RICHMOND — Vocational students at Green Rock Correctional Center have found something they have in common with some of our nation’s Founding Fathers – an aptitude for surveying.
Surveyors have a long and storied history in Virginia, and now offenders at Green Rock are taking steps to successfully reenter society by learning to be surveyor assistants.
The course combines the earliest surveyor tools, such as plum bobs and rods, with computer-aided drafting software, global positioning technology, and tripod total stations that collect critical data. With these tools, students define, measure and map boundaries of land, air and sea while aiding licensed surveyors. Virginia prison officials believe this is the only program of its kind in a prison setting.
The surveyor assistant program is in keeping with the agency’s reentry efforts, which promote former offenders’ successful reintegration into society. “This is a field that has good job opportunities,” said instructor Christopher Golding. “This training coupled with hard work from the offenders will help these men become productive, tax-paying citizens.”
The course usually takes less than one year to complete. Mr. Golding’s high-achieving students advance to take a nationally-recognized test for survey technicians through the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). Mr. Golding has graduated 141 students since the program began in 2008.
To gain practical experience, students concentrate their efforts on the facility’s grounds. “We work in area behind the class that is about 250 feet by 200 feet and simulate subdivisions, golf courses, roads and drainage systems,” Mr. Golding said.
The class is served by a three-member advisory board that gives technical advice on the curriculum. “This class is a good idea because it allows the students to be productive,” said advisory board member John Meise, Sr., who sells survey equipment for James River Laser & Equipment in Salem. “There is a high demand for surveyors and the guys that work in the field.”
“In recent years, the profession has become more demanding and now requires a more technically proficient worker,” Mr. Meise said. This class aims to meet that need.
Computer technology allows for enhanced mapping and greater survey accuracy. But perhaps more importantly, it allows for efficient information sharing. “It used to take three or four days to share this type of information. Now you can share it almost instantly,” Mr. Meise said.
Surveyor assistant jobs around Virginia offer a starting pay of $15 to $25 per hour. “The market is coming out of the recession and starting to hit its stride. There is going to be a need for employees with this training,” said advisory board member Rich Armstrong of Armstrong Land Surveying, Inc. in Gretna.
The students are following an example set by a pair of Virginia’s most famous historical figures, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom began their careers as surveyors.
More information on the VADOC can be found at www.vadoc.virginia.gov.