Engineering students survey grounds

Amy Zhang, Copy Editor

Pitt-Johnstown offers courses in which students can get some hands-on experience outside of the  classroom.

At 10 a.m. last Tuesday, some civil engineering technology students were scattered in groups, operating measuring equipment called Total Station on campus.

The tripod equipment was placed on the library lawn, with several students around it.

A few other students were on the lawn, with one of them kneeling in the grass, holding a tape measure that connected to the tripod, while others were helping out and observing.

Engineering Associate Professor Brian Houston said they were doing a layout survey in an introductory engineering class-elementary surveying.

Students do two-hour field exercises twice a week in the class.

“Field exercises are quite fun for me and I think also for the students, except maybe in a few weeks when it starts snowing,” Houston said last Wednesday.

“I know it improves their (students’) skills because many students have used this knowledge to gain summer internships in civil engineering between their sophomore and junior years.”

Junior Zackery Stehle said a student who is interested in the technical aspect of map-making, and Global Positioning System is used to produce maps will enjoy the class.

However, he said the class was not easy because it promotes a real and work-related atmosphere, which Houston called the engineering mindset.

“Deadlines need to be met, reports need to be written, and accurate calculations need to be computed in a short time frame,” he said.

Houston said the most important thing he learned from surveying is the ability to work under pressure.

Surveying exercises seem to test students’ patience.

According to Stehle, the information needed to complete the survey is computed beforehand so students need to follow the procedures strictly in the exercises.

“However, errors do occur, and we must always adjust our data for these errors,” he said.

Similar to checking an answer in math, Stehle said, when errors occur, the students work backward to repeat the procedure again to find the desired data.

Houston said the class provides skills an engineering student can use, not only in civil engineering, but also in personal life, for example, one exercise is determining one’s pace length.

“People are often surprised at how many times this little skill can come in handy.”

Professional surveying equipment was used to develop these skills.

According to Houston, the most advanced surveying equipment they have is an advanced system capable of measuring locations to within one millimeter.

The Total Station, he said, can be used to measure distances to 0.01 feet and angles to 0.0004 degrees accurately.

Having taught this class for 12 years, Houston said he had updated devices to newer ones, making the knowledge being taught contemporary with industry.

He said an elective course is offered for civil engineering technology students is highway surveying and design, in which students survey a wooded area, then use this information to design a roadway, then re-survey to place markers for planned road construction.

The Geology Department offers a course called Sedimentation and Stratigraphy has 3-hour field trips every week.

Assistant Professor Christopher Coughenour said students study different rock structures in this class.

For example, he said, when studying the Carboniferous Period, they went on field trips to see outcroppings because Johnstown is historically rich in coals.

According to him, there are several classes in geology that offer field trips outside the classrooms.