Chris is the manager for the Survey, Mapping, and Geospatial Technology Group at CH2M HILL’s office in Bellevue, Washington.

CH2M HILL is a global engineering and design firm based in Englewood, Colorado.

EARLY WORK

As a child growing up in San Diego, California, Chris became interested in geography and the outdoors during family road trips in the summer. “We would take trips back east,” he says. “Driving back east and just seeing the wonders that went on outside in the world and stopping at the Grand Canyon, that’s really what got it for me.”

Chris says a lot of his childhood was spent exploring the open space around his home. The area would later become Mission Trails Regional Park. “As a kid growing up, there was just all kinds of adventures, hiking and playing,” he says. “That developed my love for being outdoors.”

After graduating from San Diego Mesa College with a degree in electronics technology, Chris was offered a position as a land surveyor at a small engineering company. “Really, I just needed a job,” he says.

Chris found land surveying to be a refreshing change of pace. “Really what drew me to this was I liked being outside,” he says. “But I also enjoyed the challenge of having to use my brain and think through some of the things of where this project is going. Or what’s the best way to get from Point A to Point B.”

MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

“It is definitely the different projects that I get to work on,” says Chris, whose work has taken him to far-flung places like Afghanistan and Bahrain. “I get to do some pretty interesting things.”

MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

Chris says it can be very difficult to complete projects in isolated geographic areas, including mountains and deserts. “Sometimes it can be challenging to just get access to some sites,” he adds.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

“Geography to me would be the study of the lay of the land,” Chris says. “Where are things? How do I get somewhere? How do I get something there? What path am I going to have to take to get from Point A to Point B? How do I get where I need to be and to get accomplished what I need to get accomplished?”

GEO-CONNECTION

Chris says geography is an integral part of land surveying. “One of the big things talking about geography is the importance of water as boundaries. . . . Rivers change their course over time, and that means the boundaries of properties change over time,” he says. “So geography and land surveying are incredibly tied together.

“One of the things that is challenging for us is the geography,” Chris says. Unusual landscapes in remote regions can prevent use of such tools as GPS receivers, which Chris and his team rely on. “Particularly if we are doing a project that is in a valley and we are getting blocked out by the geography in view of the satellite, that makes our work a lot more challenging.”

Chris had to use geography when working on a storm-drainage plan for Bagram Airfield, a U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. “The most important part of the job is to study where the natural drainage courses are, so we can point the water in those areas . . . and set them up in areas that can be used by the native people out there,” he says. “So it’s not just put it into a ditch and pipe it out. It’s so it can be used by the native Afghanis for farming and agricultural uses.”

SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . LAND SURVEYOR

“Geography would be a great place to start,” he says, if you plan to do the mapping side of surveying.

But Chris notes that being a land surveyor involves having a broad range of knowledge. “We have to know the law, because we get into boundary disputes and things of that nature,” he says. “There’s a strict set of rules that we have to follow when researching property boundaries.”

GET INVOLVED

Chris says people interested in land surveying should study or follow the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, which traces the route that explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took during their expedition from 1804 to 1806. “They did so much in the study of how you got from St. Louis all the way to the West Coast,” he says. “They did a lot of mapping.”

Land Surveyor: Chris Royak

Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

Mountain Men
Chris notes that three of the four figures on Mount Rushmore National Monument in Keystone, South Dakota, were land surveyors in addition to being presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.

accomplish
Verb

to succeed or complete a goal.

Noun

the art and science of cultivating land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

Noun

line separating geographical areas.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

dispute
Noun

debate or argument.

drain
Verb

to empty.

electricity
Noun

set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.

engineering
Noun

the art and science of building, maintaining, moving, and demolishing structures.

expedition
Noun

journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

farming
Noun

the art, science, and business of cultivating the land for growing crops.

Noun

study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

geospatial
Adjective

having to do with geography and location.

GPS receiver
Noun

device that gets radio signals from satellites in orbit above Earth in order to calculate a precise location.

Grand Canyon
Noun

large gorge made by the Colorado River in the U.S. state of Arizona.

integral
Adjective

very important.

isolate
Verb

to set one thing or organism apart from others.

Lewis and Clark Expedition
Noun

(1804-1806) first journey by U.S. explorers to the Pacific Coast and back to U.S. territory.

Noun

armed forces.

mountain
Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

property
Noun

goods or materials (including land) owned by someone.

satellite
Noun

object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or artificial.

storm drain
Noun

system to empty streets of excess rainwater. Storm drains flow into local creeks, rivers, or seas.

strict
Adjective

always or almost always following limits, rules, or regulations.

survey
Noun

a study or analysis of characteristics of an area or a population.

surveyor
Noun

person who analyzes the specific boundaries and features of a piece of land using mathematical concepts such as geometry.

valley
Noun

depression in the Earth between hills.