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Limelight: Kris Caister

Tuesday, October 29, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sally Palatiello
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Limelight:  Kris Caister


Please provide a short history of your education and work history.

It is hard to believe that I was on track to become a psychologist when a chair lift ride with a stranger in Montana changed my life. After hearing that I worked with high school students at a local wilderness therapeutic boarding school, a fellow skier (and disguised Surveying Instructor at Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC), Dave Dorsett) mentioned I should send some of my students his way.  I was in his office on Monday – not exactly the student he had in mind.
  It is not like I didn’t know anything about surveying. I spent a lot of time in the “woods” where I grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia; ironically, I am chagrined to remember pulling up a survey stake or two as a kid in the hopes of stopping the incoming residential development. While gaining my Environmental Sciences undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia, I also formed a strong foundation in land science fundamentals such as hydrology, geology, calculus, early GIS, and how these systems interact.
Prior to said chair lift ride, I was serving as the chair of the board of a local planning and land use organization in the Flathead Valley of Montana. It was on that board that I started to recognize the value of surveying as the fundamental aspect of land development and stewardship. So several months later, while realizing that the ambiguous world of psychological therapy was not a lifetime desire, I was back in the chair as a student to achieve my A.A.S in Surveying at FVCC by 2004.

Full speed ahead after graduation: run a few marathons, get married, work a 20 mile very rugged corridor survey in the Yaak, Montana and find my first quarter section stone, have a kid, field work on river restoration projects in Oregon, Idaho and Montana, do a lot of subdivision field/office work in 2005-2006, move back to Virginia to be closer to family and have another kid and start working in a more urban setting in a very bewildering metes and bound state!

 What do you feel is your greatest achievement in your career?

- Staying in the profession!  By perseverance, love of the profession, having a good attitude and a bit of luck in having people watch over me, I survived the recession and continued to learn and grow.

- Offering encouragement and enthusiasm to colleagues who are pursuing continued development of their surveying career. You are on the right track, keep learning and adding to the amazing history of this profession!

- Substantial projects achievements: the Yorktown Terminal offloading expansion, the Main at Norfolk initial building control layout, Prince William County Landfill Wetland reclamation, Augusta County Courthouse design surveys and the layout for the current build of the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs (CODE) come to mind.

   

What surveyors have been your mentors and what was special about what you learned from them?

I am not sure if reverse-mentorship is a thing, but I feel my greatest mentors have not been those assigned or even direct supervisors but are instead the colleagues and clients that I interact with on a day to day basis. Whether I like it or not, they are offering constant feedback (positive and negative) to do better and learn more. If a colleague does particularly well at a task and I know that I helped coach them in that task, then I am the one being mentored. If a client calls and doesn’t like the layout or the invoice then they are mentoring me to learn something and to improve.

That said, specific, traditional mentors have been with me every step of my surveying path.  David Dorsett, the now retired surveying instructor at FVCC, was instrumental in fostering excitement about surveying. His classes on boundary case law were very intense, very interesting and very eye opening when it comes to assessing the inevitable conflicts in boundary evidence. Dick Smith taught me how collect field data that would be “gold”, Andy Belski built my CAD foundation, Cheryl Stockton taught me to mind  the details and was exceedingly patient  with my transition to Virginia surveying and Joe Medley is a wizard at helping me polish deliverables.

Would you recommend a career in surveying to others, and why?

 

Of course! Surveying is a perfect synergy of history, math, law, science and art. But surveying is also about storytelling. When following the footsteps of the original surveyor, it is natural to start to develop a story about the people who lived in the area and who asked for the original lines to be run. Why did the landowner want a survey?  How did the surveyor run the lines on the ground? How much did he get paid or was it a trade?

Much of this story is fanciful but it is also important to help tease out the intent of the survey or to just make the sometimes-arduous task of chasing names in the courthouse to determine senior rights more fun. For instance, while reading the deeds for a recent survey, I ended up back in Deed Book 1, where a son of a member of the Order of the Golden  Horseshoe had deeded two acres for the jail, stable and courthouse for the Augusta County seat. Imagine the stories around the events in history in the mid 1700’s!

What has been the greatest change in surveying you've witnessed in your career?

The obvious answer is that technology has been the greatest change in surveying.  This is easy to see, constantly and quickly changing and very helpful. However, the slower and perhaps more pervasive change is the retirement of the bulk of surveyors from the profession. Their large personalities will be missed most certainly but the real change will be in the loss of their knowledge of the fundamental skills of surveying in the field and in boundary retracement.  Their retirement coupled with the gap in new surveyors joining the profession has the potential to disrupt the reputation, longevity and integrity of the profession. However, there is also an opportunity in this gap. Surveying has the chance to recapture the imaginations of younger people and enhance the power of enterprise as the objects and interactions of our everyday is tied together geospatially. Whether it is the advent of autonomous vehicles or the creation of augmented reality games and teaching devices, only surveyors have the knowledge and skills to provide the geospatial accuracy that will allow these technologies to work safely and effectively.  There is a lot to do.

  Surveying has the chance to recapture the imaginations of younger people and enhance the power of enterprise as the objects and interactions of our everyday is tied together geospatially. Whether it is the advent of autonomous vehicles or the creation of augmented reality games and teaching devices, only surveyors have the knowledge and skills to provide the geospatial accuracy that will allow these technologies to work safely and effectively.  There is a lot to do.