The Curt Brown Chronicles: What Should be the Education for Land Surveying?

Paper delivered at the Fourth National Surveying Teachers Conference–Naces, Washington

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It is interesting to note that the more things change, the more they remain the same. With each generation, it seems we continue to debate the merits and benefits of education in preparing today’s Land Surveyor for the profession. As I have constantly argued, "everyone measures," and as such, the Land Surveyor’s role in gathering data continues to diminish; everyone know what GPS does and everyone has a drone. Where are we going? –M. Pallamary

August 1957
Let us contrast the professional surveyor with the average surveyor as the engineer knows him. On highway work the engineer in charge has surveyors who make measurements to determine the shape of the ground. They are merely measuring the ground as it exists and recording the facts, as they are. To be sure, the surveyor must have superior ability in knowing how to use instruments and how to make measurements, but this is purely technical. He does not design the road nor does he utilize his measurements. Again, the engineer may tell the surveyor to grade stake a road in accordance with a given plan. Since no design or judgment is involved, it is a purely technical matter. To the average engineer the surveyor is a technician who carries out his orders. And often he is just that. But the engineers frequently overlook the fact that there is a professional surveyor’s level.

When we ask "What Should be the Education for the Land Surveyor?" do we mean the technician or the professional surveyor? I visualize three distinct levels of training. They are:
• Trade school or vocational;
• Technician level (Junior College);
• Professional (University or College).

Too many Chiefs and not enough Indians is not a desirable situation. We need more chainmen and instrument men than we need technical or college men. The chainmen and instrument men should be trained at either the vocational level or by the employer himself. We have found that the bettereducated man will not stay at the chainman level; he soon departs for greener pastures. If we try to employ only educated people, we find that our labor turnover is much too rapid. We prefer the less-educated, more willing worker for these lesser positions.

The Chief of Party, our second level of training, must have a broader education. He must know trigonometry and other mathematics. He must know how to chain, how to run instruments, how to solve surveying problems, have knowledge of drafting, and have a broader concept of surveying. The requirements are obviously beyond high schools and the trade schools. We have found that the two year college man or the Junior College man is best suited for this type of work. He is not good enough technically to advance rapidly into higher types of engineering and he is satisfied to remain a reasonably long period of time as a Chief of Party. This is the type of man that the professional surveyor depends upon to take over responsible charge of many phases of a project. I consider them first class technicians. They are the types commonly employed by the engineer on construction projects. And they are the cause for thinking that all surveyors are only technicians.

The universities and colleges today are crowded to capacity, and this is especially true for engineering. It is pointless to expend valuable college space and effort in training technicians that do not have the ability to advance beyond the Chief-of-Party level. But technicians must have some college training. The ideal ground is the Junior College.

Author Michael Pallamary has compiled the writings and lectures of the late Curtis M. Brown. These works are published in The Curt Brown Chronicles.

A 66Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE