Writer: Emily C. Kelley
Are you a high school student who is good at math, loves computers and loves being outside? Would you like to be almost guaranteed employment upon graduation from college? If you answered yes to these questions, studying surveying engineering might be right for you – and New Mexico State University has the program from you.
Surveying engineering involves the measurement and management of information about the earth. Surveying engineers do mapping; property boundary surveys, including creating new subdivisions; they do construction and other alignment surveys. A good New Mexico example of work surveying engineers have done is the “Big I” in Albuquerque – the interchange of Interstates 25 and 40 and their associated frontage roads.
“When they build something like that, it’s more efficient to build it from both sides,” said Steven Frank, NMSU professor of engineering technology and surveying engineering program coordinator. “And, it [the project] has to meet in the middle,” he added with a smile.
There is a shortage of surveying engineers both in New Mexico and across the United States. This could be attributed to a nationwide decreased interest in mathematics and technology, or possibly incorrect assumptions about what surveying engineers do.
“I don’t think surveying is perceived as being very glamorous,” Frank said. “I think a lot of people see surveying technicians out in the field – there’s a perception that you get a four-year degree to ‘hold a stick.’ That’s not what the four-year degree people are doing. They’re hiring the people who hold the stick.”
The shortage, however, translates to many career options for surveying engineering graduates. NMSU grads are working today in places like the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and in large firms like Wilson & Company and Bohannon Huston, both large firms in Albuquerque.
The primary goal for most graduates is to become mapping or property boundary surveyors. There is a definite need for these degrees in New Mexico, across the U.S. and in many places around the world, as other countries also are experiencing the same shortages as in the U.S.
“I think there’s a general decline in interest in math and science courses, which are essential for these types of degrees,” said Frank. “Surveying is heavily math dependent.”
People who like surveying typically like computers, they like being outdoors, they like solving problems and they can do mathematics.
“I’ve had potential students tell me that they don’t like mathematics and I tell them, ‘you don’t have to like mathematics, you just have to do it,'” Frank said.
Those who take on the math and problem solving to pursue a degree in surveying engineering are almost guaranteed a job due to the worldwide shortages.
As for starting salaries, Frank said that most graduates, land surveyors in training, earn about $35,000 per year. Once they have successfully applied for and tested for their license, four years later in New Mexico, their salary will likely double.
“We have a recognized quality program at NMSU,” Frank said. “Our belief is that we’re among the best programs in the country. There’s a high demand for our graduates and our graduates are getting work across the country, not just in New Mexico.”
“And, almost everybody who gets into surveying as a career loves it,” Frank said.