Surveying engineering students take home a win from national competition

By Elizabeth Myers

A team of six surveying engineering students from New Mexico State University won second place overall in the 2008 National Surveying Engineering Competition, held in Spokane, Wash.

The three-part competition, involves a research paper, a poster competition and a five-hour field exercise based on the theme of historical surveying. The NMSU team went up against other surveying and geomatics programs from around the country.

Surveying engineering students Ty Trammell, Charles Nettleman, Kyle Spolar, Lance Aspaas, co-captain Amanda Ramirez and captain Byron Calkins earned 98 out of 100 points for their second-place win.

The team paper discussed the original 1848 survey of the US-Mexican border for the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo which ended the Mexican-American War. The field exercise included surveying using historical methods. The team used a compass and a Gunther’s chain—a steel-link chain used for surveying measurements. No calculators, slide rules or computers were allowed.

“The Compass and Gunther’s chain was used to survey much of the American west in the 1800s,” said Kurt Wurm, assistant professor of surveying engineering and adviser to the student group. Wurm met with the group twice a week before the competition to practice using the chain and compass.

“There’s not much of a market for skills using these devices today,” said Wurm, “but it does give them a deeper understanding of the standards of the profession at large and preparation for using current methods of measurements if they are exposed to these instruments.”

Wurm learned to use the old-fashioned instruments while an employee of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in an office that conducted surveying and mapping for federal land management agencies, including mining claims and homesteads.

The competition is hosted by the National Society of Professional Surveyors and is conducted annually at the meeting of the American Congress of Surveying and Mapping (ACSM). This is the sixth year that NMSU students have participated in the competition. Students are already preparing for next year’s competition to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The student group is affiliated with several professional chapters, including ACSM, New Mexico Professional Surveyors and the National Society of Professional Surveyors.  They hold several different events throughout the year to raise money to participate in the annual ACSM competition.  Membership is open to all surveying students at NMSU including students who pursue minor degrees in surveying.

For more information about the NMSU Student Chapter of ACSM, contact: Kyle Spolar, chapter president at

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