A perfect fit: Geomatics term assistant professor David Brock discusses finding his place at UAA

by Ted Kincaid, College of Engineering  |   

David Brock, term assistant professor in the Department of Geomatics  talks with students from his Engineering Surveying course
Term Assistant Professor David Brock talks with students from his Engineering Surveying course as they tour the work being done by the Municipality of Anchorage to replace the Chester Creek culverts under Providence Drive outside UAA during the summer of 2021. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Some offices are a curated representation of a person’s ideal professional message: replicas of paintings of flowers, diplomas, pictures of their loved ones from Hawaii circa 2009 and a silk plant or two. Other people decorate their offices in a manner that truly represents themselves. David Brock is one of those people, and he pointed this out as he gazed around a bookshelf covered in surveying gear, Lego cats, rockets and other memorabilia. One can easily imagine this is what it’s like to walk around in Brock’s head.

Brock graduated from UAA with a degree in geomatics in 2015, only to return to the department in 2019 as a term assistant professor. 

Surveying is in Brock’s blood. His great grandfather learned the trade after WWI and surveyed until he was 90. He could have retired earlier, but he loved it. On the other hand, Brock’s grandfather, who was also a surveyor, worked three jobs so he could retire at 50. Brock still has fond memories of holding lath while his grandfather made measurements. 

When it came time for Brock to make a career choice, his grandfather encouraged him to go into engineering like his dad. In the late 1990s, Brock went to school at the University of Cincinnati and earned a degree in materials engineering. His first job was in a shop putting a ceramic coating on jet engine parts, but he spent most of his days sending emails and reformatting instruction manuals. There was minimal engineering to be done, and Brock was not upset when the company laid off most of his office. 

For Brock, moving to Alaska was an easy transition. He was in the midst of a career that didn't work for his needs and experiencing changes in his professional and personal life when his wife, Jennie Brock, landed a job in Alaska as a mechanical engineering professor.  

“Some people spend longer thinking about what to order at a restaurant than they do on the big decision to move to Alaska,” Brock said. “I am in that camp.” 

However, he initially had few plans outside of supporting his wife’s goals. After landing in Anchorage, he looked around for something to do. After scanning the opportunities in his new environment, he decided it was high time for a career change. He began working on a geomatics degree at UAA, following in his great grandfather’s and grandfather’s steps as a surveyor.

After graduation, David often worked in remote areas of Alaska and lived his best life. “Basically, I was shooting things with lasers,” he said.

Over the next few years, Alaska’s economy took a hit from low oil prices, eventually leading to the state’s budget crisis. Coincidently, as UAA began to feel those economic impacts, faculty and staff started seeking opportunities elsewhere. In just a few months, the Department of Geomatics lost two of its four full-time professors, and they needed to hire replacements as soon as possible. But their first effort ended in a failed search; just as they offered a suitable candidate the job, the University of Alaska System’s former president declared financial exigency. Unsure about the future of UAA, the candidate ultimately declined the offer. 

This left the Department of Geomatics in a challenging position. Courses still needed instructors, students still needed a valuable education, and the industry needed new surveyors. Thankfully, Alaska has a strong surveying network, and it wasn’t long before Brock heard about the opening. He reached out to the department chair, Caixia Wang. Within days, he found himself on a survey crew in the middle of the woods, interviewing by phone with the dean of the College of Engineering. Two weeks later, Brock was back in Anchorage as the newest faculty member of the Department of Geomatics. A job that is a good fit for him and a good fit for UAA.

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