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Live! Inside a Civil Engineering Technology surveying lab

In this series, we provide a closer look at hands-on learning during COVID-19.While COVID-19 means online learning for most Tidewater Community College students, some are in the classroom for hands-on training. In fact, more than 400 sections of classes in interior design, automotive, health professions, welding, veterinary technology, culinary arts, visual arts, electronics technology and other programs have on-campus components. 

A closer look at a geomatics lab

Geomatics requires working with Earth-based data or spatial data and is a requirement for the associate degree in Civil Engineering Technology and certificates in Construction Project Management and Land Surveying. Surveyors work with spatial data regularly. TCC’s geomatics lab (CIV 175) offers a hands-on opportunity to practice with instrumentation tools, which includes automatic levels and total stations.

Geomatics lab is conducted in the great outdoors with all of the equipment set up prior to class time. Students work in groups of two separated by a distance of 100 feet or more.  They practice gathering field data with both traditional and modern instruments.

“Surveying is a fundamental course and the foundation for any kind of construction,” said Chris Cartwright, head of TCC’s Civil Engineering Technology program.

Students use the same equipment that engineers and surveyors work with every day to make measurements. 

“We are fortunate to keep our group size to only two students per group maximizing the time each student has to practice the techniques necessary to operate the equipment,” Cartwright said.

Student voices

“Being outdoors and the hands-on practice of what we’d be doing in the real world is the best part about being back on campus,” said Mary Otterbourg.

“I enjoy the hands on work. It’s hard to do everything online, so doing this in person makes it much better,” said Marcus Rolle. “My favorite part about this class is enhancing my skills. I do this in the Navy, so taking this class will help me use this skill in the civilian world.”

“I love the surveying, getting to learn and use the instruments,” said Kellie Burchfield.

About the professor

Cartwright started as an adjunct faculty member at TCC in the spring 1999 and transitioned to full time position in August 2002. The TCC alumnus transferred to Virginia Tech to earn his bachelor’s in civil engineering. He holds a master’s from Arkansas University in environmental engineering.

Good to Know

If students can’t make it to campus for lab, they can pursue another option in the fall that allows them to work with a licensed land surveyor as a mentor to compete all requirements.

 More information

To learn more about TCC’s Civil Engineering Technology program, email Cartwright at or or call 757-822-1111.

Knowing this code can get you a job – fast. Meet the TCC instructor who teaches it

If learning building codes sounds dry, you’ve never taken Christina Jackson’s class at Tidewater Community College.

The code team leader for the City of Norfolk uses real-world examples to make the International Residential Code come alive to a classroom of contractors, veterans, future engineers and recent high school graduates. Better yet, her class prepares students for a certification exam that, upon passage, makes them eligible to be a building code inspector or plan reviewer of I and II family homes. Salaries start in the $40,000 range.

“One certification and you can have a job,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there. It can become a career. It’s easy to be cherry picked if you’re good.”

Complete TCC’s Career Studies Certificate in Construction Project Management or Associate of Applied Science in Civil Engineering Technology, and you could go even further.

“TCC’s programs are a doorway to get people to where they’re going to be needed in the future,” Jackson said.

The Dayton, Ohio, native fell into the field after starting as an accountant. She began her code inspection career with a national corporation that did building code enforcement for different localities in the greater Cincinnati and Dayton areas. Jackson transitioned into an inspection role and found a career path that appealed to her “community first” attitude.

“If you’ve ever seen the show ‘Hoarders,’ I was the one from the city telling you to clean up your house,” she said with a laugh.

The 30-chapter textbook for the BLD 115 class on the Virginia Beach Campus rivals the thickness of the dictionary, but it’s a good investment for anyone planning to make a career in the field. “I cover the first 10 chapters in my class,” she said. “Once you buy the book, you’ll refer to it for all the codes for building a house inside and out – electrical, mechanical, plumbing. It’s all in there.”

Most of us don’t think about codes until disaster strikes, she said. When a tsunami or hurricane impacts a home, an investigation can reveal that a structure wasn’t up to code leading to liability issues. “By knowing the code before you build, you’re thinking about it on the front end, not the back and you can prevent problems,” she said. “If you’re in construction or drawing up plans, you have to know the code.”

The most tedious detail is relevant.

“Let’s say you’re building a roof,” she said. “There’s even a code for the type of fasteners to use.”

Jackson incorporates a virtual inspection into the class so students can decide if a building passes or fails.

Learning building code is a portable skill; Jackson is the wife of a Navy chief stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. She was able to easily transition to an inspection job in Newport News after working in Ohio and ultimately landed at the City of Norfolk in 2011. It’s not unusual for her to manage 20 inspections in one day.

As one of the region chairs for the Virginia Building and Code Officials Association, she has an eye out for jobs for qualified students. Jackson is also a founding board member of Women in Code Enforcement and Development; she currently serves as the vice president of the Virginia chapter. She aspires to be a chief building official and enjoys introducing the field to self-motivated students.

“There’s a need for code inspectors right here,” she said. “One of the best parts of being an inspector is seeing the transformation of your neighborhood, your corner of the city. It’s just an awesome job.”

Reach out to Jackson with questions at