Meet Kevin Robar, LSIT, Second Generation Alaskan and R&Mer, and Fourth Generation Surveyor!

October 7, 2016
K Robar Surveying

Kevin field surveying for the Mertarvik Waterfront Development project.

Meet Land Surveyor Kevin Robar, LSIT. He’s a second generation Alaskan and R&Mer, and fourth generation surveyor!

How did you get into surveying?

I actually swore I’d never be a surveyor. I’m a fourth generation surveyor. My great grandfather was a surveyor in the early 1900s and surveyed for the railroad in the Amazon jungle. My grandfather owned his own surveying/civil engineering business and my dad is a surveyor with R&M. After I was born, at a week old, I went straight to the office since my mother worked as a receptionist there. I basically grew up in the business.

But, instead of falling into the family business, I wanted to do my own thing. I ended up joining the Marine Corps after graduating high school.

What made you decide to join the Marines?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation, but I knew I didn’t want to sit in a classroom. I was in the ROTC in high school with a Marine Master Sergeant instructor. I have always been a good shot; I was on the rifle team at Service High School. My ROTC instructor was the rifle team coach, a former sniper and marine rifle team shooter. He inspired me to join the service.

Kevin Caribou hunting.

Kevin caribou hunting.

What was your job in the Marine Corps?

I worked in security forces and counter terrorism. I was stationed in King’s Bay, Georgia at the naval Submarine Base. My unit was responsible for guarding the nuclear weapons facility there.

I was in the Marines for five years, so I was able to travel around the world and go overseas. I was in the fleet infantry in Okinawa and went to the Gulf in 2003. I got out after that deployment.

Once you came home, was that when you decided to become a Surveyor?

When I left the Marine Corps, I moved to Florida and became a store manager for Home Depot. I really liked that job before eventual corporate changes took all the fun out of it. I had always planned on going back to school – my GI Bill from the military paid for all my school expenses, as well as my living expenses while attending school – but I wasn’t quite sure for what. One day, I was sitting at a restaurant in Daytona, when my mother called me. She starting talking about a project my father was working on out in one of the villages. They were dealing with crazy weather, logistical problems and every kind of bad luck imaginable, but it sounded like a great adventure. I thought, that sounds like a lot more fun than this, I should do that. I ended up working as a field surveyor at R&M while working on my Geomatics degree at UAA. So despite my best efforts, I got pulled into the family business anyway. I guess it’s just in the blood!

How did you end up at R&M?

My father works at R&M so I had an in here. I went in for an interview with Bill Cohen and got the job. They knew me, knew I was good in the woods, so they gave me a shot. A lot of the work is in rural Alaska and you have to have the right personality and really understand the reality of working out there for long periods of time in order to get the job done and not hate life doing it.

I stayed at R&M because it’s a great company to work for. Everyone I work with is a true professional and well respected in their field. R&M likes to stay on the cutting edge of the tech curve and offer clients quality and services that others aren’t offering. Doing work is easy, doing the best and most innovative work is challenging. New instruments and analysis tools not only make what we already do easier and faster, but expand our capability to do things we could never do before.

Do you have a favorite project? And why is that your favorite?

It was a hydrographic and upland survey for the village of Kivalina. The village is located on what used to be a spit, but due to erosion it’s now an island, and that island is getting smaller. They were planning on building an escapement bridge to the mainland. I spent three weeks there with another surveyor working out of a boat using sonar. There were three areas we had to survey – river, lagoon and open ocean.

It was very challenging. We had to work with the villagers to get a boat and a guide. With the weather conditions, wind and waves, it was hard to get the surveys done. The lagoon was barely deep enough to run the boat, much less the sonar, so we had to get creative.

We also conducted an upland survey, which included the shoreline, utilities and a small boundary survey.

I liked the complexity of the project. There were lots of different parts that came together to make the final product. The village people were also very cool; just very friendly and happy to help. We were there during Fourth of July and they invited us to participate in all the activities, the BBQ and different games they had going on.

What do you like the most about surveying?

I like the variety of work I get to do. We have a term, “field to finish,” and everything from planning and logistics to mapping is included. Lots of work goes into the final product. It’s cool to see a finished professional product that has so much work behind it.

It’s also a field where the technology is changing all the time. It’s always getting better and opens doors to do things that have never been done before. There is always something new to learn.

Surveyors are typically the first ones out at a project site, before any work has been done. It’s very cool being able to say we were the first ones out in an area, before it was anything, and now it’s a highway, building or runway.

Besides that, we get to travel to a lot of different places, see cool things and meet interesting people. There are a lot of opportunities to do different things, that’s why I do it.

Your father is also a surveyor at R&M. Have you worked on any projects with him?

One project. It was also a hydrographic and upland survey, for a boat harbor in the new village of Mertarvik on Nelson Island. The village of Newtok is quickly being eroded by the Ninglick River and is relocating to a new site at Mertarvik. My father and I conducted the hydrographic survey around the existing barge landing site where the Baird Inlet drains into the Ninglick River, and a topographic survey of the corresponding uplands to facilitate the design of the boat harbor.

We were supposed to be out there for about two weeks, but, due to the most amazing weather western Alaska has ever seen, we were able to get the work done in three days. We were out on the boat doing the survey for 12 hours each day because the slough the villagers run their boats out of is now tidal and dry at low tide so we could only come and go at the peak of high tide. We were heading out each day around 2:00 in the afternoon and getting back to the house around 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning. Challenging conditions for any crew and working with family can be an even greater challenge, but we actually had a pretty good time doing that one.

That was the only field project I’ve worked on with him. As a senior surveyor, he doesn’t go out into the field much anymore so usually when we work on a project together he does most of the office work and I do all the field work.

What do you see yourself doing in the future?

I plan to continue on with my survey career with R&M. I will be eligible to take the test for my survey license in about a year and a half and hope to put it good use for the team! Despite having avoided the survey profession for so long, it’s got me now. I love the work and look forward to each new project I get to work on.

Kevin has been a part of the R&M team since 2010. He originally started working seasonally as a field surveyor, joining the team full-time in 2013. Kevin has six years of surveying and mapping experience, which includes subdivision platting, boundary, topographic and hydrographic surveys for design in support of utility and site improvement projects. His experience with AutoCAD and GIS applications includes computations, data entry and production of survey and mapping and design assemblies. As a survey technician and Party Chief, he has participated in many field surveys located throughout Alaska for a variety of clients. Kevin has been involved with numerous projects under term contracts with DOT&PF, PM&E, AWWU, USACE and ARRC. He has proven to be an excellent party chief with good leadership qualities and the skills to provide highly accurate surveys and deliverables.

Kevin has a B.S. in Geomatics from the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a second generation Alaskan and a graduate of Service High School. He spends his time outside of work hunting, fishing and camping and goes four-wheeling every chance he gets. He also enjoys hockey and plays on the R&M team.