Thought Leader: The Secret Society—The Way I Remember It

I was rummaging through the garage a few days ago and discovered a buckled-up package that looked like a film canister. Sure enough it was the second copy in existence of “A Matter of Degrees”, a 16mm sound film about surveyors produced in 1986. This took me back to those thrilling days of yore and the startup of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS).

This rube from western Colorado, a PLSC Director was given the position of Colorado representative for the Board of Governors (BOG) of the newly formed NSPS. This was the member organization of the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) that replaced the Land Surveys Division. Up to then ACSM was generally a beltway outfit with many government and other public sector members (read academia). The takeover by the private sector had begun about 1980-81. It wasn’t hostile just a catch up to current times.

The private sector longed for some recognition and more public exposure. They knew their importance to society but it seemed that nobody else did. The BOG was formed to give the state affiliates like NMPS, PLSC etc. a voice at the national level, a very good idea. The NSPS Board would then hear from BOG and act on their proposals or refer it up to the ACSM board. NSPS people sat on ACSM on a rotating basis one would become overall president every third year. Now before you get acronym sickness from all these initials it was all a response to surveyors wanting a bigger piece of the pie and be more publicly recognized.

As my public career moved up the ladder from BOG, to area Director, vice president and eventually president of NSPS the private sector was in firm control. However the old nagging feeling of being ignored by society was still festering.

Low and behold some forward thinking state affiliates like Texas and Pennsylvania had produced films about surveying and pretty good ones at that. Why shouldn’t NSPS do one?

Well, we did. After two years of hard work by executive director Anne Glasgow and Area director Ron Carruth and several directors plus the infusion of a year’s budget and many private donations it was done. Premiered at the Alaska Fall Convention in 1986 it was a huge hit, also a finalist in the cable Ace Awards for short films.

The idea was to get a product in surveyor’s hands to take out to the public and show what we were really about. It was not technical in nature but in 28 minutes viewers could come away with a new appreciation for what we do, where we have been and where we were going. We were real proud of it.

Two big problems then occurred. NSPS failed in the large distribution of copies. Frankly, we were tapped out. Okay our bad. The bigger thing however was the lack of use by its intended recipients, the very surveyors that clamored for the film to begin with.

Moving forward, sound films are quite archaic but the need is still there.

The whole point of this story is: what have you been doing to enhance the profession outside of your little secret society? What members of the general public, mainly your client base, know and appreciate your services… and are willing to pay for them? And what have you done to enhance the image of surveyors on a daily basis?

Now comes the rant. What do they see first whether clients or not; obviously the field crew or now the field person with his magic stick listening to the stars. Throughout my whole career I was appalled at how field surveyors dressed. The worst was in Phoenix about 2001 watching a field person in ragged cutoffs, a Grateful Dead tee shirt and flip flops working in a busy intersection. (Yeah, I know it’s hot). How many people saw this guy compared to the RLS in the office in business casual or coat and tie? Case rested. You can still dress professionally for the field whether it’s cold or hot. The one thing I have seen in the last few years is the vehicles look pretty good. No more USFS green and gray rejects with a wooden turkey roost box and flagging leaking out the back. So how would it be if you stepped out of your vehicle and looked as good as it does? What’s the old saw? You never have a second chance to make a first impression. Again, what have you done to promote the profession past, present and future to non-surveyors?

I don’t mean the students and schools that you visit, that’s a very good thing, but how many of them become paying clients? An individual goes to the dentist every three or six months and maybe will buy a house two or three times and a car every three to seven years. They may never need a surveyor in their lifetime.

Well, the film is still in the package and will stay there as a reminder of what was and the grand task of its creation in simpler times. As Geronimo is alleged to have said, ”Our time is over.” Well, mine is as an active surveyor, but yours isn’t. If you want a fifty year career you had better pay attention to the things outside your little circle/comfort zone and your still secret society.

John Stock is a retired surveyor living in Green Valley, Arizona. He closed a fifty year career in both private and public sectors in 2016. He has worked extensively in both rectangular and colonial states and given seminars and schools throughout the nation. John was privileged to serve NSPS as a Board of Governors delegate, director and President. John continues to write for survey periodicals and maintains contacts with the many colleagues in the profession that he has encountered and had the good fortune to know.