The Education/Experience Partnership at East Tennessee State University

The Bachelor of Science degree in surveying and mapping science at East Tennessee State University has adapted to the needs of modern students, enriching the partnership between surveying education and surveying experience.
by Jerry D. Taylor, PS, JD

Most licensing boards recognize the importance of both education and experience in preparing people for professional practice.  Both aspects of life work together as partners with different roles.  Education provides an exposure to the breadth of the surveying profession as well as instruction in its theoretical underpinnings.   Experience provides future professionals the opportunity to see theory applied to human problems and to develop skills in operating and managing the technology needed to perform well in a changing world. 

The education/experience partnership approach to preparing future surveying professionals is widely accepted. Barely half of the states in the Unites States allow experience without education as a path to surveying licensure, and this number continues to diminish, albeit slowly.   Of those states allowing experience without education, all accept education of some sort as substitute for part of the experience requirement.  Yet, no state allows education without experience.

The Bachelor of Science degree in surveying and mapping science has existed at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) since 1987, but the curriculum was recently modified, and more changes are expected as both society and the surveying profession change.  Our surveying degree program seeks to maximize the educational/experience partnership in the following three ways.

Providing Theory

We emphasize background and theoretical matters in the classroom that students are unlikely to encounter directly on the job.

Let’s use least squares adjustments as an example. We want our students to be able to understand and perform least squares adjustments on survey data.  If they are asked to do that on the job, it almost certainly will be done with a software program for which the data is downloaded directly from a data collector.  However, when we introduce these skills, we don’t use a software program.  We instruct students so they can analyze the data, perform statistical analyses on it, and perform matrix calculations on it by hand. 

This gives them a better understanding of what the software programs are doing, and it helps them to analyze what the software programs are generating to see if it makes sense.  Few employers have the time to be able to offer this sort of education, but they can easily get the student up to speed on the use of their particular software.  Knowing the basic math behind the concepts will help the students to adapt to any software the employer may be using.
Another example relates to the Public Land Survey System (PLSS).  More than 90% of our students come from states that are not part of the PLSS, and the vast majority of them expect to return to their home states.  However, since we are preparing our students for professional practice, they will need to pass national exams in order to become licensed in any state.  So, our students must be well versed in the workings of the PLSS no matter where they live or work, and for those who will be working in non-PLSS states, it is unlikely that they will receive any instruction on this topic while working.

Allowing Time for Work

We maximize opportunities for students to get work experience simultaneously with their education.

In addition to standard placement activities, ETSU’s surveying program has built-in features designed to encourage students to seek employment while they are students.  When conflicts arise between work and school, we insist that school take priority, but we try to minimize those conflicts.

One way to minimize conflicts between work and school is to schedule classes to allow long blocks of time for work during daylight hours. Upper-level surveying classes are scheduled in the evening whenever possible, and we seek to schedule lectures on four days of the week (Monday through Wednesday or Tuesday through Thursday) with upper-class labs scheduled for Fridays and Saturdays.  Ideally, students can arrange their schedules to be free for work at least two days each week.  This isn’t always possible, but upperclassmen often arrange their schedules to allow for at least one full day’s work per week.

Eligible students are given the option of substituting a co-op course in lieu of taking our junior surveying projects course.  This encourages students to seek summer employment because they are granted college credit for it.

Another feature that encourages students to work with a surveyor while attending classes is our distance learning system.  It was created primarily to make our classes available to prospective students who couldn’t come to our campus to further their surveying education.  However, we soon found out that it had the unintended benefit of making it easier for on-campus students to obtain employment locally and to travel elsewhere to get jobs without having to drop out of school.

Here is how it works. All upper-level surveying classes are offered in two sections at the same time.  Students can sign up for either section.  Lectures are video-streamed and recorded for use by students in both sections.  Students in the on-campus section are expected to attend lectures, exams, and labs when they are offered on campus.
Students in the off-campus section have the option of attending lectures, exams, and/or labs in person along with the on-campus students, but they can attend the lectures and interact with the class and the instructor live via the internet.  They have the further option of taking exams elsewhere with a pre-approved proctor.  

For lab exercises, they usually have the option of performing them elsewhere using equipment owned by an approved volunteer, under that volunteer’s supervision.  These lab exercises are the same as those performed on-campus for grading done by the class instructor, except that the equipment, the location, and the immediate supervision is provided by the volunteer.  Volunteers are typically the student’s employer, and the lab exercises are usually performed on weekends or after hours depending on the nature of the assignment and the time of year.

Offering Off-site Learning

We offer educational opportunities for those who cannot leave their existing jobs or homes to come to our main campus.

One of the long-standing problems for the surveying profession has been how to get more people to enter the profession.  For a variety of reasons, fewer people enroll in surveying programs immediately after high school than either the profession or the educational institutions would like.  Entry into the surveying profession has traditionally attracted family members, social contacts, and employees of surveyors but comparatively few who didn’t have first-hand contact with a professional surveyor.   

Unfortunately, many people don’t establish the goal of becoming a professional surveyor until they have worked with a surveyor for a few years and acquired family responsibilities, mortgages, and other obligations.  In other words, by the time many people realize they’d like to become a professional surveyor, they can no longer leave their homes to attend college. ETSU has long sought a way to provide the educational component of the education/experience partnership to them through the distance learning system described earlier.   And it isn’t the only component of our efforts.

Common market agreements allow residents of six states to seek the BS in surveying and mapping science degree from ETSU at in-state tuition rates.  Challenge exams are available to allow pass-fail credit for those who feel they already possess knowledge equivalent to what is taught in the class.  Articulation agreements with community colleges are being created to provide a more predictable path to the ETSU surveying degree for those who complete an Associate’s degree closer to home.

The surveying profession will move forward in a variety of ways, many of which can’t be easily imagined, but certainly new surveying professionals will be needed.  At ETSU we believe that the way forward is to ensure that these future surveying professionals are best prepared for a changing world through a partnership between education and experience.   Educational institutions provide the theoretical underpinnings needed by future surveying professionals. Current surveying professionals provide opportunities for future professionals to see theory applied in practice and to develop mastery of the skills needed to be effective professionals. 
There is no one single way for educational institutions to help foster this partnership.  The technologies used in distance learning such as video-streaming, articulation agreements, and innovative scheduling plans all provide an effective way forward to make both education and experience more readily accessible for future professionals than ever before.

Jerry Taylor, PS, JD is a licensed surveyor and is the coordinator of the surveying and mapping science degree program at East Tennessee State University.

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