Letter to the Editor

Dear Professor Loon,

As a person involved with the changes in the surveying program at the University of Maine I wish to respond to the recent editorial in Surveying and Land Information Science, “The Education Challenge” by Gunther Greulich.

Current Challenges

Yes, in the past years, enrollment was declining at the Department of Spatial Information Engineering (SIE) at the University of Maine at Orono (UMO). Is this a result of a name change from Surveying Engineering to Spatial Information Engineering? I do not believe so. I believe there was a conscious decision to abolish surveying from the Spatial Information Engineering program. When I heard of the elimination of surveying from SIE, I went to my local library to do some research. I looked at the College Book and Petersons Guide, publications high school student use to determine which institutions offer degrees that may be of interest to pursue in college. When I looked up surveying, I was surprised to find that UMO was not listed offering such education. If I were a student in New England interested in a degree in surveying, I would not know that the regional surveying program existed. Further, I discovered that it has been several years since UMO was listed in these publications under surveying. It also came to my attention that UMO has not advertised in the more popular trade publications, Professional Surveyor and Point of Beginning, since 1995. It is apparent to me that how the SIE curriculum was developed, subjects offered, and the faculty hired, their background, education, and expertise, that surveying was regarded as a minor subject for the department. Could I change the attitudes that exist towards surveying? Not likely, the SIE department is going in a direction they have chosen. Personally, I do not believe surveying has failed. When Surveying Engineering (SE) was the degree offered, the enrollment was sufficient. The change from “Surveying” to “Spatial” appears to be the failure. Enrollment has fallen in recent years when the majority of the program was “other then surveying.” With their back against the wall, SIE declared they could no longer teach surveying-rather convenient!

Professional Accreditation

Is it more important to have an EAC-accredited program, Spatial Information Engineering (SIE), or a TAC-accredited program, Surveying Engineering Technology (SVT)? I do not know. What I do know is that New England has a degree program in Surveying. When it came to my attention that surveying was being eliminated from the College of Engineering (EAC accreditation) there was talk of possibly moving the program to the School of Engineering Technology (TAC accreditation). With this change, I was concerned there could be a problem with graduates becoming registered as Professional Land Surveyors. Could having a B.S. degree in engineering technology (BSET) require a greater amount of experience then a bachelor of science in engineering (BSE)? I contacted several state associations in states that require a four-year degree for registration; I also looked at the licensing requirements for several states that require a four-year degree for registration. While there were some that required some additional experience, answers were generally the same:

* All transcripts are reviewed individually, content matters;

* Minimum number of surveying credits; and

* Four-year surveying curriculum.

While I cannot give assurances to all graduates of the SVT program that their path to registration will be without problems, graduating with a BSET and about thirty credits in surveying and surveying-related courses should give them a great advantage.

The GIS Competition

According to Gunther, the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association has appointed a committee to work on a GIS (Geographic Information System) certification program that may exclude surveyors from becoming certified. I find this statement absurd. A certification program, if it is to be respected and accepted, would bestow certification on those whose education and experience would qualify them for certification. Should I be excluded from GIS certification because I posses a license as a Professional Land Surveyor? Certainly not, several years ago I took college-level courses in digital cartography and GIS. I have also worked on GIS systems at various levels, field data acquisition, data input, building spatial elements, spatial queries and analysis, and output. That all this experience and education would count for nothing because of my registration as a Professional Land Surveyor is difficult to believe.

Is GIS a profession or a collection of tools used for analysis of data? Should those who work with a GIS be certified? Should there be minimum technical standards for a GIS? These are not easy questions to answer. If GIS practitioners feel that they are the only individuals qualified to perform such activities, then I would urge them to work beyond an association certification. State or national licensing requirements, minimum technical standards, and an oversight board with legal authority over these individuals’ professional conduct is the proper course of action. Similar oversights exist in the surveying and engineering professions for the protection of the “health and welfare of the public.” Why would a profession not want such protection for the public to exist?

Should surveyors be involved with GIS? Certainly, we as surveyors have worked with the same types of data sets for years; we have also preformed similar analyses.

Surveying Education to Match

The SIE program was criticize as not being current or well rounded in its curriculum. The SVT curriculum includes the following courses (see www.umaine.edu/set/svt for a complete curriculum listing;):

Students take additional courses in civil engineering, CAD, mathematics, and English. Students can choose electives to pursue a particular track of concentration such as GIS, construction, engineering, or legal. Several former graduates of SIE have expressed to me that they are pleased to see a surveying program again available.

While a graduate of SVT is free to choose what type of employment they accept during their career, the goal of the program is to graduate surveyors, surveyors who have an education that will benefit them and their employer. In addition to outstanding educators (licensed as Professional Surveyors), SVT students will also graduate having learned about state-of-the-art surveying equipment and computers and utilized current surveying, civil engineering, and CAD software. SVT graduates can begin employment with a minimum of additional training by their employer and work towards licensing as Professional Land Surveyors.

The New England Struggle

Last summer I was involved with the discussions concerning the future of surveying education at the University of Maine. No, we do not have an EAC-accredited program in the College of Engineering. What we do have is a Surveying Engineering Technology program that I believe surveyors in New England will be willing to work with and help flourish. Would I have received the same level of support if I had to represent the former SIE program? That answer is no, no question in my mind. The goal of the SVT program is to graduate surveyors, which is what surveying companies have been criticizing SIE for not doing.

This spring between twenty and twenty-two students will be declaring a major in Surveying Engineering Technology. All of this was accomplished in eight months with no formal recruiting organization in place.

In distant Australia, the University of Melbourne does appear to have successfully evolved into a lasting program. I would suggest that this is for one reason. The faculty and the profession work together for the success of the program. I believe that you will find this to be true in the SVT program too. The faculty of SVT are surveyors who want the surveying program to succeed, to graduate surveyors.

What to Do

The bigger picture is that surveying is a profession that has an enormous image problem. Surveying is also a profession that is on the verge of self-destruction. Why would someone pursue a career in surveying? For our profession to survive there needs to be public relations undertaking at all levels of our society. From school students who we wish to attract into our profession, to our clients who only want to pay one hundred dollars for a survey, to finally our fellow professionals who have antiquated attitudes and ideas of surveying and surveyors. Can this task be accomplished? Yes, I believe it can, but it will take more then just wishing it to happen. Below I restate my letter of June 22, 2002, to the UMO Dean of Engineering in response to Dr. Kate Beard’s “Evolution of an Undergraduate Program” (see attached copy), her rational for the dismantling of the SIE undergraduate program:

If we are to eliminate the Professional Surveyor and instead rely on the surveying technician with advanced technology, what would be the consequences of this action? Who is it that will oversee the design and construction of this technology? Research scientists or professionally educated and licensed surveyor? I believe that a better product would be developed by the surveyor. His knowledge and experience will allow him to understand if the process and results are correct. No tool, no matter how advanced or user friendly, can take the place of professional judgment and experience. As in any profession, it is the best educated practitioner that takes the lead, in research and in private practice. A degree program in Surveying Engineering will produce these leaders.

Surveyors as a profession will have to step up to tackle these problems.


Joseph M. McNichols, PLS

Foxborough, Massachusetts

Phone: 508.543.0533


Cc: Gunther Greulich, Gunther Engineering, Inc.

Curt Sumner, Executive Director, ACSM

Ilse Genovese, ACSM

Copyright American Congress on Surveying and Mapping Dec 2003

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