Engineering and Humanities

I’m fifteen minutes away from heading out to meet a group of friends (librarians, archaeologists, historians, humanities people) for lunch. Earlier this morning, just before Molly and I set out to hunter-gather for Saturday mid-morning breakfast, I came across Loretta Jackson-Hayes call for STEM folks to get into those arts and humanities classrooms before graduation (keep with it after graduation, too, no matter where life takes you). The article reminded me just a bit of the opportunity I had last summer (2014) to work in the Bakken oilfields of western North Dakota.

My evening notes from watching YouTube land survey tutorials while working on road construction in the Bakken summer 2014.

My evening notes from watching YouTube land survey tutorials while working on road construction in the Bakken summer 2014.

I spent several months working around Williston and Watford City, North Dakota. Williston is the arguable center of the Bakken universe, and Watford City can easily contest that. While in Williston, I befriended colleagues in the important business and profession of Land Survey. I helped them out, watching intensely what they were doing, and anticipating what they would need from me 2 to 5 chess moves in the immediate future.

We searched for section line corner markers throughout the summer. This is applied historic archaeology at its finest. In addition to me learning what land surveyors do, the land surveyors would ask me about my line of work, the world of cultural resource management and historic preservation. It was fun to show them, for example, stone circles in situ within the Native prairie, and to explain to them what different tribal groups have explained to me about the importance of those stone circles.

I also took up some work with a land survey group on the Watford City bypass. I helped pound hubs, as the phrase went. Pounding hubs means that wood stakes are driven into the ground with a 3lb hammer to specific elevations. The head construction manager then uses these stakes to determine where gravel and soil needs to be unloaded by a seemingly endless convoy of semi-tractor trailers. All of the drops are recorded .

While pounding hubs in the day, I wanted to learn about the gauging and marking of elevations with a level. After work in the late evenings I plugged into YouTube and brought up land survey tutorials. I familiarized myself with back-sighting and fore-sighting, turning points and benchmarks. I also took notes.

I thought about all of that this morning as I read what Loretta Jackson-Hayes said about the importance of science, humanities, engineering, arts, mathematics, and technology, at least if we are going to understand existing systems and create new and better systems for tomorrow. I hear the phrase STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) and another phrase STEAM, which adds “Art” to the original STEM. That’s important, but I want to advance the phrase SHTEAM, adding the “H” for Humanities. Civilization and culture is in a perpetual state of evolution. It has to be to stay healthy and thrive. We can train those tomorrow how not only to respond to culture, but how to spearhead culture, to be the avant-garde. Okay, my tangent has to end for now, because I need to dash to my luncheon.


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