Growing up in Puerto Rico, Annie Olivieri dreamed of one day becoming an archaeologist. Although she chose a career in land surveying instead, some days she finds parallels when she is searching for historical clues.
“When you start doing the research and looking for old documents – when you need to do a boundary survey or verify title to a piece of property – it’s like you’re doing a jigsaw puzzle,” she said. “It’s really exciting when you start putting all the pieces together.”
As a land surveying coordinator for Duke Energy based in Lake Mary, Fla., Olivieri brings a unique perspective to a historically male-dominated profession.
“Coming from a different area and being a woman in the profession – it really speaks to who she is as far as looking to take on challenges,” said Daniel Thibodeau, manager of land surveying for Duke Energy. “It is not that uncommon to come across women engineers even though it has traditionally been a male-dominated profession, but it is certainly more rare to come across women professional surveyors. She’s really making strides.”
Olivieri didn’t set out to break gender barriers.
When she was accepted to the University of Puerto Rico at age 17, she intended to become a physician – she liked science and biology, and an aunt convinced her she would be able to support herself better in medicine than in archaeology. But the campus where she was accepted, near her hometown of Guanica, specialized in engineering, not medicine. So Olivieri enrolled instead in a field of study that had an opening: land surveying.
“I look at it,” she said, “as destiny.”
Her pride in her profession is evident in the way she talks about what she does. “Surveyors are the people who have the ability and the knowledge to give you a precise position of where you are in this world,” she said. “We are the ones who can tell you whenever you want to know where your property boundaries are. We can give you the location, the plat, the map, the deed.”
After college, she worked four years for a private company and then 11 years with the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority. “Whenever there was a project for the design of a highway, or the expansion of a highway, I was the person who was designated to work with that.”
She enjoyed her job. But Olivieri decided her best chance for professional growth would be in the mainland United States. In 2014, she took a position as land surveyor in training with the Florida Department of Transportation in Fort Lauderdale. In 2017, she joined Duke Energy as a land surveyor specialist.
Thibodeau, who works out of Nashville, encouraged Olivieri and other team members who were not licensed to study for their professional surveying license. Olivieri is the first to achieve that goal under his management. She became licensed in September 2019.
“She really acted on it and completed it,” Thibodeau said. “It adds a tremendous amount of value just in terms of the study and research you have to do to get licensed. But it is not an absolute requirement of her position. In wanting her career development to continue, she takes on things that stretch her and help her grow.”
This year, Thibodeau asked Olivieri to lead a group compiling three-dimensional digital renderings of Duke Energy’s substations and other facilities into an online viewer. The viewer will allow people to see inside the facilities – take measurements, for example, or perhaps locate the model number on a piece of equipment – without having to go into an energized area. It can also be used to evaluate the condition of a facility or scope a future project by multiple team members who are working remotely without being able to visit the site.
“It’s going to be a really good tool,” Olivieri said. “I had previous experience with scanning in DOT (Department of Transportation), but I didn’t work with 3D models so it has been interesting seeing how you can get so much detail from a picture. It’s something everybody can use.”
In addition to the scanning technology, Duke Energy’s Survey & Mapping department has also worked with the Aviation department using drones to conduct virtual visits and analysis.
The new technologies can help save time and money, Olivieri said, but they can’t always replace the time-honored way of surveying land.
Olivieri, however, rarely gets out in the field these days. Most of her time is spent indoors coordinating surveying work for Duke Energy’s southwest Florida region.
“I create documents to send to a vendor. I verify prices. I always try to research and get the most information the vendors will need to make the process quicker and easier, especially with old documents that are really difficult to get online.”
She has no regrets at choosing land surveying over medicine. But the thought of being an archaeologist still tugs at her heart. One day, perhaps after she retires, she hopes to resurrect her childhood dream and volunteer on a dig.