Glenville State College's Land Surveying Program

Charles R. Sypolt, PS, RF
Glenville State College is located in the hill section of central West Virginia.  It lies just west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the broad, flat lands of Ohio.  The topography consists of steep hillsides with narrow valleys that can be physically challenging to the land surveyor.  The early surveyors had to adapt from working on the relatively flat topography of the coastal plain and piedmont to the rugged mountain areas.  Many interesting stories have been told of the early surveyors getting slightly confused in the rough terrain.

The state of West Virginia is the only state that was formed during the Civil War. Because it was formed from the western portion of Virginia and Virginia was one of the original 13 colonies, West Virginia has metes and bounds descriptions.  Many of the early surveyed tracts were patents that can be found in the Library of Virginia.

Glenville State College’s land surveying program associate degree was initiated in 1972, and the first class of students graduated in 1974.  The program was the cooperative effort of the Board of Examiners of Land Surveyors and Dr. Darrell Dean Jr., an instructor at Glenville State College.  Dr. Dean (then Mr. Dean) was originally hired to teach in the forest technology program, but his interest in surveying drove him to initiate the surveying program.  When he left the college in 1973, they hired Larry Holderly and me to teach in the second year of the new program. 

The original state licensing law was passed in 1969, and the licensing board realized the need for better-trained surveyors for the future.  Although other facets of surveying would be taught in the Glenville program, the program would and still does emphasize boundary or retracement surveys.  Since that time the program has produced more than 300 graduates, many of whom now either have their own companies or are in positions of high responsibility.  Many of these graduates have also held various positions in the state and national organizations, which has helped to increase the stature of the profession.

The first semester at Glenville consists of basic courses in math and English, plus a course in tree and wood identification as well as the introductory course in surveying and CAD.  The second semester emphasizes more surveying computations, boundary law, field procedures, and the applied use of computer programs.  Students are then required to complete eight weeks of field experience in the summer as an internship.  They are evaluated during this experience while gaining credit for their work.

The courses in the first semester of the second year concentrate on computations and retracement and cartographic surveys.  The second and final semester courses deal with route, energy resource, construction, and more retracement surveying.  The principles of boundary law are emphasized in all the retracement courses. 

Most of the surveying courses have long lab sections to provide the students with many hours of outdoor practical field time.  A student may spend 25 to 30 hours a week on his or her surveying courses plus any additional time needed to finish projects.  None of the courses is currently offered as an online course because of the need for field experience.  The students generally develop a strong work ethic and a good ability to work with others in their crews.

The students are well received in industry, and today we have graduates located all around the United States in varying capacities. 

About the year 2000, we realized that some of the students wanted a four-year degree, and the profession demanded a better-educated individual to represent it.  In 2004, we started a land surveying concentration in the new natural resource management programs at Glenville State. We realized that we would not have enough students for a full surveying/geomatics baccalaureate degree program, but we still needed a program to further educate future surveyors.  With the large number of surveying courses in the associate degree, it was decided that we could offer related courses in business management, environmental science, and other areas that would benefit our graduates. 

This program has graduated only 14 students in the past five years, but each year a larger percentage of graduates of the associate degree stay for this option.  They can finish it in two additional years, so it is not a large inconvenience for them.  Also, by this time, they seem to be enjoying college and having courses without labs, and the extra leisure time allows them to pursue other interests.

The program has had a few years of low enrollment, which has threatened its existence.  During those years, the graduates, the industry, and the advisory committee have been strong supporters of the program.  We usually have about 15 freshmen in our freshman classes and graduate 8 to 12 students annually.  Many of the younger students come with math and English deficiencies that have to be remediated, so we encourage them to stay for the baccalaureate degree, since it will probably take three years to finish the associate degree. 

Our program may not have been the most successful in numbers, but we have existed in spite of bad economies and external forces, when many other programs have disappeared.  The high quality of our graduates has always been appreciated by industry.

We are currently blessed with three good faculty members who have great credentials.  I have been with the program for 38 years, Rick Witte has been a faculty member for 10 years, and Jared Wilson is in his third year of teaching.  All three of us are licensed in West Virginia, and Wilson has an additional license in Tennessee. 

We’re all active in the surveying profession and have a wide variety of industry experience.  We each have a particular strength that adds to the team in an effort to produce the best graduate possible.  This cadre of faculty and the supporting faculty in land resources offers the student an excellent opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

The college began the construction of a new facility in the fall of 2011 for the land resources department, so the land surveying program will have a new facility in 2013.  It is hoped that with the demand for surveyors in the area, the boom in the oil and gas industry, and the new facility, we will be able to attract many more good students to the program.

Generally, our graduates receive offers of employment two to three weeks prior to graduation.  Many have jobs with companies that have offered them employment during their first internship.  Employment has been diverse and usually depends upon which segment of industry is most active at that particular time. 

Many graduates found employment in the subdivision development industry in the past but are now seeing more demand in the energy resource industry.  Most of them still relish the challenging and sometimes frustrating procedures and decisions involved in doing good property surveys.  They have been and continue to be the leaders of the surveying industry and profession in the state and throughout the region. 

More information about the program can be found on the website.

Charles R. “Rick” Sypolt is professor of forestry and land surveying in the land resources department at Glenville State College, where he has taught for 38 years.  Rick serves as chairman of the WV Boundary Commission, has held various positions with the WV Society of Professional Surveyors, and serves on the Complaint Review Committee for the WV Board of Professional Surveyors.

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