the time, but finding that “stick” would alter my future. 

The surveyor began his lesson on the Public Land Survey System, the history behind it, and how that “stick” was an original lightered knot set back in the mid 1840s. I was truly amazed at how someone could lay out this system of lands with a compass and metal-linked chain and to see the ax-honed proof so many years later. 

A few years have passed since that day—years spent in the classroom—and now another life-altering day has occurred: graduation. Like so many other graduates, I’m looking for work in an unfavorable economy. Every firm seems to say the same thing, “We’re staying busy, but just not hiring right now.” Nonetheless, I am still encouraged and optimistic about joining the profession and pursuing my goal of becoming a licensed surveyor.

More Challenges to Come

In addition to this economic challenge we are all fighting through, I’m sure there will be more challenges to come—challenges in my future career and challenges that the surveying profession as a whole will have to face.

One such consideration is the increasing age of those in the surveying community and the void that will be created once they’ve retired. Current estimates show the average national age approaching 60. As these surveyors retire, there will be a vacuum in the profession’s leadership. The older generations of surveyors have done an excellent job of creating professional societies that protect and advance this profession. Soon, the leadership and guidance of these societies will be passed to the “next generation” to continue that work. 

Some of you may be troubled by this thought, but there’s no need for concern.  This future surveyor assures you we are up for the challenge. I have sat in class and competed against excellent future surveyors who share my dedication and passion and who are excited about guiding and advancing the profession just as those before us.  

Another challenge is the continual merging of the geomatics-related fields. Every day it seems as though the lines between what defines GIS, geodesy, photogrammetry, and land surveying have become less distinctive. This is threatening to many surveyors who believe that ever-advancing technology will eventually phase out the surveyor.

Similarly, in the past, new technologies such as total stations, electronic data collectors, and GPS have also seemed a threat. A common thought may be, “If anyone can use a GPS to establish coordinates on a monument, then anyone can survey.” Along that same train of thought I could say, “Since I can cut a straight line with a scalpel, I could be a surgeon.” Absolutely not! We all know both statements are ridiculous.  

The simple fact is, knowing how to use a professional’s tool (GPS or scalpel) does not make you a surveyor or a doctor. It simply gives you a tool to be used along with years of experience and a higher understanding about your profession, which is how I view the rapidly developing geomatic science fields. They’re just more tools to be used to advance our profession, not eradicate it.
Wade Ward graduated in July from Troy University in Alabama with a major in surveying and geomatics sciences and a minor in biology. In March he led the Troy surveying team to first place honors at the NSPS student competition by completing a hydrographic and sedimentation survey of the 45-acre Pike County Lake in Alabama.

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