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Kaitlin Constantine: An Alternate Path to Professional Licensure

Kaitlin Constantine is the youngest Professional Land Surveyor (PLS) in Nevada. But she originally planned to be a Professional Engineer (PE) and earned a civil engineering degree first.

Kaitlin didn’t realize that changing her career path was an option, but with some guidance from the Board, she learned that she could use credits from her civil engineering degree to reduce the amount of time it would take to earn a land surveying degree.

The path Kaitlin took to becoming a land surveyor is not typical. But it serves as an excellent template for engineers and land surveyors who may not know that other career paths are available to them as well.

Kaitlin is a full-time land surveyor at the Reno office of DOWL, and because the firm offers both engineering and land surveying services, she gets to use her knowledge of both fields.

Kaitlin is a very busy person, but she was kind enough to answer some questions and offer her advice to others who are considering careers in engineering or land surveying.

Tell us about your background. How did you get to this point?

I grew up in California, and when I decided to go into engineering, I looked at a variety of schools and decided that I wanted to go to the University of Nevada, Reno. I majored in civil engineering graduating in May of 2018 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Civil Engineering.

Then I took my FE (Fundamentals of Engineering Exam) and passed it in April of 2018. I was hired as a civil engineer and started working at my first job after college. I took my PE (Professional Engineering Exam) and passed it in April of 2019. Then I decided to go back to school to become a land surveyor. I took my FS (Fundamentals of Surveying Exam) and passed it in May of 2020, and I took my PS (Professional Surveying Exam) and passed it in January of 2022.

I graduated with my Bachelors of Applied Science in Land Surveying and Geomatics in May of 2022. Then I applied for my professional license as a land surveyor. I took the Nevada state specific exam and passed that, and then I got licensed in July of 2022. Then I applied for my Water Rights Surveyors Certificate, and I received that in July of 2023.

I’m also the Treasurer for the local chapter of the Nevada Association of Land Surveyors (NALS), and I’m also the Vice President of the Young Surveyors Network here in Reno.

You took an alternate path to becoming a professional land surveyor by first earning a civil engineering degree. What led you to take that route instead of the more traditional path?

I took an alternate route to become a land surveyor because I didn’t actually know what land surveying was until I graduated and got my first job out of school. I originally got hired as a civil engineer because I liked math and science. I thought engineering was the field I wanted to get into.

It wasn’t until I started working that I figured out what land surveying was and that it’s all math and I really enjoyed it and wanted to pursue a career in it.

The Board reviewed your request to become a licensed Professional Land Surveyor (PLS) and advised you that you needed a minimum 30 credit hours in surveying (two semesters of classes). But instead, you decided to pursue a 4-year bachelor’s degree in land surveying. How much time did this add to your path to licensure? What or who influenced that decision?

I decided to get a four-year degree because I thought it was really important, in case I ever wanted to move out of Nevada or get a license in a different state. Every state’s licensing requirements are different (most require a 4-year degree in land surveying), and I thought it would be beneficial to me to just get the degree now.

I ended up only needing an additional 21 credits after the 30 credits (needed to be licensed in Nevada since I already had a four year engineering degree), and I figured while I was in the groove of going to school and working, it was worth it to just finish up and get the land surveying degree. I also really wanted to take all the classes that I could because I like learning and I enjoyed learning about different fields and surveying.

And I think it’s really important to understand the upper level classes and get into those and really dig into specialty areas of surveying.

Currently there is only one college in Nevada that offers a 4-year degree in land surveying (Great Basin College in Elko). What made you decide to seek your land surveying degree at Great Basin College rather than look outside Nevada? What challenges did you face attending a school in Elko, Nevada? On-line learning? Housing? Tuition? Culture?

I decided to go to Great Basin because one big factor was tuition. I just spent a bunch of money getting a civil engineering degree, so it was a less expensive option to get an online degree. Also, because UNR doesn’t have a land surveyor program, I wanted to stay in Reno and be able to do online learning. I also had a job here, I had my friends here, and I didn’t really want to leave.

So that’s originally why I picked Great Basin in the beginning, to do online learning. But online learning is really difficult. And in-person classes are a little bit better. And I think that was probably one of the biggest challenges of Great Basin. It’s very self-motivating and you have to be very proactive, and learn, and read, and watch videos, and do your homework on your own. And there’s not really any kind of structure like there is with in-person classes.

Working full time, while going to school part time, was pretty difficult. I did it for three years, and online learning allowed me to go to class at 5:30/6:00 pm after I finished work, and allowed me to do homework on the weekends or after I finished work.

Now that you’ve experienced engineering and land surveying courses, what differences/similarities did you notice? How can one college curriculum benefit the other?

I think it can be improved by having some cross-classes or communication. It’s really hard for engineers to understand what land surveyors do, and It’s really hard for land surveyors to understand what engineers do. And I think that not having any classes or experience in either field is detrimental. And I think the best engineers or the best land surveyors are people that have experience in both fields or have some knowledge to understand what each other does and how each of us does our work.

And that can help engineers when they talk to land surveyors, or communicating or describing what they need. I think that it can be difficult if you don’t have any of that knowledge to understand what the other profession is doing.

You worked for a local engineering firm after you graduated with your civil engineering degree. Did you work with land surveyors at the firm, and did they help influence your decision?

After college I was hired as a civil engineer, and I was working for a private land development firm, and I didn’t know what land surveying was. They introduced it to me because there’s a lot of crossover (between engineering and land surveying) and we do a lot of projects together. And my first boss was a good mentor, and he educated me and showed me what land surveying was and really pushed me to get into surveying.

I was really hesitant at first to get into surveying. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go back to school or get another degree, or what I wanted to do. But I ended up loving it so much that I decided to go back and figure out what it was and go back to school.

Civil engineers and land surveyors work closely together. What would you do to make those working relationships more productive?

I think it’s important that engineers and surveyors have crossover and that they can understand. I mean, we work so closely with each other and, unfortunately, there is no crossover. All my engineering classes at UNR, I didn’t take a single surveying class and all my land surveying classes at Great Basin, I didn’t take a single engineering class.

And I think it’s difficult for engineers or land surveyors to understand the other point of view or the other profession. And we work together every single day, and I think that it’s really hard if people don’t have that background and that knowledge to know what each other does.

Now that you’ve been a professional land surveyor for almost two years, what do you like most about the job?

The thing I love the most about surveying is how different every project is. They’re all similar, and I can use my knowledge from one project to the other project and be able to have my experience play a factor and come up with new creative solutions. But they’re all different. Every boundary survey is different. Every topo (topographic map) is different. Everything that you do is going to be slightly different than any other project, which I really enjoy.

I don’t like the same repetitive things. And I really like the smaller projects that are constantly changing. I think the other thing I also really like about surveying is being able to go outdoors or the wilderness and be able to access new ground.

I mean, a lot of the stuff that we survey, things that are going to be built, are going to be developed in the future. So you get to go out on untouched land and ride ATV’s or side-by-sides or whatever you need to get out pretty far, and it’s really exciting and it’s fun being out in the open with no one around you and it’s really nice to get out of the office and not stare at a computer for 40 hours.

What advice would you give to college students who are considering engineering and/or land surveying? How would you prepare in college for a career in either profession?

I think it’s important to prepare for the work environment, that people get experience working in the field. I think that getting internship experience, engineering or land surveying experience while you’re in college and just figuring out what you want to do can be really helpful.

I also think that touring engineering sites or surveying sites just to understand what it is and learn about it, can also really prepare people for college and prepare them for after. I think that college classes versus workplace experiences are very different, but they connect and kind of build off each other.

Tell us about your college internship.

During my college years at UNR I had an internship that was actually part civil engineering and part land surveying, but I didn’t actually know it at the time, and I didn’t really understand it.

And what we ended up doing was surveying some people’s private property out in the middle of nowhere, so they can put in some water tanks for cows or horses or for other uses. But we actually went out to these remote properties and scanned the land and used GPS And then, later on in the office, we would design where to put the tank, where to put the water line, and other items, and I thought I was just doing a civil engineering job. And then when I started getting into land surveying, that’s when I realized I was doing surveying and engineering during my internship.

I think during my internship when I was doing surveying, I really enjoyed it. And I remember thinking, I really like doing this as part of my job. And then I started getting into surveying more and I remember I enjoyed doing that and I liked surveying.

What mistakes did you make, and what would you do differently to avoid them if you had to do it all over again?

I definitely make mistakes at work. But I feel like those are more learning experiences rather than mistakes and I feel like in my time becoming a civil engineer and a land surveyor, I don’t really regret any of my decisions and my choices. I had to go through a lot of schooling in terms of years of getting my civil engineering degree and then years of getting my land surveying degree while working full time.

And although it was difficult, I’m really glad I have knowledge in both. And I really think that has helped me become a really good land surveyor that I can understand the engineering side of it. I can also understand the land surveyor side of it. I think that it’s helped me a lot in my everyday work.

What advice would you give to other young women who are considering land surveying or engineering?

I think the main advice I would give to other young women is that it can be really daunting and challenging to enter a very male dominated field. I believe land surveying is 98% male and 2% female and even in engineering, the number of men is pretty high and it can be really challenging.

I have faced some negative comments and some discrimination about my gender or my age or all of that wrapped into one. And those negative comments can be really difficult. But I think that it’s really important that more women get involved and show that we’re just as capable and smart as the men. And I would really encourage all young women to get involved or to pursue this career if that’s what they are really passionate about and to not let facing negative comments or discrimination about being a woman affect them.

There are definitely a lot of opportunities for women in land surveying. I think that some women are intimidated or are unsure if they want to enter this field. And I think that overall there are plenty of opportunities. I think that there are also a lot of people that have really encouraged me and helped me along. So it’s not all negative. You know, it can be positive. And I think that land surveying is growing and the demand for it is growing and the numbers of land surveyors are diminishing. So there’s plenty of opportunity for different career paths and jobs and opportunities.

Why did you decide to get licensed and how has it impacted your career?

One of the reasons I decided to get licensed was I knew that I always wanted to be in charge or be a manager or, further my career.

And I knew that that was a huge step in getting to the point where I wanted to be. And I also really wanted to get licensed because I take a lot of pride in my work and I want to be able to put my name on it and, show everyone that I worked really hard on this and I’m proud to put my name on my work.

And I take full responsibility for the project and it can be really scary. I remember the first thing I stamped, I triple checked it like five different times, and I made everyone else in the office check it, just in case. And I still have it, actually in my house. And I think that that was one of the best moments for me, was being able to put my name on something and be able to get it recorded and show, everyone that I am qualified. I’ve learned a lot. I’m able to move property lines and do different types of survey work and put my name on it.

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