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Before Lake County Surveyor Bill Emerson Jr. visited Levi Paceley’s classroom, the fourth grader thought a county surveyor was a public official who gave surveys to people.

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“Or worked with judges,” said Levi, a student at Henry S. Evans Elementary School in Lake Station.

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Before the school year began, Emerson created a new presentation to get young kids interested in surveying, engineering and thinking spatially. The Lake County Junior Surveyor Program, designed for elementary school children, culminates with students receiving a certificate and an official badge in the mail.

“I thought the presentation was amazing because I looked at something far away through a theodolite and it looked very close,” said fellow student Savannah Jackson. “I learned how a surveyor uses the scope to make a straight road.”

A theodolite is a precision optical instrument for measuring angles between designated visible points in the horizontal and vertical planes. Duh. Those young students weren’t the only participants to learn something new that day.

“Mr. Emerson’s presentation provided a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn about a possible career choice and gain knowledge about the purpose of having a county surveyor’s office,” said their teacher, Susan Thompson.

The program’s first activity is to draw the layout of a local park showing the location of park equipment, trees, benches and other items, and how the park is oriented north, south, east and west. How well would you do with this task?

It’s tougher than it sounds. You need to look at things from the vantage point of a bird, a plane or an imaginative child. You need to refocus your perspective, a challenging undertaking for most adults. We tend to presume we know everything and refuse to look at issues from a wider scope of understanding. We don’t survey. We surmise. Too often prematurely.

These were my conclusions while looking through Emerson’s presentation, which explained his job duties in my favorite fashion — as if he’s talking to a 9-year-old.

“I learned that it is not good to dump dirty water into the sewers or trash into lakes or any water” said Jerimiah Termini. “The surveyor helps by cleaning up ditches, removing trees and fixing creeks.”

Five years ago, Emerson received an email from a 12-year-old boy with a rare request.

“I absolutely love collecting maps as a hobby and I was wondering if you happen to have a paper map of Lake County, Indiana?” wrote Jonah Hurwitz. “If so, do you mind mailing one to me?”

Emerson happily obliged. He was a map geek at that age. He still is. His corner office on the third floor of the county government building is filled with maps.


What is it about maps that have fascinated us for centuries yet continue to do so in the Digital Age? It must be the quadrant points of historical influence, functional importance, directional guidance, and nostalgic remembrance. Our interest likely began in our youth.

When Emerson was a student at Eggers Middle School in Hammond, an environmental scientist visited his class.

“She made me think about the environment, pollution and the world around me in a new way,” he told me. “I am trying to give a similar experience to today’s kids about surveying, science, engineering and the environment.”

As a high school senior, Emerson decided to go into engineering, followed by surveying classes at Purdue University and a career as a civil engineer. He got into public service following in the footsteps of his father, Bill Emerson Sr., a member of the Hammond City Council.

“The class was very excited to have an opportunity to complete a surveyor’s task,” Thompson said.

As a culminating activity, each fourth grader created a detailed map of their classroom using the four cardinal directions.

“Don’t forget to add a lot of details,” Emerson told them.

The students were eager to oblige and to answer his questions.

This is typically the payoff for working professionals who visit schools to share with kids their career or expertise or childlike enthusiasm for a job. More adults with interesting careers should follow Emerson’s lead by visiting a school, spending a class period with kids and sharing their experiences. You don’t need to be a public service worker to perform this simple public service.

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“The kids in all three classes participated a lot and behaved really well,” said Emerson, who also handed out candy to the students. “That always helps.”

Emerson is available to present his program to elementary school classrooms in person or virtually. Educators can schedule a presentation by calling 219-755-3745 or visiting

To top off each presentation, student earn their own junior surveyor badge, a big hit with kids.

“I now know that (Mr. Emerson) helps the land by creating ditches and getting dirty creeks clean,” Levi said after the program.

A couple weeks after his visit to the school, Emerson received an unexpected thank you card in the mail from the new “junior surveyors.”

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“Thank you for making our learning come to life!” the card stated, signed by all the kids.

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It doesn’t take a professional surveyor to map out how cool of a gift this is for anyone willing to spend some quality time with curious kids. I hope today’s column prompts more adults to consider it. Just don’t forget to bring treats.