Vantage Point: Building Brain Cells and Legacies

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The care and feeding of brain cells has always been one of my greatest concerns, both of my own and of those belonging to others. It’s why, even in the ancient days before I was licensed, I advocated increased educational requirements (beyond a high school diploma) for admittance to licensure exams, knowing that learning how to learn is as important as the facts themselves. If we don’t know the solution to our situation, we must at least be able to frame questions in a way that will lead us either to the answer directly, or to resources that will help us get there.

How can we support the proliferation of surveying brain cells? One definite necessity is familiarizing younger students with what it is that we do, so that surveying appears on the radar screen when they are thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. But to maximize the success of that endeavor, their parents need to know what it is that we do as well ("You want to study WHAT?"). Yes, that means more public relations, whether through historical context or public works or presence in the schools.

Many of us have participated in traditional career days in our local school systems. Some of us have sponsored Trig Star contests in high schools. But other programs exist. Math Counts ( for sixth through eighth graders includes local, state, and national competitions, as does Trig Star, and volunteers to show practical applications of math in the real world are always needed. There are also programs, such as those conducted by Penn State University, especially designed to encourage middle school and junior high school girls to seriously consider mathematics and science-based studies and careers. The presentations are all by women, and there is a short supply of women surveyors to participate, but it has been a rewarding experience. It’s all about rerouting young brain cells to be more receptive to new options.

Once we interest students and careerchangers in surveying as a satisfying and fulfilling career, however, we must support them in their endeavors to pursue the education necessary for their success. Many of our state societies have established scholarships and foundations to administer them. The National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) has done so as well, securing 501 (c)3 status to assure that all donations and bequests made to it are tax deductible for both individuals and corporations. Besides education, the NSPS Foundation also supports research and publication in the realm of surveying or related fields, and administers a disaster relief fund and a medical expense relief fund for surveyors across the nation.

The NSPS Foundation came into existence in 1995 after years of research and work by dedicated surveyors from various states. It currently administers ten different scholarships for individuals enrolled in full-time undergraduate and graduate studies in surveying, geodesy, geographic information systems, photogrammetry and cartography (see the Foundation website at for more information on qualifications and applications).

During the many yeas I served on New Jersey’s foundation, we received a number of special contributions in memory of recently deceased members, as special memorials to those individuals. The NSPS Foundation has several named awards as well, standing as legacies of those for whom they are named, including some very important commercial sponsors. All of us have the opportunity to create such legacies, for ourselves or for our heroes. Those who wish to create a scholarship or memorial fund can provide the NSPS Foundation the guidelines by which the scholarship or memorial fund is to be awarded and operated. If assistance is needed, the Foundation Trustees can help in writing the guidelines. When both the fund’s creator and the NSPS Foundation have reviewed the guidelines, a memorandum of understanding completes the contract for the Foundation to administer the fund in accordance with the established guidelines.

We should be capitalizing on the legacies of those for whom various relief and educational awards are named; after all, they were real people, and real people are interesting. Many of the individuals for whom the funds are named made significant contributions to the knowledge base and/or professionalism of our chosen field. The award names should represent the real humans for whom they were named, not merely sums of money. For instance, the Joseph F. Dracup award is named for one of the finest geodesists I have ever known, a friend and supporter to me, and a great contributor to the advancement of geodetic knowledge and understanding. Joe created the Nettie Dracup award in his wife’s name when she predeceased him, as a tireless supporter of his travels and dedication to his profession. He recognized that we should not forget those who enable us to achieve our dreams and potential.

We can promote our profession in non-monetary ways as well, supplying our hearts and knowledge to other surveyors and those who wish to become surveyors. Colorado’s quiet but dedicated Bill McComber was tireless in his mentoring of novice surveyors, and the Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado has continued his legacy through the Bill McComber Memorial Mentoring Course. Ongoing programs within the mentoring course include mathematics, instrumentation, and the legal aspects of surveying. Every surveyor who becomes a mentor in Colorado is part of Bill’s great legacy of patient guidance and enlightened young surveyors.

Building brain cells and legacies is part of our professional responsibility. Our educational institutions rely on donations of equipment and dollars. While some organizations rely on annual donations or fund raisers, we should worry about what happens when the economy dips. It is important to have a steady stream of income, even if not in the same quantity as during boom years, because the need for education and educational supplies never dries up. In fact, more people go back to school when the economy is poor, in order to make themselves more saleable, and so the need for scholarship funding can be greater than in the "fat" years of relative wealth. We can steer those new students to our proud profession, and we can honor the memory of those who came before us by joining together in creating legacy funds.

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.

A 406Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine complete with images is available by clicking HERE

About the Author

Wendy Lathrop, PLS, CFM

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, and as a Professional Planner in New Jersey. She is also a Certified Floodplain Manager (CFM) through the Association of State Flood Plain Managers She holds a Master's degree in Environmental Policy, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. Wendy has taught courses at Mercer County College (New Jersey), Penn State University, and Drexel University, and also speaks across the US on surveying topics ranging from boundary to business to technical issues. She has been writing articles for surveyors since 1983. In 2005 Wendy bought and re-organized Cadastral Consulting, LLC, which provides continuing education courses for surveyors. Wendy represented the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping the Technical Mapping Advisory Council to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the full five years of that advisory group's appointment, from 1995 through 2000. She was a panel member of the National Academy of Public Administration's study of US Geographic Information resources from December 1996 through September 1997, culminating in a NAPA-produced report entitled "Geographic Information for the 21st Century: Building a Strategy for the Nation". Wendy is a past President of the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors and of the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Contact Wendy Article List Below