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Staying true to the roots of surveying

Stacy Jacobs, P.L.S.
Project Surveyor for R&R Engineers-Surveyors

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

In 1990, I was a freshman in college pursuing an architectural technologies degree in Upstate New York. One of the first semester courses was Land Surveying 101. I loved this class. I found it fascinating: the equipment, mathematics, notetaking, traversing, inversing, and history.

I told my mom how much I enjoyed this class and that I was excelling at it. She said, “I graduated with a woman who now runs her father’s surveying firm; do you want me to give her a call to see if she hires for summer help?” (Moms are good like that!)

That first Christmas break, I spoke with Wendy Woodbury-Straight, P.L.S., and started working for her that following summer. I was so excited—my first “real” job, doing something I loved, and that would lead me into my lifetime career.

Wendy was a huge influence on me. She was a pioneer in small town New York, running a successful firm as a female in a male-dominated industry.

The lessons she learned from her father, the way she ran her business—all of that has impacted and directed me, 30 years later. The party chief I worked under before becoming one myself, Kim Zielinski, was also a huge influencer in my beginning career. She was no-nonsense, hard-working, and tough as nails, but still a female. These women showed and taught me that it was OK to be independent, smart, and rugged, that we could wear work boots and Carhartts, and still most definitely be a FEMALE. We worked with many other women in the field and office in those days, and the men that we worked with never batted an eye that their chief was a female. If I was a rodperson to one of the male chiefs, I was never treated differently just because I was a 5-foot-tall, fresh from college, 20-year-old female.

Later, when I moved to Nevada, I worked with and became very close friends with another female surveyor, Donna Peterson Handy. I was there with her through her exams and was just so proud of her when she obtained her P.L.S. This was years before I sat for my own exam. But Donna pushed me to start with my L.S.I. She was a fierce woman who knew her job well, and it was wonderful having a best friend who was a professional peer/mentor. When Donna passed away, the world lost a great person and surveyor.

Why did you get your surveying license? Why should someone pursue getting their P.S. license?

One of the main reasons I got my P.L.S. license was to continue my client relationships and services. It may sound a little strange, but I had been the primary contact for many clients for years, was resolving boundaries on my own, and then reviewing them with the P.L.S. in charge. I was taking projects from beginning to end. I wanted to be the person my clients could call; I wanted that responsibility and prestige. I wanted to be able to further my career, yes, but to also influence other women as had all those wonderful women who influenced me. I wanted to pass on knowledge, history, and passion to younger surveyors.

How are professional surveyors critical to protecting the safety of the public?

The general public doesn’t really understand what we do, I think. It is my pleasure, honor, and responsibility to help educate them, to provide them the tools they need to accomplish their goals for their property, and to set their mind at ease. For example, I have a current project where the property owner believed utilities were being marked and replaced on his property without an easement. The utilities and utility work is all taking place in the public right-of-way, but without a survey showing him his property lines and explaining what public right-of-way is and what can be done in that right-of-way, of course he would think the utilities were on his actual property.

While there is some debate if construction surveying is actually “surveying”—with so many construction firms having their own equipment for staking, grading, etc.—it is so important to remember that what we do on the construction side directly affects the public and their safety. We are a crucial part of the construction industry, ensuring sites are graded and built in accordance with the plans and processes that ensure the public’s safety.

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

The one thing I always tell every young surveyor: Don’t burn your bridges, and if you do burn some, make sure they are ones you will never need to cross again. This surveying world is small, and you will work with people again. I’ve worked with many of the same surveyors, technicians, field crews, project managers over the years. While we may be from different states and have different backgrounds, we all seem to circle back together.

My advice for women starting out in this field: Don’t let them get you down. Be true to yourself and your values. Be aware that you will face some challenges just because you are a female; the world is getting better, but we still struggle with acceptance in a male-dominated industry. Prove yourself with knowledge, morals, ingenuity, ethics, and honesty, and you will be just fine. And have a sense of humor. Remember, you will be working with construction crews; if you cannot handle some jokes, or language, you will have a more difficult time. Stay humble. Puffing out your chest and being arrogant are not ways to make it in this industry, or in any industry for that matter. Don’t lose your femininity. If you want to wear makeup, wear makeup! You are a woman first. Do what makes YOU comfortable. You do not have to change who you are just to fit in.

What are your thoughts on the future of surveying? What opportunities and challenges do you foresee?

The future of surveying is amazing to me. With the use of LIDAR, scanners, and drones, I think our predecessors would be astonished as to what we can accomplish with technology today and tomorrow.

One challenge I do see, though, is a question of whether we are forgetting our roots. We must remember that our profession follows in the footsteps of others. Are we making sure that future generations of surveyors can follow in ours? Are we relying too much on the technology and not enough on the basics, the history, and the backbone of surveying? Are we teaching the whys and not just the how-tos? I would like to believe I teach the whys along with the how-tos and that my footsteps will be able to be followed. What an honor that is.

Jacobs’ Experience

Stacy Jacobs brings 29 years of broad survey experience in both Metes and Bounds and Public Land Survey states. Her extensive background includes more than five years of specialized project management experience in renewable energy projects focused on wind farm sites encompassing 100+ acres. As project surveyor, Jacobs manages projects from start to finish in boundary resolution, topographic design surveys, platting, ALTA/NSPS Land Title Surveys, and as-built surveys.

Prior to joining R&R Engineers-Surveyors, Jacobs was a Project Surveyor III at Atwell, LLC, where she developed strong relationships with engineers, architects, planners, and attorneys working on multimillion-dollar projects. In addition to her role at R&R, she is an active member of the National Society of Professional Surveyors and Professional Land Surveyors of Colorado.

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