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Investing in a career in surveying

Jocelyn Correa, P.S.
Associate Surveyor, QK

How did you become interested in surveying? Who influenced you?

I became interested in mapping and the history side of the surveying profession while working as a cadastral mapper for a local assessor’s office. I loved reading old deeds and maps and researching junior/senior rights. My mentors at the assessor’s offices (I worked at two) were Edna Brewer and Ken Swearingen. Both were very knowledgeable about the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), the subdivision map act, and boundary law. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a professional land surveyor specifically until I started working as a CAD tech at a surveying and engineering firm and working directly with some amazing land surveyors. They encouraged and supported me and were the reason I pushed to learn as much as possible and to go further than drafting maps.

You recently became a professional surveyor. Tell us about your experience going through the process and why you got licensed?

Studying for the professional surveying exam was HARD … really hard. I didn’t have the benefit of surveying classes or a degree, but, luckily, my work at the assessor’s office gave me a strong background in boundary law and surveying basics. I used some online resources and guides, read as much as possible, and scheduled time to study leading up to my test. Balancing a full-time job, a family, and studying was difficult—but worth it. I had been authorized to sit for the state-specific exam in April 2020, but everyone knows how COVID-19 changed all of our plans at that point. On one hand my study time was extended, but, on the other hand, I had felt ready for the April exam before it was canceled. So I had to make sure to review and refresh my knowledge leading up to the October exam.

It was important for me to get licensed for a couple of reasons: First, I saw the problems our profession faces with land surveyors retiring at a higher rate than new surveyors getting licensed, but also saw that as job security, too. Second, I personally wanted to pursue licensure as a career goal. I always want to continue learning and growing, and setting goals for additional licenses, certifications, or career advancement helps motivate me.

How are professional surveyors critical to protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public?

The idea of not having surveyors to locate boundaries, and accurately place critical infrastructure is rather scary. Could you imagine the chaos (social and financial) it could cause if infrastructure like buildings and roads weren’t constructed in the proper locations—maybe crossing property lines or being built too close together? Or maybe it’s as simple as two neighbors knowing where their property boundaries are. These boundaries support ownership, privacy, security, and general individual rights that much of our daily life depends on, whether we realize it or not. Many surveyors also play a big role in protecting state and public lands and in assisting in acquisition of land for new infrastructure to benefit the public. Delineating boundaries, and precise construction staking are just a few of the major roles we play in protecting the safety of the public.

You are also a sUAS remote pilot. Why did you pursue a certificate in that, and how do you use it in your everyday job?

The senior management team at my company directed our survey department to pursue the use of UAV technology in our daily practice, but also find ways to incorporate it into our company as a whole. A co-worker and I spearheaded the research and development effort. First, we primarily focused on processing the data, applications, and how it could be used. The next natural step was developing a team of pilots in-house, consisting of our surveyors, construction management team, and biologists who would be using the technology. Part of that development included flight training with the different UAVs that we had purchased and an extensive standard operating procedures manual, along with flight and maintenance tracking. When we first started, I was doing many of the flights myself, so getting my Part 107 certification was mandatory. In my current role as UAV manager, even though I don’t fly as often as I did before, it doesn’t make sense for me to manage a team of pilots and not be certified myself. So I have kept it active.

Annually, NCEES sponsors the DiscoverE Future City competition and the surveying special award. This year, you represented NCEES as a Southern California regional judge for the special surveying award. Tell us about your experience judging and the competition.

I can’t accurately describe how much the students in the competition impressed me! I’ve seen the struggles with distance-learning over the past year with my own kids. To think that the students who participated in the Future Cities competition overcame all of the social-distancing challenges to still put together such amazing group projects was truly impressive. All teams showed enthusiasm for their project and an amazing understanding of some of the challenges life on the moon would present to engineers of the future. Most students had a very general understanding of what a land surveyor does, but I look forward to that understanding improving in future years. With NCEES and the California Land Surveyors Association (CLSA) getting more involved, I hope to see more land surveyors giving presentations to the teams and teaching them about how land surveying is a critical part of successful cities.

You are involved in mentoring initiatives within the surveying community, from being a member of CLSA to giving your time and talents back to those interested in the profession. Why are you so passionate about mentoring? Who is your mentor?

I have had some amazing mentors over the years and honestly could not have gotten to where I am today without them. Mentoring is a great way to give back and make my mentors’ time spent teaching me benefit even more people, and hopefully our profession as a whole. I think the more we can focus on mentoring and helping the next generation get licensed, the better our profession will be in the long term. I feel like I have been blessed with numerous mentors over the years, but my co-workers really are the best mentors. We have a great team with many different strengths—some are very experienced at GPS and boundary work, others at construction staking, and also the engineering and project management side of our field. Sharing our strengths with each other makes us a very well-rounded team. Some of our land surveyors who have recently retired are also still willing to provide guidance and help us navigate tough projects.

What advice would you give to a young surveyor? And what advice would you give to a woman starting out in this field?

Never be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Ask lots of questions. I’ve really learned the most from those situations where I went to a colleague and said, “I don’t know how to do this; can you show me?” If you’re passionate about something, make it known. If you’re in the field but want to learn the office (or vice-versa), say something and keep saying it until it happens. Consider making a company change if you’re feeling stuck and not encouraged to learn and grow. For women, I’d say don’t be intimidated about it being a “male-dominated” field. Ninety-nine percent of the professionals I have worked with have not treated me any differently just because I’m a female. If someone does treat you differently and makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t tolerate it. Say something to whoever is in charge of the site/project/company, and (again) keep saying something until the issue has been addressed. But, really, that advice goes for anyone in any field. We must hold our peers accountable for their actions. I truly believe that most professionals will not put up with any sort of discrimination, so politely drawing attention to it usually solves the problem. My biggest piece of advice for young surveyors (men and women) comes from an article that Rob McMillan wrote for the fall 2019 issue of California Surveyor magazine and relates to investing in yourself, even when it seems like others aren’t. McMillan wrote, “Chances are, the more you invest in yourself, the more your employer and colleagues will invest in you.”


Correa’s Experience

Jocelyn Correa is a professional land surveyor in the state of California, with 15 years of surveying-related experience providing technical support for a variety of projects. Her professional background includes drafting and design of residential and commercial and land development projects, survey calculations and drafting, with a heavy emphasis on title research, legal descriptions, boundary determinations, and compliance with both state and local ordinances. In the last four years, Correa has led the research and development effort to establish appropriate methodologies for UAS mission planning, control, and processing to establish repeatable accuracy for aerial topographic surveys using low-altitude, high-resolution photogrammetry. Correa also holds an FAA remote pilot certificate.

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