From nursing major to land surveyor: Michelle Meece’s chance opportunity

Michelle Meece, BLM Arizona land surveyor
Michelle Meece conducts a survey.

How does a nursing major become a land surveyor?

For Michelle Meece, her land surveying career began after she got a student job answering phone calls in the Bureau of Land Management’s public room. Soon, opportunity rang – not just on the phone. At that time, the cadastral survey chief asked her if she wanted to join the surveying crew for the summer.

“l literally fell in love with surveying and knew I didn't want to ever do anything else,” Meece, who instead graduated with a degree in land surveying and geomatics in 2019 from Great Basin College, said. “I changed my major and made big life changes. It was all by chance.”

Years after that chance decision, Meece worked for the U.S. Forest Service. Today, she has worked for the Arizona State Office as a land surveyor for about 15 years.

“Michelle’s contribution to the Cadastral Survey branch is immeasurable. We are extremely grateful to have her as part of the Arizona Cadastral Survey team,” said Mark Morberg, deputy state director for Lands, Minerals, Energy, and Cadastral Survey.

During National Surveyors Week, the Bureau of Land Management is highlighting surveyors, like Michelle Meece, who continue to carry out one of the oldest and most fundamental functions of the U.S. government. Without them, the BLM would be unable to be the official record keeper for over 200 years' worth of cadastral survey records and plats or complete new surveys each year.

These surveys help facilitate effective land management decisions, according to the BLM’s cadastral survey program.

But unfortunately, cadastral surveying is a field that is not well-known despite its importance.

“It's not big. Most of the time, anyone who is in school for cadastral has parents or someone in their family who was is involved in survey, so they have heard all the fun stories about how exciting it is,” Meece said. “It was different for me because I did not know even what cadastral was about.”

Three people pose for a picture in front of cacti.
The Meece family.

Starting with her summer job and evolving into her full-time work with the Bureau of Land Management, Meece has come to understand how exciting a career in land surveying is. For Meece, the thrill of the job is the scavenger hunt.

“One of my all-time favorite projects was a survey we did on the in the Mount Trumbull Wilderness Area. When you are in the wilderness, you can’t drive vehicles.” Despite the hard hiking, Meece was determined to finish the project.

“You're out there looking for stones that someone marked with a chisel over 100 years ago,” she said. “Following in someone’s footsteps is a scavenger hunt. Somebody put something out there and then told you, ‘I buried it under a pile of rocks, and you have to go find it.’”

Since she was a child, Meece has been an expert navigator. She grew up in a small, rainy town in Washington, surrounded by forests. When her family traveled to Las Vegas – a city out of their element – for her sister’s basketball tournament, Meece was the one navigating.

“Maps were always something that just clicked for me,” Meece said. “That was one of the reasons why when I decided to pursue surveying, everybody was like, yes, this is what you should have been doing all along.”

Now, she is able to share with her children and others how fulfilling her career has been as a cadastral land surveyor.

“As a professional career, cadastral is seeing a decline in the number of young people, especially women, who are willing to take a chance on surveying as a career, and I wish they knew the amazing opportunity surveying has brought to my life.”

“My advice is if it's something that you have any interest in it, definitely pursue it or get some more information, get as much information as you can because it is such an exciting career,” Meece said. “Getting to travel around the state, seeing the country, hiking everywhere is exciting."

"Surveying is like walking in the footsteps of people from the past.”


Michelle Ailport, Public Affairs Specialist

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