Academic Excellence Award Student News

A Second Career in Surveying

Academic Excellence Award – Dan Fjell, Associate of Applied Science in Surveying & Civil Engineering Technology

Determined to embark on a new career, Dan Fjell knew that Dunwoody’s Surveying & Civil Engineering Technology program would set him on the right path. From the beginning, he hasn’t wasted an opportunity — in or out of class — to absorb knowledge, network, and gain valuable experience in the field. His drive to participate and assist others along the way has made him stand out. 

“In his first year as a student, Dan secured a position with a well-respected surveying and engineering firm,” said Jake Blue, Assistant Professor of Surveying & Civil Engineering. “In his second year, he became the president of the Metro area chapter of the Minnesota Society of Professional Surveyors [MSPS]. Which is, I believe, the first time an enrolled student has ever held that position. Impressive, to say the least.”

The MSPS is a professional organization whose mission is to enhance and promote the land surveying profession in Minnesota. Among other stated objectives, it strives to unite all licensed land surveyors in the state, to elevate standards, and uphold a rigorous code of ethics.

Early on, Blue took notice of Fjell’s leadership abilities in the classroom.

“He has stellar attendance, his assignments are always on time, and his work is of the highest quality,” Blue said. “He helps his fellow classmates whenever they are in need, and has quickly become a role model for students, both academically and professionally. He is a standout student and a leader in the classroom.” 

Blue was proud to nominate Fjell for a 2023 Academic Excellence Award from the Construction Sciences & Building Technology department.

A 2001 graduate of Manhattan High School in Manhattan, Kansas, Fjell went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation and Sports Management in 2007 from Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas.

He held positions in outdoor recreation in Colorado before moving to Minnesota in 2009, where he continued to work in the field. However, a desire to continue learning and a long-time interest in land surveying, spurred him to consider a return to college. Investigating local options, he felt that Dunwoody’s program offered the best approach.

“Dunwoody stood out for the emphasis on AutoCAD and for the opportunities of career development with career fairs,” Fjell said.

Dunwoody’s AAS degree prepares students to take the National Society of Professional Surveyors Certified Survey Technician Level 1 exam. A 22 credit (one year) Land Surveying Certificate is also offered as a route to licensure if a student already holds a bachelor’s degree.

“With my previous degree, I was able to choose between the certificate program and the associate degree program. I chose to pursue the associate degree program at Dunwoody,” he said.

Fjell knew this was the right move. “Life is short. It was time to leave my career in outdoor recreation to pursue becoming licensed as a land surveyor in Minnesota.”

As a freshman, Fjell joined MSPS. He estimates that there are about 200 members in the metro area chapter, so he knew it would be a good source for networking and career insight. Peers quickly recognized his passion for the profession and nominated him to take on a leadership role in the organization. His one-year term as president began on December 12, 2022.

In March, another key moment in his college career occurred. Fjell joined five other Dunwoody students to travel to Washington, D.C., where they took part in a national competition hosted by the National Society of Professional Surveyors. The contest involved using old-fashioned tools and techniques to survey monuments around the nation’s capital.

To prepare, the Dunwoody team met weekly outside of class to practice with analog equipment and surveying methods. During the competition, activities included using tools such as a four-sided traverse with an antique compass and a precision optical instrument called a theodolite. Points were awarded based on the difficulty and distance traveled to each location and included access to areas not often open to the public.

The Dunwoody team brought home Honorable Mention and was noted for its good sportsmanship and morale during the competition. For Fjell, the experience offered a valuable, hands-on opportunity that broadened his perspective and appreciation for the field.

“Learning about historical surveying techniques and being able to apply this knowledge has been the most memorable,” said Fjell.

Fjell currently works as a survey technician for Egan, Field & Nowak, and plans to become a licensed surveyor after graduation.

“Dunwoody gave me hope about creating a new career for myself,” Fjell said. “Taking this career step has been a challenging and rewarding experience. Life is too short to be miserable at work. Find something that you are passionate about and pursue that with all your energy and resources!”