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NIU Geomatics students compete in Las Vegas land surveying competition

April 4, 2018

Four NIU Geomatics students traveled to Las Vegas recently to participate in a land surveying competition held in conjunction with the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) annual conference.

Advisor Dr. Kory Allred, together with Skyler Cullen (senior, Geography/Geomatics), Ryan Trone (post baccalaureate), Joe Scheller (senior, Geography/Geomatics) and Erik Leonard (senior, Geography/Geomatics) comprised one of 12 teams that participated in the competition.

Geomatics is the combination of land surveying and mapping, pairing traditional land surveying methods with today’s technology – drones, 3-D laser scanners, photogrammetry, robotic total stations, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – to collect and analyze information about the land, oceans, natural resources and man-made features.

The theme of the four-day competition was “Surveying Service” where the conditions were supposed to mimic a survey crew going to a developing area and using equipment that may not be the most technologically advanced in conditions that are less than ideal.

“On the first day, the students met in the desert just outside of Las Vegas on a day that was mild but windy, with gusts in excess of 40 mph,” Allred said.

Each team was given a starting point and asked to set out the corners of a square that was exactly 1 acre in size, using only a tape measure and compass. Once the corners were set, the students were asked to create a topographic map precisely detailing the terrain and features within the 1-acre parcel.

“The wind made this task especially difficult because the rod used to measure the elevations stood nearly 10 feet tall,” Allred said.

The task on the second day was to compile data to create a map showing the boundary of the 1-acre box, any objects or items that fell inside it such as trees or roads, and the topography across the area.

“The Huskie Survey team relied on each other by playing to each other’s strengths to come up with the best product possible,” Allred said. Team members assumed roles in data reduction and analysis, CAD drafting, quality control and presentation preparation.”

The team’s field work and map were on full display during an oral presentation on the third day. Each of the 12 teams were required to prepare a 15-minute talk to detail how they accomplished the very difficult tasks in the field, what they found during the analysis and their final results.

According to Allred, this experience was the perfect opportunity to apply knowledge while networking with others from the United States and Puerto Rico.

The tasks forced students to think through several obstacles and use their learned skills to solve the problems at hand. Advisors were completely hands off for the competition; there was to be no discussion on the work to be completed anytime during the events. The students had to use their own knowledge and skills to create a process and perform the tasks.

“Although NIU didn’t make it to the podium, it was a tremendously successful showing for the NIU team, especially since this was their first time competing in a national competition,” Allred said. “The team gained valuable experience. They grew close to several of the other students and enjoyed seeing them succeed.”

Students were able to participate in the competition through the generous support by the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association. The bulk of the financial assistance came from the association at the state level, but the Northeast and Winnebago chapters recognized the value for the students and were willing to donate significant funding as well.