Chris is the manager for the Survey, Mapping, and Geospatial Technology Group at CH2M HILL’s office in Bellevue, Washington.
CH2M HILL is a global engineering and design firm based in Englewood, Colorado.
As a child growing up in San Diego, California, Chris became interested in geography and the outdoors during family road trips in the summer. “We would take trips back east,” he says. “Driving back east and just seeing the wonders that went on outside in the world and stopping at the Grand Canyon, that’s really what got it for me.”
Chris says a lot of his childhood was spent exploring the open space around his home. The area would later become Mission Trails Regional Park. “As a kid growing up, there was just all kinds of adventures, hiking and playing,” he says. “That developed my love for being outdoors.”
After graduating from San Diego Mesa College with a degree in electronics technology, Chris was offered a position as a land surveyor at a small engineering company. “Really, I just needed a job,” he says.
Chris found land surveying to be a refreshing change of pace. “Really what drew me to this was I liked being outside,” he says. “But I also enjoyed the challenge of having to use my brain and think through some of the things of where this project is going. Or what’s the best way to get from Point A to Point B.”
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“It is definitely the different projects that I get to work on,” says Chris, whose work has taken him to far-flung places like Afghanistan and Bahrain. “I get to do some pretty interesting things.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
Chris says it can be very difficult to complete projects in isolated geographic areas, including mountains and deserts. “Sometimes it can be challenging to just get access to some sites,” he adds.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“Geography to me would be the study of the lay of the land,” Chris says. “Where are things? How do I get somewhere? How do I get something there? What path am I going to have to take to get from Point A to Point B? How do I get where I need to be and to get accomplished what I need to get accomplished?”
Chris says geography is an integral part of land surveying. “One of the big things talking about geography is the importance of water as boundaries. . . . Rivers change their course over time, and that means the boundaries of properties change over time,” he says. “So geography and land surveying are incredibly tied together.
“One of the things that is challenging for us is the geography,” Chris says. Unusual landscapes in remote regions can prevent use of such tools as GPS receivers, which Chris and his team rely on. “Particularly if we are doing a project that is in a valley and we are getting blocked out by the geography in view of the satellite, that makes our work a lot more challenging.”
Chris had to use geography when working on a storm-drainage plan for Bagram Airfield, a U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. “The most important part of the job is to study where the natural drainage courses are, so we can point the water in those areas . . . and set them up in areas that can be used by the native people out there,” he says. “So it’s not just put it into a ditch and pipe it out. It’s so it can be used by the native Afghanis for farming and agricultural uses.”
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . LAND SURVEYOR
“Geography would be a great place to start,” he says, if you plan to do the mapping side of surveying.
But Chris notes that being a land surveyor involves having a broad range of knowledge. “We have to know the law, because we get into boundary disputes and things of that nature,” he says. “There’s a strict set of rules that we have to follow when researching property boundaries.”
Chris says people interested in land surveying should study or follow the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which traces the route that explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took during their expedition from 1804 to 1806. “They did so much in the study of how you got from St. Louis all the way to the West Coast,” he says. “They did a lot of mapping.”