III Year Civ Eng Cadets develop technical abilities, leadership, and management skills

Maj. Vlachopoulos’ “20% factor”

By: OCdt Eric Robb 24992

April 17th 0755– The third year Civil Engineering students leisurely strolled into the basement of Girourard, happy to be out of the cold for the time being.  Their stern professor, Major Nicholas Vlachopoulos (19930), immediately set the tone as the stragglers arrived.  The college wide perception that Survey Camp was easy was immediately put to rest as we were given our daily schedule; smiles slowly faded away.  The next two weeks were going to be a great learning experience for each student, and the skill sets they would come away with would be both useful and unique.

Figure 1 – Iwo Jima, Survey Camp Style

The 23 students were split into 5 separate groups that they would work with for the next two weeks surveying different sections of the historic campus.  Each group would complete similar tasks compiled with Laboratory write ups every day for the first week, and follow up with a final project in which they would present their engineering reports the second week.  Peering outside and viewing the rain pouring down, the professor ended the first briefing by emphasizing that it would be a tough week, both mentally and physically, and the best way to stay effective is to “be unrelentingly positive”.  The students frantically took notes, developed a game plan for their first task of the week, and threw on their new uniform for the week – Traffic Vests.

Figure 2 – Mr. Larry Harvey, Survey Technologist explains the intricacies behind the DGPS while students and staff intently listen.

The third year Civil Engineers have taken two full classes this past year in the field of Geomatics.  The term Geomatics is defined as the ‘scientific and engineering activities that involve the capture, storage, analysis, processing, presentation, dissemination, and management of geospatial information’.  In English, that means that the students survey the ground to collect geospatial data, and work in the lab for hours to try and make sense of it!

The skill sets required to complete the survey camp had previously been ‘acquired’ throughout the year, however to put it to practical, engineering use was a different story.  Day 1 consisted of verifying that all of the incredibly accurate and expensive instruments worked the way they were supposed to.  The cold third years worked out the kinks that they had developed during exams, and began to feel comfortable with the equipment once again. The different roles that were taken on with pride in the surveying comprise of System operator, Rod-man, and Note taker.  The system operator is a difficult and technical role that forces the user to become an expertise with the instrument.  The system operator must know exactly what has to be done, and how the instrument can help the group complete their mission.  The Rod man’s role is of great importance, and he must be incredibly knowledgeable and aware of the points he is to be standing over.  The Rod man must have the steadiest hand of all, and must not be fazed by wind in the least.  Last, but certainly not least is the note taker, or scribe.  It is paramount the note taker keeps incredibly organized field notes that can be understood by anyone looking at them.  Furthermore, the scribe must always know the task to be completed, and have a deep understanding that allows figures to be drawn and understood by Arts-men.

From left to right:

Figure 3 – Group 3 enjoying the rain while conducting a detailed survey

Figure 4 – OCdt Bouwman as a Rodman

Figure 5 – Two OCdt’s demonstrating how not to use the measuring tape

Each surveyor must be able to take on any role at any time, so it is incredibly important that each student become a master at each.  Every day was different, and the students quickly adapted to the changing tasks, instructions, weather conditions, and technical blunders.  One of the best things that the young engineers learned in survey camp was the Maj. Vlachopoulos’ “20% factor”.  In order to ensure a smooth success in any mission, the engineer must always plan for 20% more on contingency, timings, resources, weather, etc.  The students painfully found out that this was the hard truth.  After many hours of playing with bugged out computer programs and performing mental gymnastics to get the correct angle in an azimuth calculation, they were glad they had took the Major’s advice.  It taught the engineers to continually be proactive with everything that they came across in survey camp.  These traits were seen when the class took a day trip to the Mapping and Charting Establishment in Ottawa, where they saw firsthand both junior and senior combat engineering officers and their roles and success as Geomatics specialists.

Figure 6 – Students receiving a brief from the Mapping and Charting Establishment

Figure 7 – OCdt Ouellet with a true Engineer

Overall, the third year Civil Engineering Survey Camp (CEE 363B) was a great learning experience that helped to develop technical abilities, leadership, and management skills that will be useful in our future careers.   The ability to cooperate with your peers through the tough weather, the mental strains, and the stressful deadlines was paramount in developing a young engineer.  A large amount of effort was put in daily by the third years, and the work ethic paid off in the end with some stellar presentations of their findings.  The importance of writing organization and neatness was strongly emphasized, however it was equally important to maintain moral in tough times by the daily soup and coffee run from the mess.   All of these skills were necessary in self discovery within the students, and are skills that will be utilized as junior engineers, and officers in the Canadian Forces.


From left to right:

Figure 8 – OCdt’s LeBlanc and Cressman with levelling equitment

Figure 9 – OCdt Apedaile enjoying the spicey Soup de Jour

Figure 10 – OCdt Donkor performing mental gymnastics while waving his want at Excel

Figure 11 – OCdt Bouwman overcoming difficulties with his 6’4 frame


Figure 12 – Group 3’s final product – a Detailed survey and horizontal curve