Educational Partnerships

Two unique surveying programs develop partnerships with professional associations and industry, for the benefit of all.

“We need to prepare students for their future, not our past.”
—Ian Jukes, educator and futurist
PSM has had the pleasure of profiling many fine surveying programs and schools over the years. Every time we explore an aspect of surveying education, it is heartening to see the high quality of these programs and the dedication of those involved in their continued success. While recent economic challenges and changes in the landscape for surveying and traditional client constituencies have caused dropping enrollment and even, unfortunately, the demise of some programs, there are still more than 150 active programs in the United States and Canada of varying size and scope, with more than 100 of these listed in this year’s PSM Red Pages supplement.

Almost without exception we have found that successful surveying programs have developed multiple external partnerships to supplement, support, and inform their curricula, infuse new technology, foster student projects, secure funding, and develop outreach. These partnerships have been formed with professional surveying associations; state, provincial, and federal surveying and geodetic agencies; private industry; equipment and software manufacturers, vendors, and dealers; and service providers. 

This article profiles two successful surveying programs—a one- and two-year certificate program from Washington State and a two-year diploma program from Saskatchewan—both closely partnered with their professional surveying associations and with a manufacturer’s educational partnership program.

Although four-year degree requirements for licensure in states and provinces are on the rise or often required, the surveying and geomatics programs offered at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) and Renton Technical College (RTC) represent what many consider the backbone of surveying education: the one- and two-year programs. These certificate and two-year diploma programs are the primary career pipeline to provide surveying firms and public sector entities with qualified entry-level staff; the programs can also serve as a path to articulation to four-year programs.

Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology

Saskatchewan is a province full of surprises. Though a bit of a mystery to many south of the border (and even some north of the border), it has recently emerged as one of the most rapidly growing economies among the Canadian provinces. Smack in the middle of the country, the province has always been agriculturally rich (the saying goes: “And God said: let there be wheat! And thus Saskatchewan was born.”), the province has also seen in recent years a boom in oil and gas in several of its regions, and now it is one of the world’s leading producers of mined potash that’s used in the production of fertilizer and production of other chemicals. A lot of surveyors are being sought to serve these industries.

These economic booms have also put pressure on the SIAST program to add a broader set of skills to the curriculum. Potential employers of SIAST graduates are not shy about adopting the latest technologies and have the budgets to do so. They are also moving into the cloud for data management and mobile communications. “We’ve added a few [internet technology] fundamentals to the courses,” says SIAST’s Brazeal. These employers need crews “that know what an IP address is, how to connect the equipment and transfer data, as well as having solid surveying fundamentals.” 

In addition to embracing such technologies as scanning and even in developing their own real-time GNSS network (RTN), SIAST has added state-of-the-art technologies to the classroom as well. Says Brazeal, “We have added things like Apple TV to the classrooms so we can do more with our iOS devices and all of the wonderful apps that help stimulate our students and naturally engage them in learning.” He adds, “Our program has embraced social media in a big way; we tweet on Twitter, have a YouTube channel, and frequently post on our Facebook page. We use social media to post course info, project info, resources for the students, and general information about surveying and geomatics.” The page has found a following in the broader geomatics community of the region, across Canada, and even internationally; you should check it out and “friend” the site. There’s a lot of interesting and useful information there:
For more information:
SIAST Geomatics Program:

Strong Advisory Committees

The two locations are starkly different geographically: Renton is somewhat central to the greater Seattle-Tacoma megalopolis with a strong aviation and high-tech industrial base, and SIAST sits in the open prairie of sparsely populated southern Saskatchewan, a traditionally agriculture-based economy that has seen growth in its population, land development and infrastructure, along with economic growth in oil, gas, and minerals. While one program serves a large population base, the other must serve booming industries. The challenge for both is to ensure fundamentals while keeping up with technological changes in which prospective employers expect their new hires to be proficient. To meet these requirements, both programs have developed partnerships with surveying equipment and solutions providers.At RTC, “We have some students that come fresh out of high school, some who have tried other entry level jobs, and some who are changing careers after many years in another job—some through job retraining programs,” says Julie Csisek, PLS, co-instructor in the surveying technician program at RTC near Seattle. “We have to make sure they have the skills and knowledge the surveying firms are looking for and maybe some new things they can bring to those firms.” 

The RTC surveying program advisory committee has representatives from surveying firms large and small, public sector entities, former instructors, alums, and the Land Surveyors Association of Washington (LSAW). Csisek and co-instructor Martin Paquette seek balanced representation on the advisory committee; they rely on it to inform and shape the curriculum, choose technologies to teach, provide feedback on career experiences of graduates, keep fundamentals intact while keeping up with changes in the industry, and craft outreach initiatives.

At SIAST, Ryan Brazeal, P.Eng., P.Surv., PMP, geomatics engineering technology instructor at the Palliser campus in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, strikes a similar position. “Rather than battle the changes taking place in the geomatics industry, we [seek] to make them a part of our program,” he says. “We primarily look to the Saskatchewan Land Surveyors Association for guidance in making sure we teach all of the land surveying essentials; a lot of the types of work our graduates will do are related to or will involve some [cadastral] surveying.” SIAST has a similar advisory committee to that of RTC, and these types of advisories are fairly representative of most if not all of the surveying and geomatics programs in the two countries.

Renton Technical College

Renton Technical College began as a war skills school in 1942, with a major focus on supporting the aviation industry in the Seattle region. After the war the school transitioned to a vocational training school and later as a college offering a broader range of vocational and academic courses. The surveying program has been in place for most of the school’s history in various incarnations.

The current RTC program offers a one-year field technician certificate and a two-year surveying technician certificate. While some students opt for the one-year program (that teaches both the technical and practical skills to make the student marketable as an entry-level employee for surveying firms large and small), most stay on to complete the two-year certificate. Students who complete the two-year program can articulate the certificate to an associate’s degree through many of the colleges in the state by completing additional requisites; they can also transfer to the four-year program at the Oregon Institute of Technology or Idaho State University, and with two years of additional experience they are eligible to sit for their LSIT.

The survey technician program at RTC prides itself on having a strong math component. “You can have all kinds of high tech [wizardry], but if the student does not have a good math foundation then it is hard to troubleshoot their equipment, procedures, and data,” says RTC’s Csisek. “You have to know a bit about what makes these things tick.” 

Equally important are the various partnerships that have enriched the program and have directly benefitted the students. It is not uncommon for each student to have his or her career paths boosted directly by one or more of these partnerships. One recent graduate, Joe Delaney of Seattle, received a scholarship through a professional surveying association, completed an internship through a partnership between the school and a nearby city government, trained on the equipment the school secured through Topcon’s EPP, and found a job with the local office of a national surveying and engineering firm that participates in the school’s many job fairs.
For more information:
RTC Surveying Technician Program:

Equipment Integration

“As a modern-day geomatics program we use all types of data-collection equipment and processing software,” says SIAST’s Brazeal. “Because of the growth of the oil, gas, and mining in our region [our instructors and advisory committee] decided that we needed to make some major investments in newer technologies. [Students] from our diploma program need fundamental skills in the new [equipment] that [potential employers] are trying to implement to keep up with the growth in the province, so we wanted to get more GNSS rovers, a scanner, and more total stations.” 

SIAST evaluated a lot of equipment and, in the course of such evaluations, were introduced to the Educational Partnership Program (EPP) of Topcon Positioning Systems. “We were offered such excellent deals through the EPP, from robotic total stations (that came from [a trade-in from one of Topcon’s large customers]), to brand-new ES series total stations, GR-3 GNSS rovers, and a GLS-1500 scanner,” said Brazeal. Renton Technical College also recently acquired eight total stations and eight digital levels through EPP. In each case, local dealers are at the fore; with SIAST it is Brandt’s Positioning Technology Division, and for Renton it is Portland Precision Instruments, both major Topcon dealers in their regions.

It’s noteworthy that most major surveying equipment and solution providers have similar educational partnership programs; we are highlighting this one as an example (see the feature on EPP in the September 2009 issue of PSM). Topcon’s EPP has been around in one form or another since the 1980s, beginning with optical instrumentation, then expanding into GNSS in 2003. In recent years it has expanded to what Topcon refers to as Enhanced EPP, the enhancements coming mainly as digital resources, such as an expanded Topcon University with a growing selection of online training courses (live weekly webinars are recorded and archived for playback at any time). In addition to the online resources, TU also provides access to an array of speakers and trainers. Topcon tapped some notable “power users” and further trained them to be TU trainers; they’re available on contract for training by end users, companies, and institutions. Among the offerings are week-long surveying and construction courses.

For surveying and geomatics educators and schools, Enhanced EPP provides hands-on training, free access to the Topcon Total Care support system (with qualifying equipment acquisitions), course materials and planning assistance, and dealer speaking engagements. For the student there are scholarship opportunities through contests, career fair involvement, job postings, and direct exposure to Topcon developers and dealers.

Both schools see interaction with equipment manufacturers and support networks as another element of surveying and geomatics, something that graduates will be dealing with throughout their careers. RTC adds visits to various dealers to their field trip schedule. “They need to see how equipment selection, purchasing, service, and support works,” says RTC’s Csisek. SIAST’s Brazeal even has each student create an account within the Topcon Total Care system and experience support and resources directly for their recently acquired total stations, GNSS rovers, and scanner.

The commitment from local dealers to support surveying programs in the United States and Canada has been nothing short of outstanding. Portland Precision Instruments (PPI) has supported RTC for many years and through EPP brokered the recent acquisition of eight Topcon total stations and eight digital levels. “With enough gear we can group students into survey-crew-sized teams to do the practical training on campus and offsite field projects. PPI have been such a great help in this!” beams RTC’s Csisek. Topcon Positioning Systems’ commitment to education comes right from the top, as PSM learned in a recent interview with president Ray O’Connor (PSM, October 2012), who talked about his direct involvement in some of the school partnerships. EPP program director Hank Boudreau reiterated the goal of EPP: “This program is founded on Topcon’s belief in supporting higher education through the integration of Topcon Positioning Products instruments within the school’s curriculum.”

Partnerships between education and industry that benefit both are not new. One of the most successful examples is the outreach to academia beginning in the early days of Apple Inc. Apple provided so many grants and discounts for schools that it soon became difficult to find anything but a Mac in most schools. For many schools these were the first desktop computers they acquired, and likewise for the employers that hired these Mac-savvy graduates, because when tech-befuddled managers first started considering desktop computers they would ask these new hires what to get—and guess what many of them said. Such outreach is both a strong marketing strategy and a tremendous boost for education. 

These are just two schools among the many that benefit from such educational partnership programs. The success of surveying and geomatics programs and, by extension, the health of our industry hinge on successful partnerships among schools, professional associations, manufacturers, dealers, governments, and local communities. The advice we heard from these two schools and others is, “Don’t be shy. Go out and seek partnerships!” 

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