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How Did I Get Started as a Surveyor?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 4, 2019

How Did I Get Started as a Surveyor?  
Article by Lisa Van Horn, NSPS President, TSPS Women Surveyors Summit Speaker

I was twenty-one, divorced, with a 6 month old son and working part time in catering. I knew I needed to make some major changes in my life so I went to the local college and took an aptitude test. It showed my strengths and interests to be in either architecture or surveying. I could not imagine sitting at a drafting table all day, so I choose surveying. It seems to follow the tendency of my family with my dad, grandfather, and brother being bricklayers and uncles in concrete and carpentry industry.

With being only a few years out of high school the first few days of college were trying to say the least, but thankfully I had a wonderful instructor. On the first day of the program he warned all the male students in class to not underestimate the ladies in the class, that we might just outperform them all. It turned out to be true, I even won the outstanding student in the program award upon graduation.

During my education, I knew I would need some experience in the field to give me a chance to get a job once I was through with my schooling. I went through the Green Bay phone book and contacted all the surveying companies listed, and offered my services for free. No one took me up on the offer, so I had to drive 65 miles each way to work where I was compensated only $5.95 an hour. Upon graduation, the experience from this job is what gave me the edge and confidence I needed for my first full time job at the Brown County Surveyor's office in Green Bay.

The Brown County Surveyor's office was very progressive on PLSS maintenance and creating a foundation for all land boundaries through GIS. Because of their progressiveness we purchased Real Time GPS in 1994. I was the new kid on the block and the only one with any type of data collection experience, so I was the one who was tasked with learning the new equipment (yes handwritten field notes was our only form of data collection prior to GPS). I had several different training classes and within a year I was speaking in front of 350 people at our state convention about GPS, what we were using it for, and the accuracy data we were obtaining from it.

 After 5 years at Brown County, I decided to accept the marriage proposal of my boss and we felt it would be best if we were not working in the same office. I went to another county for a short time before he talked me into starting our own business in 2000. Once on my own, I went to Sunnyvale California for 2 weeks to become a Certified Trimble GPS trainer. I taught classes for a few years while also doing boundary surveys. As our business grew, my husband Les retired after 28 years as the County Surveyor to work with me full time.

Les & I have always felt that as a professional you need to give back to your chosen field. Over the years, I served as our chapter Secretary, on Committees, on Foundations, and then served as the Wisconsin Society of Land Surveyors President in 2007. In 2010, I became the then NSPS Governor for Wisconsin for 6 years. I later ran for NSPS office, and here I am. I feel giving back to your profession is a one of the most rewarding things you can do and I have never regretted any of the time I have spent on this endeavor.

I am excited to see the outcome for the first TSPS Women Surveyors Summit and commend Texas land surveyors on being a leader in the promotion of our exciting profession.


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TSPS Member Feature: Aaron Ferguson, RPLS #6601, Chapter 9

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 4, 2019

TSPS: How/why did you get into surveying?

Aaron: I had a friend working as a survey tech for an Engineering and Land Surveying Firm in North Texas.  She called saying they were looking to hire an entry-level survey tech.  My desire to learn the profession landed me the job and as they say, the rest is history.

TSPS: Why did you join TSPS?

Aaron: I joined for the continuing education opportunities and the social aspect of surveying.  I like to get to know other surveyors because you never know when you may have to reach out to them or they may need to reach out to you.  I typically attend the Symposium, Convention, and several chapter events throughout the year and enjoy each of them.

TSPS: What is your most memorable surveying moment?

Aaron: The morning of May 13th, 2016.  Waiting through the morning for the RPLS Exam results to be posted felt like an eternity.  Seeing my name listed on the website after refreshing countless times is something I won’t forget.

Aaron's Favorites:

Color: Maroon (Gig ‘em)
Redfish (Catching them)
Texas Country
Kayak Fishing

Aaron is currently a TSPS Chapter 9 - Gulf Coast member and speaker at Symposium. 


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Troop 1171 Survey Merit Badge

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Written by: Christopher Freeman, RPLS #5701

I initially was referred to a Troop 1171 Scout Leader by Chapter 5 member Stephanie Beckham. She knew the Leader, and the Troop had utilized her property in Limestone County several times for camping and other Scout activities. I arranged to attend a Troop meeting in January to discuss Surveying, demonstrate the use of survey instruments, discuss career opportunities, and offer to assist in a Survey Merit Badge activity if there was interest. By the end of the meeting, 20 Scouts signed up for the Survey Merit Badge.

The exercise was scheduled for mid February. The Scouts arrived on Friday night and set up camp. Two main exercises were to be completed: 1.) a closed traverse in which the Scouts measure the sides and interior angles of a polygon, and 2.) a closed level loop assuming an elevation of one of the aforementioned traverse points.

The exercise commenced at approximately 10:00 a.m. under relatively calm but cold and cloudy conditions, with intermittent light mist. I met the 20 Scouts and 4 adult leaders on site, a clearing surrounded by timber and thick underbrush. The group was divided into 4 survey teams. Instructions were given on field book note keeping, setting up the instruments, turning and recording angles, performing rodman duties with the prism poles for measuring the backsight and foresight distances or holding the level rod during the bench loop. The team utilized a Topcon GTS-226 electronic Total Station and a Sokkia C3i Differential Level.

For the traverse exercise, the teams each turned an interior angle and measured two legs of the polygon from their observation station. A compass reading was taken at the first setup to provide a Basis of Bearing. After moving up to the next station, the new team checked the distance recorded in the field books (donated by long-time TSPS partner Geomatic Resources) by the previous team to ensure no blunder had been recorded. When a team was not actively involved with the measuring at a particular station, they observed the working team, recorded results, and entered sketches in their notes. 

At one point during the chilly morning, firewood was gathered and a fire started, bringing welcome heat to the survey teams. The closed traverse was completed with a Linear Error of Closure of 0.03 feet. The perimeter distance measured was 611.92 feet. The precision for the survey was 1/20,000, a decent survey for first-time surveyors. The area measured was 22,293 square feet.

Upon completion of the traverse exercise, the teams switched gears to run a closed bench loop. After a quick lesson on how to set up the instrument, focusing, reading the rod, and keeping level notes, the teams were ready to go.  Assuming an elevation of 100.00 at Point #1, the teams took turns reading the level rod backsight and foresight readings, and recorded the observations in their field books. Some teams had other team members check the rod reading before finalizing their reading. The teams turned on each of the points, returning to the starting station at Point #1. After a quick tally with the calculator, the results showed that the loop closed flat with the original starting elevation. How about that?! Looks like we may have some future survey talent out here! The Scouts were smart and inquisitive, as well as quick learners.

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Women's Feature: Dana Markus-Wolf

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Recently TSPS highlighted "Women in Surveying" for our March Issue of the Texas Surveyor Magazine. If you missed last months issue, we are highlighting another Women Surveyor, Dana Markus-Wolf. Dana Markus-Wolf, RPLS #4996, is the President and General Partner at Landmark Surveying, LP and TSPS Chapter 13 - Capital Area member.  

How did you get into surveying?: In my second semester of college at Texas A&M, at age 18 I was talking with my mother about what I wanted to do with my life. She asked me some very practical questions like: “Do you want to work indoors or outdoors?” both, I said. She asked, “Do you like Math or English better?” again, I answered both. Out of the blue, she suggested surveying and told me a little about it. I thought it sounded interesting so enrolled in the Civil Engineering Plane Surveying class. Three times a week this class was held indoors and once a week outdoors on the campus golf course. Are you kidding? This could be a job? I loved it! Next, I enrolled in the co-op program, which allowed students to alternate working a semester and going to school a semester. In the spring of 1977, I began working in the field as a tail “chainman” in the swamps of Conroe, Texas.

The Importance of Women in Surveying: I think many women don’t give the surveying profession a chance because it is a male dominated field. The more women join the surveying workforce, the more we will see these barriers eliminated, thereby boosting the pool of qualified female workers. We should never settle for just half the population being given opportunities to succeed in the profession that best matches their abilities and personality type.

In 1977, when I was taking the Civil Engineering Plan Surveying class and started out in the field, it is hard to even imagine what it would have been like to actually have had a female role model or mentor. Several years later, I finally met other women in surveying. I had to fight to use the shovel, the chain saw, the machete, even the metal detector because most men wouldn't let me near these tools! I was always the first out of the truck, and I had the educational framework and passion for my chosen profession. I like to believe that today’s women in surveying are out there following in the footsteps of the original surveyors and not having to fight to do so. 

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TSPS Member Feature: Mark Mercado, RPLS #6350, Chapter 13

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 9, 2019

TSPS: How/why did you get into surveying?

Mark: I graduated from ITT in the spring of 1993. I was going to be a drafter for my Dad’s architecture business, but it was slow at the time, so he introduced me to Mr. Roy Smith of Roy Smith Surveyors. Roy was looking for someone who knew how to work well with computers. I began my career at Roy’s and moved onto Bury+Partners (Bury+Pittman) in 1996. I was under the tutelage of John Bilnoski, who took the time to introduce me to the finer points of boundary analysis. I enjoyed the interaction between the people I encountered when tackling work projects, from there the rest is history. 

TSPS: Why did you join TSPS?

Mark: I joined TSPS to have the opportunity to give back to the Surveying community by serving as a first year director for my local chapter, Chapter 13 – Capital Area. I wanted the opportunity to network with local Surveyors I had heard about while I was gaining experience as a survey tech. It’s difficult to describe being able to have conversations with Ken Gold, Bill O’Hara, David Klotz, John Barnard and some of the people who I have admired, survey luminaries if you will. There are many others, as well, too many to list, but suffice it to say, every time I show up at a TSPS function it’s like being backstage at a rock concert!

TSPS: What is your most memorable surveying moment?

Mark: Honestly, I have a memorable survey moment every time I analyze data, create calc points, and I get a call back from the field crew stating that they recovered a monument within 0.03’ from my calc. Bingo! 

Mark's Favorites:

Color: Purple and Black
Food: Three cheese enchiladas with rice and beans
Animal: My wife and I have a lab mix and two cats. Thankfully, we all get along!
Singer/Band/Group: Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan
Hobbies: Music and Golf, although I can't remember the last time I was on a golf course. I need to fix that!

Mark is currently a TSPS Chapter 13 - Capital Area member. 

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