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Educators, professional surveyors, land management

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Geocache Entices Future Surveyors
By Tim Kent, Oregon Institute of Technology
Are professional surveyors getting the word out to the next generation? As a professor of geomatics—an emerging field that combines land surveying with geographic information systems (GIS)—I’m constantly looking for ways to interest young people in a surveying career, and to expand the horizons of current surveying students.
I first heard about geocaching a long time ago, but didn’t really know much about it until land surveyor Ernie Cantu gave a presentation about it at the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping  (ASCM) annual conference in St. Louis in March 2007. Ernie announced the new National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) Geocaching Project  to promote surveying careers to young people. Rhonda, Bill, and Tim from Berntsen were sitting next to me, and we all thought it sounded like a lot of fun.
One of the courses I teach at the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) is the Senior Practicum. This course assigns a team of students a myriad of projects, just as they would encounter in an actual surveying company. On the trip home from St. Louis, I got the idea that establishing a geocache near the OIT campus would be a good project to add to the mix for my spring term students. We also ended up creating and releasing a survey-themed geocaching “travel bug” that could act as a roving ambassador for OIT’s geomatics program.
“OIT Geomatics” Geocache
The Senior Practicum geocache project had two goals: to promote the geomatics program at OIT, and to introduce geomatics students to a new outdoor sport that is associated with surveying technology. Led by Kyle Mettler, several students researched all of the requirements of establishing a site, including deciding where to place the cache, what kind of container to use, what to put in it, etc.
The resulting cache, OIT Geomatics  (waypoint name GC13ENV), is a large cylinder that we initially filled with OIT souvenirs: keychains, lanyards, a t-shirt, etc. We also included some business cards from Prof. Jack Walker, chair of the Department of Geomatics, printed on the back with information about the geomatics program at OIT. We have a student club sponsored by the Professional Land Surveyors of Oregon (PLSO) here at OIT, so we keep a club member assigned to monitor the site and replace items, etc.
We were fortunate that one of my students, Dan O’Connor, is the grandson of the people who originally donated to the State of Oregon the land on which OIT now sits. Dan arranged for us to put our cache on family-owned land adjacent to the college, a hill with beautiful views of the campus and Upper Klamath Lake.
OIT Geomatics probably has more precise coordinates than any other geocache in the world! First, we used survey-grade equipment (two Topcon HiPer Lite units) for a “rapid static session”—a single GPS reading lasting about half an hour. We then sent that data to the National Geodetic Survey for post-processing through their OPUS  service. OPUS correlated our GPS data with data from several CORS  sites, which combine GPS receivers with radio transmitters so that they can report their position to the NGS 24 hours a day.
The result? Our coordinates for OIT Geomatics are accurate within centimeters. Of course, some of that accuracy was lost when we converted the location into the DDMM.MMM format used on, but I still think you’ll have no problem finding our cache!
Our super-accurate coordinates aren’t the only survey-related aspect of the cache, though. My students decided to make OIT Geomatics an offset geocache, meaning that you have to go somewhere else after finding the designated spot. In this case, the coordinates take you to a survey reference mark. The RM is a Berntsen aluminum rod and cap that my students installed specifically for this geocache. (Dan O’Connor received permission from his family for us to do this, too.) We also obtained OPUS coordinates for the RM, and these are the ones we published on As we say in the cache description, the cache is “less than a chain’s length away” from that disk. Aha—you need to know (or find out) how long a “chain” is! And you have to figure out our hint about which direction to look in. Just a little extra challenge to give people a taste of surveying as they look for our cache!

I’m happy to report that I’ve already gotten one email message from someone who visited our geocache, enjoyed the beautiful view, and then took one of the info cards. He wanted to know more about our GIS (geographic information systems) program and what it would take to become enrolled. We have set up a visit, and I hope it grows from there. Now that is recruitment at its finest! (And most fun!)    _________________________________________________________________________________

“Rob the Plumb Bob” Travel Bug 

I’ll let our travel bug, Rob, introduce himself, in these excerpts from his page on
My name is Rob the Plumb Bob. I am a plumb bob used by the Geomatics students at Oregon Institute of Technology in their surveying classes. I am going to take a trip to the east coast and would like to make it back to my home cache, OIT Geomatics, in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
For the professional surveyors or new geocachers reading this, a travel bug is a small item that gets moved from cache to cache. Travel bugs have goals that help geocachers decide where to take them next.
I had my geomatics students brainstorm a good travel bug, and they found this small plumb bob and attached a brass disk to it for identification purposes. It fits the surveying theme very well!
In September, 2007, I headed to the fall meeting of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) in Arlington, Virginia with Rob the Plumb Bob in tow. My plan was to have my students track Rob’s travels from the east coast back to the west coast. My fellow NSPS area director from Louisiana, Wayne Hebert, is an avid geocacher, and he was eager to help me get Rob into the field.
Wayne and I searched on for caches around Arlington and found quite a few. Bright and early on Saturday morning, off we went, looking for the geocache Sparkle & Shine. We found it along a trail by a creek, but it was too small for Rob to fit in. So then we headed into the nearby neighborhoods looking for Flat Tire, so named because the person that established it had a bicycle flat tire on the paved trail nearby. That trail is an abandoned railroad grade, and is a popular path for cyclists in the DC area.
Flat Tire took a little searching, but we finally discovered it. The log book was full, but Wayne and I managed to find room to write our names. Rob the Plumb Bob fit inside very nicely. Wayne and I found a couple of additional caches on the way back to the hotel, and still made it back in time for lunch (very important!) and the afternoon meetings. He even picked up a travel bug that was trying to reach San Francisco, helping out by taking it from Virginia to Louisiana. By the way, Wayne (geocaching nickname “cajunabear”) is active in the NSPS’ Geocaching Project. You can visit the project’s website  for more information on careers in surveying.
After traveling back to Klamath Falls, I was anxious to see how Rob was faring. I had visions of him going up and down the east coast and then maybe taking a year or so to make his way across the states. Well, it was a good thought anyway.
As it turned out, Rob made only two moves in the Arlington area. And then, much to our surprise, he returned to Oregon only a few weeks after traveling to the east coast. Someone was visiting Virginia from Portland, and back he came. Last word is that he’s near Corvallis, a hundred miles south of Portland. So not much of a journey to track, but perhaps we’ll take him far away again and ask that people send him on a more leisurely “scenic route” back home. In any event, my students and I have had a lot of fun creating our geocache and our travel bug. I think that teachers at all education levels should consider geocaches as an excellent way to teach about surveying, satellites, and other science and technology subjects.

Tim Kent is an Assistant Professor of Geomatics at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. He’s also a licensed land surveyor who worked for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for nearly 40 years before joining the OIT faculty in 2005. Tim is currently the director of Area 10 (which covers the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and western Canada) of the National Society of Professional Surveyors.

Originally published on July 2, 2008.

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