Connie Villari was introduced to surveying while getting her degree in geography at the University of Minnesota. “It’s not something a lot of people have sought out—it’s something you kind of fall into,” Connie Villari said of her 20-year career as a licensed land surveyor.
For the most part, Villari works in the office at Cornerstone Land Surveying in Stillwater. “I basically do the project management. I’m licensed by the state to review the work done in the field. I set up their projects, so they can go out in the field knowing exactly what’s on a site. While the surveyors are in the field, they send data back. I review information and do more mathematical computations so they can set the monuments. Then I take the information and make a map — or oversee the people who make the map,” Villari said.
The job requires math skills, Villari acknowledged: “Trigonometry, geometry, algebra, but nothing to get math anxiety over. Most of our work is with surveying programs or an AutoCAD environment. Most surveyors have more writing anxiety, because they use a different part of the brain.”
Villari estimates that technology — being able to send emails from the field or look up information online — has reduced the time it takes to produce a survey by 20 percent. Time is often of the essence. “Commercial properties need a survey that meets the standards of the American Land Title Association (ALTA) and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM). If a lender in California is doing a deal here, the survey meets the same standards. If everyone is relying on closing quickly, you can’t get too ruffled by deadlines,” Villari said.
The best part about her job, Villari said, is helping clients solve their problems. “Homeowners call, upset because they have a problem. It’s not difficult. They just don’t know what they need to do. The satisfaction comes from helping them understand what they need,” she said.
What else do you do besides setting up survey projects and creating maps?
We plat property for new subdivisions. Licensed surveyors write legal descriptions—if the city needs an easement for a storm sewer, we describe where the easement will fall. We give professional opinions about legal descriptions. We help solve boundary questions or boundary problems when legal descriptions overlap.
What’s the best path into the career?
A lot of times it’s a summer job — we’re busy in the summer. Many jobs like field crew help and survey CAD technicians do not require a degree or test taking. People try it and say, “Hey, I like this.” I’ve seen quite a few engineering students who transition toward surveying because the career path is more open — there aren’t as many of us.
How do you become licensed in Minnesota?
The first step to licensure is the Fundamentals of Land Surveying Test or LSIT. Upon passing, you are designated as a Land Surveyor in Training. The Land Surveyor Exam is the last step, usually taken a few years after the LSIT. It consists of a 6-hour national test plus a 2-hour local component. The process usually takes 5 to 10 years depending on the experience and enthusiasm of the person.
Is it rare for a woman to be a licensed surveyor?
There are 15 or 20 licensed women surveyors out of 500 or 600 total in Minnesota. I haven’t faced any undue obstacles in my career. It’s more about girls being introduced to science. People remember me — I never have to worry about fading into obscurity. □