Graduating and Pursuing a Career

Well, it has been a while since I put what I’ve been thinking about down on paper. I forgot how busy life gets at school. When I wrote this I was only weeks away from graduating with my bachelors’ degree in surveying engineering from Ferris State. It seemed so strange that my four and half years here were already about to end. Just a week before writing this I got a letter from the school telling me what to do for commencement; this really finalized my impressions that my college life was coming to an end.

I am excited for all the changes though: finally being able to put my education and experiences from my past summer internships to good use and, of course every college graduate’s goal, a pay check. Graduating in December really made that last part, the pay check one, very concerning to me. I have known ever since my first semester at Ferris that I was going to be one semester behind and graduating when the industry is on the lower end of production. Therefore, the odds of me getting employed were much smaller than if I were to graduate in the spring when the industry is picking up again and more employers are looking for graduates.

With all of this in mind I decided to make a plan for graduation. My first thought was to make a plan for starting at the bottom, which would be graduating without a job (definitely not my first choice). For this scenario I decided that continuing my education would be the best choice. This was actually planted in my head the summer when I was working at Trimble and had the opportunity to have dinner with a distinguished graduate from Ferris State who worked in the same building I did. He is a graduate of Purdue’s masters degree program as well and had specialized in geodesy, the most interesting part of surveying, in my opinion. After dinner when we were talking outside about school and the profession, I asked him quite a few questions about what it was like pursuing higher education and how I could find a way to make it economically feasible. After our conversations I was really impressed, to tell you the truth, and intrigued about following a similar path. So I found out what I needed to do to enroll in graduate school.

Now at least I had one option to pursue, although I knew that it wasn’t a sure thing. This led me to my next step, searching for full-time employment. I was actually surprised how quickly this option started looking positive; at the start of my last semester a recent graduate of my program came to Ferris for a recruitment visit. He was working for a company out in Wyoming that was looking to hire students for the summer. This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for because I’m not the kind of person to sit around for a few months, but he had told me that if things picked up in winter I might have the ability to come out before the summer, which would be perfect. Whether he could make that happen or not, I thought it was a positive indicator for someone to come to Ferris to interview for positions. Now I had two options I could pursue.

After that conversation, things slowed down quite a bit. I had tried applying to a few positions I found on the internet, but those never panned out. I think the big problem with most of those was that they were out of state for me, and it is hard to really assess someone for employment if you have never met him and don’t know any of his references, especially if he is hundreds of miles away.

Then in October, a company from Texas that specializes in offshore positioning came to my school to do some recruitment. These guys come just about every semester and hire quite a few graduates; I think last spring they actually took around half of the graduating class. So of course I interviewed with them as well. I had talked to them a few times before on their previous visits to Ferris, although I had not given much attention to the idea then. Things look a little different when you’re two months from graduating and haven’t found a full-time job yet!

The job itself sounded very interesting, using high-tech equipment and having a lot of responsibility. Except there was a downfall with this one: I would be offshore for long periods at a time away from family and friends. I wasn’t sure about this part; granted I feel like I could handle such a position as long as it was interesting and challenging, but you never really know if you’re that kind of person until you’re on a ship for a few months at a time.

After this past interview I did feel a bit more confident about my coming graduation. Of course, call me old-school, but I was not looking forward to the fact that all of these possibilities were going to put me far from home. When I went out west this past summer I loved the experiences I gained, but then I knew that eventually I would be coming home again. I grew up in Michigan, and this is where my family, friends, and girlfriend live (the girlfriend being the strongest advocate for me not leaving the state).

That last idea was where the most productive part of my job search came in. I found, by searching the website of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors, that a local company close to my hometown was looking to hire a survey technician for their office. This was exactly what I was looking for because it would allow me to follow my goals of getting licensed and I would be able to stay close to my ties back home. So like any ambitious graduate I immediately applied, interviewed, and thankfully received the position.

Now I feel that I am actually on my way towards the “real” world. I still have uncertainties about what truly lies ahead because the workplace is not what it was before this recession, but I have my education and newly found career to back me up. With time the surveying profession can come back stronger than before. There are obviously certain areas where surveyors have been phased out, but hopefully as a profession we will be able to take advantage of the new market. I know that many challenges and obstacles are going to come my way in the near future, but with any luck it will all lead to me becoming a better person and professional.
Since submitting this article, Nathan Buchholz has been working out of Ann Arbor, Michigan as a civil/survey technician at JJR, a company specializing in landscape architecture, planning, urban design, civil engineering, and environmental science. Nate is a recent graduate from the surveying/engineering program at Ferris State University.

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