A crisis in training land surveyors

November 2004 » Columns » PERSPECTIVE
It has been called to my attention that the surveying and geographic information systems (GIS) program at Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tenn., is in big trouble.
Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S.

It has been called to my attention that the surveying and geographic information systems (GIS) program at Cleveland State Community College (CSCC) in Cleveland, Tenn., is in big trouble. The program offers courses leading to an associate of applied science degree in surveying/GIS. CSCC began offering the program in the fall of 2001, but now, college officials have decided to drop it, unless they can be convinced otherwise.

Cleveland, Tenn., is a small city of 30,000 people located about 25 miles northeast of Chattanooga. The program at the community college was a pioneering effort in the field of advanced surveying technology. The stated intent was that, even though the program was not designed to produce credit for transfer programs, many four-year institutions probably would accept all or part of the course work toward earning a bachelor's degree.

Some felt that the program might evolve to much more than that. In fact, in 2002, CSCC and East Tennessee State University reached an agreement that would allow any student earning the associate of applied science degree to transfer directly to East Tennessee State to pursue a bachelor's degree in surveying and mapping science.

In addition, various educators at CSCC and East Tennessee State began to explore the establishment of satellite campuses at several community colleges throughout Tennessee.

Distance learning would offer required lectures and labs that could allow interested students to earn a bachelor's degree in surveying and mapping.

Such course work should be made available, not only in Tennessee, but also at other degree-granting centers of learning. Things have changed from the days when I was an undergraduate in a university surveying program at Rutgers University. In those days, I took courses such as Introduction to Surveying, Route Surveying (which concentrated primarily on railroad surveying), Advanced Surveying, and Summer Surveying Camp. Of course, back in those days GIS and GPS did not exist.

In Tennessee, the program is very much in its infant stage, and establishment of satellite campuses remains tentative. It will depend upon how successful the program will be during its inaugural schedule, which began at Pellissippi State College during the 2004 fall semester.

My sources of information indicated that it has been difficult keeping the CSCC surveying program functioning. Nevertheless, such programs are important, especially at public colleges and universities. Our schools are the places where the responsibility for teaching advanced courses in surveying, GIS, and GPS should thrive.

Teaching surveying should not be only in the hands of instrument manufacturers and software producers, whose main concern may not be turning out competent and dedicated professionals. (The same can be said about my specialty, stormwater management, which seems to have been taken over to a considerable degree by software salesmen who promote their own proprietary computer-oriented agendas.) Where will the surveyors come from who actually go out into the field, measure stuff, learn how to draw contours, and prove their awareness of what should and shouldn't appear on a survey ? As I see it, they can best be trained at community colleges such as CSCC.

While it is true that land surveying as practiced today is an outgrowth of civil engineering, the two disciplines use quite different forms of technology. Sometimes, the "marriage" between the two professions is a forced one—not exactly a shotgun wedding, but one that sometimes promotes unease on both sides of the professional equation.

I will end this column by quoting (paraphrased) from Robert (Bob) Taylor of Old Fort, Tenn., who anticipates being one of the first graduates of the CSCC program and wrote to me about this small crisis in the practice of surveying: "This program can become an asset to the surveying profession in this area. We all know that future surveyors will have to have a four-year degree as a requirement for getting their licenses. There are not that many schools in this area that offer a four-year degree in surveying.

"According to my count, there is only one school in Tennessee. The nearest school in Georgia is Southern Polytechnical Institute in Marietta, and the nearest school in Alabama is Troy State University. Having a program like this will definitely favor the surveying profession in this area." This is a message that makes sense. If more land surveying professionals and aspiring land surveyors would demonstrate as much vigor and interest in the technical aspects of their profession as has Taylor, perhaps we would not need to concern ourselves with the prospect of a national education crisis on the subject of land surveying.

Alfred R. Pagan, P.E., P.L.S., is a consulting engineer in Hackensack, N.J. He can be reached at 1-201-441-9719; or e-mail him at pagan@cenews.com.


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