Student combines interests through Penn State Wilkes-Barre's surveying program

A man wearing a baseball cap standing outside next to a piece of surveying equipment.

Nathan Crotts.

Credit: Penn State

LEHMAN, Pa. — From growing up on a farm to spending summers at a hay baling operation, Nathan Crotts has always liked spending time outside. He also enjoys math, he said, and found that Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s surveying engineering program would allow him to combine his interests and passions.

“Many of the aspects of surveying appeal to those of us who grew up on farms, especially the outdoor time and love for hard work,” said Crotts, a junior studying surveying engineering. “These aspects fit really well into a surveying career. It’s enjoyable work for us and we have a lot of freedom to choose what kind of work we want to do.”

Crotts’ parents owned and operated a dairy fairy started by his great-grandfather, an immigrant from Germany who first purchased the land in Bucks County. Although his family’s farm shut down in 2013 at a time when thousands of dairy farms across the country were closing, Crotts still spent plenty of time outside. For three years in high school, he worked at a local hay farm, moving hay bales, loading them onto trucks and delivering the hay to horse farms.

Once he decided to pursue the study of surveying engineering, he knew he wanted to get a Penn State degree. Penn State Wilkes-Barre is the only school in Pennsylvania to offer a surveying engineering degree. Fewer than 20 programs in the country offer a bachelor’s degree in surveying and only six offer an engineering degree in surveying.

Penn State Wilkes-Barre connection

In addition to his hay baling job, Crotts is employed by a surveying firm in Bucks County during the summer. At Crews Surveying, he works about 50 hours a week both as part of a team and as an individual performing land surveying tasks ranging from boundary surveys to reality capture projects.

“I’m very grateful for my boss (Adam Crews) and the experience he’s given me,” Crotts said. “It’s a small company and Adam gave me a lot of trust and responsibility. The experience gained here really complemented what I learned in my course work and gave me the ability to diversify my skills and knowledge.”

Though Crotts didn’t know it when he inquired about a position at Crews, Crews also attended Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s surveying engineering program, graduating in 2002.

“Nathan was proactive in expressing interest in pursuing employment. He also demonstrated clear knowledge and familiarity with the industry concepts and theories,” said Adam Crews, owner and president of the firm. “I knew the expectation the program has for its graduates and was confident in the potential knowledge and abilities that Nathan would bring with him into the company. He is a hard and honest worker. He continuously exhibits a pursuit of learning and a willingness to apply his learned and experiential knowledge to new concepts and to apply existing technologies for unique and untested purposes.”

Opportunities at Penn State Wilkes-Barre

Crotts serves as the president of Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s Surveying Society, a student chapter of the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors (PSLS). The club organizes various activities throughout the year, particularly during National Surveyors Week, held annually the third week of March. This year, members planned a cornhole tournament open to all campus students to raise awareness of the surveying engineering program and Surveying Society. The Surveying Society also helps all its incoming students create résumés and organizes career opportunity presentations from a variety of local employers.

A contingent of students from the Surveying Society attended last year’s PSLS state conference, where they were able to meet and network with professionals in the field, including the director of the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). Penn State Wilkes-Barre students will attend the NSPS national competition in Arlington, Virginia, from April 21 to 24.

“The Surveying Society is a great benefit for those of us studying surveying engineering,” Crotts said. “You get more and stronger connections with your classmates who are in all different years and can learn from their knowledge. We also have many companies come in and speak to us, giving us valuable networking experience and connections.” 

He said he has more opportunities by attending a smaller campus like Penn State Wilkes-Barre, including the ability to work on undergraduate research with faculty members.

“I don’t just want to take classes. I really want to be active and have a lot of student involvement, and I’ve been able to get that here,” he said. “I want to be on a research team and take the opportunity to go out into the field whenever I can. The experience, the opportunity for growth and the overall knowledge base you get from the surveying engineering program are quite beneficial.”

Post-graduation plans

Crotts plans to continue working at Crew’s to gain and further diversify his knowledge in the field. He hopes to take the test for his Surveyor in Training certification in the fall and then begin studying for his surveying license. He is also working to attain his drone pilot license.

“Because of what I’m learning in my classes and in working for Adam, I feel I will be prepared to take my licensing exam,” he said. “Penn State Wilkes-Barre’s program is continuing to stay on top of trends in technology and curriculum. I have been able to take my knowledge and the indoor work I have done and apply it to actual job sites outdoors.”