Penn State Wilkes-Barre hosts trigonometry competition

Four people standing next to each other with a whiteboard behind them.

From left: Robert Ashford, third place; Oscar Arroyo-Mejia, second place; James Bottger, first place; and Michael Given, Pennsylvania NSPS director and Trig-Star coordinator.

Credit: Penn State

DALLAS, Pa. — Penn State Wilkes-Barre recently hosted the Trig-Star competition, an event aimed at promoting the practical application of trigonometry and raising awareness about surveying as a career path. The competition, held in the Bell Atlantic Center for Technology, took place in conjunction with National Surveyors Week, which brings awareness to the surveying profession during the third week of March every year.

Trig-Star is organized by the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). The Pennsylvania Land Surveyors’ (PLS) Foundation is an associated separate entity of the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors (PSLS) that works with PSLS membership to support the surveying profession. The PLS Foundation is the Pennsylvania statewide sponsor for Trig-Star competitions around the state.

This year, students participated in the event at Penn State Wilkes-Barre from Wilkes-Barre Area High School, Wyalusing Junior/Senior High School and Wyoming Valley West High School. The students took a timed exam, with the top three finishers receiving recognition during an awards ceremony at the end of the program. This year’s winners, all from Wilkes-Barre Area, were James Bottger, first place; Oscar Arroyo-Mejia, second place; and Robert Ashford, third place.

“It is important for universities and professional societies to collaborate and find ways to increase the awareness of surveying in the community,” said Associate Professor of Surveying Engineering Dimitrios Bolkas, coordinator of Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s surveying engineering program. “The Trig-Star competition is a great opportunity for students to connect what they learn at school with practical applications and learn about surveying. Our program has a long history with NSPS through the Trig-Star competition and our efforts to educate students about surveying and practical uses of math through surveying.”

In addition to the exam, students had the opportunity to hear from Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s surveying engineering students and faculty, participate in hands-on demonstrations, enjoy lunch, tour the campus and listen to a guest speaker. This year's speaker was James Kovalik, a Penn State Wilkes-Barre graduate who works at Verdantas as a principal/reality capture department leader.

“Bringing students on campus is always exciting because we get to talk about surveying engineering,” Bolkas said. “Students learn how the profession has changed in the last 20 to 30 years. They are always amazed about the use of technology in surveying including drones, laser scanning, point clouds and 3D modeling, and in the last few years, the use of artificial intelligence to support mapping.”

Michael J. Given, Pennsylvania NSPS director and Trig-Star coordinator, said he appreciates the collaboration between the professional organizations and Penn State Wilkes-Barre.

“On behalf of NSPS, PSLS and the PLS Foundation, I would like to express my appreciation to the Penn State Wilkes-Barre faculty and staff who make this annual event such a great opportunity for high school students to see the practical application of trigonometry and to see firsthand the exciting career opportunities available within the profession of land surveying,” he said.

The PLS Foundation was created in 1990 and has awarded $374,000 in scholarships to Pennsylvania residents in a surveying program. The foundation has supported educational institutions such as Penn State Wilkes-Barre through educational grants for faculty, research and equipment. The foundation has also supported the Penn State Wilkes-Barre chapter of PSLS to attend the NSPS Student Competition in Washington, D.C.