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Unread 08-17-2005, 12:29 AM
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Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

We need to talk. Please sit down.

Let's discuss something that defines FIRST. Sometimes, this is the big white elephant in the corner that everyone wants to ignore... but it needs to be talked about. There are many opinions on this subject.

Why do FIRST teams start with the intention of this being a "student design competition"? Many teams operate this way. We see teams who are proud about having a "100% designed and built robot". These teams get awards for their student involvement.

I can respect this. They worked hard. They learned much. However, more likely than not, they performed not so well at a regional. These teams saw other teams come in with 4-5 engineering mentors and compete better. These other teams, with more adult involvement, may have engineers working in the pits, along side the students. They may have skilled trades machinists making parts for their team during the build season. They may have professional machine designers creating gearboxes or writing code.

Are both teams learning? yes.

Dare I ask... Which "team" is better? What defines "better"?

FIRST was founded on "Inspiration". It still is the cornerstone. Dean, Woodie, and the FIRST Board of Directors are involved because of this idea. It is a thrill to inspire someone to be great. It is a thrill to be inspired by others.

I contend that the best "team" is an equal balance of student involvement, teacher involvement, and engineer involvement. In my mind, can a engineer design something on a robot and be proud of that design? You bet. Some teams frown on this. Some teams, mentors, and students preach that this is wrong. What do you think? Why is that?

So... there is it is. This will be a debate. Opinions will be given, and people will disagree. That is ok. Let is out. It will be healthy.

Andy B.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 12:47 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Baker
We need to talk. Please sit down.
Hehe, I don't usually stand up while on my computer, but each to his own I guess. Anyhow...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Baker
I contend that the best "team" is an equal balance of student involvement, teacher involvement, and engineer involvement. In my mind, can a engineer design something on a robot and be proud of that design? You bet. Some teams frown on this. Some teams, mentors, and students preach that this is wrong. What do you think? Why is that?
I would agree with this. The "correct" amount of mentor involvement in FRC is one of the most difficult balances to stike. Almost as difficult as the mentor question "let fail and learn or succeed and inspire?" but that is for another thread.

This year, we had more mentor involvement than ever, and you could see it in the robot. I'm also afraid that the students learned a little less than ever before. It is all about the balance, and having been both a student and a mentor, I can tell you it is not an easy one to strike.

One interesting thing that was said at our end of the season team meeting (to evaluate the goods and the bads was this). Our main teacher/mentor said to the students (not word for word, but approximately) "In your surveys, you all complained that the mentors did too much of the work. Well, before you ever think about accusing us of that again, you better not be sitting in the corner chatting and playing games when there is a robot to be built" It didn't really come off all that harsh but that was the best I could remember what was said.

Anyway, for all you students out there, I ask you not to complain about your mentors steeling the show when you are not willing to get involved. It is hard for us mentors to "just say no" because FRC is so dang fun. Most likely, it will be hard for some of us to hand you a tool and say "here build this" when it is easier for us to just to do it.

But the mentors already know everything. The point is not always to get the robot done fastest, it is for you students to learn something.

So, for the students, I ask of you this. Grab the tools, touch the machines, give your mentors some chairs to sit down on. Get yourselves in there working. Don't be just an onlooker while all the adults are fixing your broken robot. Sometimes us mentors "forget" that a student is the person who should be holding the screwdriver, so I make it your job to take it away from us.

Anyway, there was once I time when I used to tell the judges "look, our robot was 100% student built" but I later realized that isn't at all what they are looking for. The end goal in all this is to get the partnership between young students and industry professionals. Any bunch of kids can meet up and play with tools (which is a great learning experience) BUT, only FRC kids get to work with real professionals, and you will get a lot more out of it that way, even if you aren't the one holding the screwdriver ALL the time.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 12:53 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

While our team prides itself with having a completely student built robot, especially since we were able to be in the winning alliance this year in St. Louis. I don't think that our team would refuse help from anyone, it is just that there is not many engineers around our area, and we have never taken an active role in finding adult leaders besides teachers and parents. As the former team captain I think that while every team is different they all need to be able to teach/inspire the students if this means having the older kids teaching programming, farmers teaching how to run roller chain, or an engineer teaching a student about CAD. It does not matter where the knowledge is coming from as long as everyone is having a good time and learning something.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 12:54 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Hmm something I'm currently dealing with. We are semi student ran and I'm trying to make our team more student controlled. I found that while mentors may be skilled with engineering and create great designs they tend to not be practical and often mentors don't actually have experience in robotics just what in theory should work. In fact mentors can easily cause more trouble then solving problems. One thing i see is mentors coming up with ideas and trying to imprint them on students. What ends up happening is that the robot really has little work by the students and it shows (and thats not necessarily a good thing). Even though I'm not a mentor i still have to fight the urge to force my ideas on others and am often better off for it. Ive also found that the reason certain teams do well is because the same mentor is designing the robot each year. One thing students need to learn is how to pass on knowledge to other students so when they leave the kids still their know what the heck their doing. I do this by making other students do the work (this may sound kind of lazy but has a specific purpose) even though i would prefer to do it myself. This is great because if I'm gone for a reason or want to do multiple projects at once i don't have to worry about anyones competence. How many of you can tell some kids set up a test robot and all the wiring and we need the system done by the end of the day? Ill tell you its pretty cool to watch them go off and know they know exactly what their doing. Anyhew ill bet if ran right a student run team can outperform almost any mentor ran team (but not those with insane resources!).
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Unread 08-17-2005, 12:56 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Very good thread Andy...

When someone tells me the word "mentor" I think of someone who will be there to teach me, and then watch over my shoulder when I am building cool things. If it is not possible for me to design or machine a part, or code certain section, then the mentor take over and solve the problems. I have seen many teams work like that. The students love it, because they get the best out of the program.

When I was a student in HS... I have had my engineers show me a design and tell me how it works. I did learn stuff when they did that. I also learned when they handed me a 3" by 3" by 1/2" thick block alumium and said "we need to make the holders for the ball bearing and the plate which will attach the side plates together. You need a quarter inch hole in the middle so you can attach the ball bearing. Go take weights outta there and make it look cool."

The best team out there would be the team who understands the meaning of "Teamwork." When a group of students, engineers, teachers, and parents come together and makes sure that the students learn throughout the build season, it is the best feeling. There is something that I like to achieve more than the awards. I like the feeling when the team comes together, builds, and then have the machine go out there on the field and watch it dominate.

That is just 2 cents.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 01:31 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sanddrag
One interesting thing that was said at our end of the season team meeting (to evaluate the goods and the bads was this). Our main teacher/mentor said to the students (not word for word, but approximately) "In your surveys, you all complained that the mentors did too much of the work. Well, before you ever think about accusing us of that again, you better not be sitting in the corner chatting and playing games when there is a robot to be built" It didn't really come off all that harsh but that was the best I could remember what was said.
Note: I'm a student and am entering my 3rd year in FIRST. I was a founding member on our team, 1351.

Wow, I completely agree with that. That happens in our lab a lot, but we're one of the teams that airs on the side of less-mentor-interaction. In the beginning, this was mostly because we didn't have very many mentors; but now not all of us are willing to be mentored. (This poses another problem for mentors.) Honestly, I wasn't too open to being mentored, especially after having almost no help the previous year.
...leading to my point...
I'm not sure that teams without so many mentors realize that they could get mentors or the advantages mentors would bring. They don't necessarily realize that they aren't doing things the best way, that there is another way to approach their current problem.

For example (this is a classic 1351 story), our rookie year (2004), we were putting together our gearboxes. We just couldn't seem to get them together right, we'd accidentally put the bolts in the wrong direction, we put the sprocket on backwards, the spacing was off, etc. So we'd take them apart, and each time, we had to take the key out of the axle. And this took us almost forever, because we were sitting there with a hammer, screwdriver and some pliers. About 2-3 hours after we started the job (for the sixth time at least, and I'm not exaggerating), one of our mentors walked in, saw what we were doing, and decided to help (we needed it...). He walked over to our vice, put the keys in the vice, lifted up on the axles, and finished the job in less than 30 seconds. We were all astonished, and stood there stunned for the next couple minutes.

We had no idea there was an easier way to accomplish that; we just assumed that we were doing it correctly, and that there wasn't a better or easier or faster way. However, we will never forget this lesson.
Hopefully, though, we've learned that there may always be a better, more efficient method to approach a problem--and we don't have to figure everything out ourselves. And being taught something rather than figuring it out yourself doesn't mean that you won't learn and remember it.


However, I am opposed to the teams who have entire groups of mentors and adults doing work for them, (e.g. scouting at regionals), especially when they aren't teaching a student what they are doing. I believe the mentors are there to teach us what we need to do to accomplish a goal, how to go about it, and what is important in running a team. I don't believe that they are there to do those things for us.
(An exception could be an extremely small team, where there simply aren't enough students to do all the work, so long as they are still learning what the mentors are doing, and the students are aware that the adults took care of task xyz for them.)


One thing that's up to debate for me and my team is who should be running the organization and the managing of the team -- students or adults?
The students need to learn how to run a team; that is a major part of FIRST. However, it is definately not something you can easily learn on your own. This coincides with all the other threads on how your team is organized, so please don't just talk about that; but perhaps the leadership positions should be occupied by student(s), with an almost-personal mentor to directly help the student-leader out.


Thanks Andy, this needed to be addressed.
~Stephanie
Team 1351

ps- sorry about the long post
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Unread 08-17-2005, 02:14 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sanddrag
I would agree with this. The "correct" amount of mentor involvement in FRC is one of the most difficult balances to stike.
I could write an entire page about this, but really all it comes down to is the fact that there is no "correct" amount of mentor involvement.

This thread could go on for ten pages and I guarentee the only thing that will be agreed on is "to each their own"
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Unread 08-17-2005, 06:34 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arefin Bari
The best team out there would be the team who understands the meaning of "Teamwork." When a group of students, engineers, teachers, and parents come together and makes sure that the students learn throughout the build season, it is the best feeling.
I think this is the best way to run a team. There are two things that really hurt when I am at a competition, one is the team with no teamwork, the mentors do everything or they do nothing. (I am shocked to find mentors pushing students away from the robot in the pits) They even refuse help from other teams. The whole team suffers no matter what the teamwork situation is.
The other thing is a student dominated team who is looking for assistance but doesn't know how to ask for help or is too embarrassed to ask either a mentor or another team. Often this team is suffering due to a minor problem. (i.e. a misaligned bearing, bad wiring or a code bug.) If I could get teams to pledge themselves to ask for help when needed (before or during competitions) then everyone would be better off.
My point is that you don't need mentors to make a good robot but it helps and the same could be said for students. However, when you work together, you can accomplish more and have a lot of fun too! Students, this may be the biggest oportunity you will ever get, take advantage of talking, learning, and working with your mentors.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 06:39 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Quote:
Originally Posted by sanddrag
But the mentors already know everything. The point is not always to get the robot done fastest, it is for you students to learn something.
Ouch, I guess that I can't be a mentor.

I am one that is not a teacher, not a student, not a parent and definitely not an engineer. I am a person that loves to figure out solutions to problems and loves the way FIRST inspires young and old people (myself included). I have spent 3 seasons with a veteran team. When I joined the team I found that the mentors did a lot of the work. Over the last 3 years there has been more and more involvement by the students. This is progress and inspiring. We work more and more as a team and the students are taking on more and more responsibilities. Will this continue? Probably not. Why you ask. Well every team goes through cycles. Every team goes through all of their students every 4 years. Every student is different. This is no different than the real world. People come and people go. What is great about FIRST is that there seems to be a lot of mentors that will only leave one way. This base group are inspiring students and mentors alike. They are there to help the greater good of FIRST. These people share their experience with others. This is where other teachers, mentors, engineers and students can get the inspiration they need to make their teams better. When this happens, all of the base mentors get inspired to do more and the cycle goes on.

I must admit that I learn as much from the students if not more than they learn from me. I hope that as time goes on that I will be able to pass my knowledge on to others more than I take.

A proper balance of mentors, engineers and students is one were they are all learning from each other, all being inspired and most important, that they are all having fun.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 06:39 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

One of my fellow mentors hit the perfect phrase in my mind... "Lead by Example" In some cases that may be simple direction or even answering questions but letting the kids work on thier own. Or it may involve doing something complex either with the students by your side or guiding them through your thought process afterwards (though I dislike the last one because of time constraints that usually gets skipped).

The important thing is to avoid the situation where the students feel they are not part of the design and build process. Where they feel that thier presence is not needed or wanted when the robot is being constructed. It leaves the kids with no pride in what has been accomplished. It doesn't make them feel part of the team.

We are actually going through a radical team reorganization to avoid that exact issue. Personally, when the kids feel that way I have to beleive that myself and the other mentors have failed our kids.

However the team decides to operate, the important thing is that the sponsors and school adminstration are happy. (In my case I found out yesterday my VP was livid that the students had such a small part in the build) And also that the kids are having a worthwhile and fun experience.

Personally, I sometimes find mentors are too limited in thier decisions. Engineers tend to stick with "well, we know how to do this so we'll keep doing it this way". Students, esp when they come and go tend to bring creativity and different approaches that us old curmudgeon sometime lack.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 06:49 AM
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

Great Thread!! Though I feel like we've discussed this before. However, I dont think I have seen the quality of the responses that I see here so far!

Sanddrag, I 100% agree with you. Its one thing if mentors are shoving students away, but its something else if they are sitting in the corner waiting for a mentor to give them something to do. I just had a huge discussion with our new teacher last night about this. So many students these days wait for things to happen to them. If they didnt have enough to do, it was someone else's fault, the mentors did too much. If they fail a class, its because the teacher gave too much work... etc etc. Students these days need to stand up and get involved themselves, take ownership, take leadership, because they are all smart and they are all capable. Like I said, Im not talking about when a student asks to help and a mentor snubs him or her, Im taking about when the student doesnt ask!

Stephanie, great points also... a mentor is not a mentor until they teach something. Doing something for the team, and not working with the students or even just showing them how you did it afterward, is NOT mentoring. But I also want to answer your question:
Quote:
One thing that's up to debate for me and my team is who should be running the organization and the managing of the team -- students or adults?
Personally, I think this is another great place to make the balance. Last year, I ran the whole team, subteams mostly ran themselves, but I as a mentor made the decisions... it was our rookie year and thats the way it worked out. However, this year, we are learning. We are going to have a group of students (we are doing elections), along with me, a teacher and another mentor. Students can learn from leadership examples just as much if not more than they can learn from engineering examples. I think the students should be involved and have equal say in making team decisions. The teacher and I have worries on the side of our corporation and the school which may occassionally cause us to override decisions, but I would say 99% can be shared decisions.

Back to Andy's question...
Quote:
Which "team" is better? What defines "better"?
I would say the balanced team is the best, but one of the things I love is that FIRST brings so many different types of teams, mentors, etc to the competition. What I have failed to see in this post so far is, that teachers can be great FIRST mentors as well. Our teacher last year was originally an industrial engineer. She knew the mechanical side better than any of my mentors, plus she was a teacher and a mom so she had great skills at dealing with the students. I've seen plenty of teams run with just a powerful set of teachers who are great at what they do, and act as mentors to the students. I think this works fine. I still think the balance is better because part of FIRST's goal is to expose students to real engineers, but the students on these non mentored teams get exposure to other teams at competitions, locally, and here on CD.

Every team is unique, has its own problems, has its own strengths. I think the ideal team is one that has industry mentors, a strong teacher involvement, and motivated kids who want to take ownership and leadership. The mentors are there to "mentor", to help the students learn the engineering process, to show them new ways, faster ways, better ways of doing things. The only time I think it goes too far is when the mentors do everything on the team and just drag the students along for the ride. Just watching someone do their job is not inspiring. Having them explain how they do it, or even getting you to help them, or do pieces yourself, is inspiring.

As for what defines "better", then I have to agree with Cory. This is going to be a place where to each their own. If the students are learning, and they are inspired to look up to people who are in the science and technology fields, whether it is because of a project or a teacher or a mentor, FIRST has accomplished its goal. The reality of this world is that industry is small compared to the number of high schools, even smaller is the number of people willing to volunteer their own precious time (while I am thrilled with my amazing 20 mentors, I think Harris has over 1700 people working at our division... thats only 1%!!!), so not every team can have the luxury of an abundance of mentors. Should they keep trying to get some? yes! Can parents and teachers be mentors? Of course!!
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Unread 08-17-2005, 08:49 AM
KenWittlief KenWittlief is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I think the problem here is that FIRST is so complex, and the yearly robot games are so much fun that people get lost in it, get caught up in it, and never see the big picture.

If the core of FIRST was something more mundain, like a popsickle stick bridge building contest, or an egg drop contest then we would not have thousands of HS students lineing up to join FIRST because dropping eggs out of a 5 story window is just so much fun.

But building a 100 lb, 2HP drivetrain robot, and getting to drive or control it in matches against other teams - what a blast!

Thats where people lose sight of the big picture. Im willing to bet some teams dont even know there is a big picture.

Our society and culture needs more engineers and scientists. If you put up a poster at school, and had an engineer come in all day saturday to talk about engineering, how many students would show up, to listen to someone talk all day about data driven analysis, the engineering design cycle, closed loop feedback control systems and the intimate details of PID loops?

Can students put together a team, take the kit and build something that runs, and even compete in the games successfully? Absolutely.

Can students figure out what a career as an engineer or scientist will be like on a day to day basis, without ever talking to an engineer, or getting the chance to work side by side with one for 13 weeks or more? Can students re-invent all the processes and concepts that engineers have created and developed and refined over the last 100 years? No way!
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Unread 08-17-2005, 09:17 AM
Freddy Schurr Freddy Schurr is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I think it depends on each team situation and how it is ran. For our team, we are 100% student built, student made, robotics team. We have no engineers and adult-technical mentors. And thats what makes us proud, as mentors, that we can show and teach students about science and engineering. Yes, every year we try to get engineers to help and show better techniques on how parts and components should be made but we can't. Do I think it fair that engineers are working on the robots in the pits or at home, NO but everyone has they own idea on how it describe by FIRST.

I agree with Arefin, that when someone "tells me the word "mentor" I think of someone who will be there to teach me, and then watch over my shoulder when I am building cool things". That why I decided to stay on board and continue to help my team, because I can provided information and techniques to better help the team in the following years.

So in closing, ( I feel like I am in a debate) I think the one thing thats needs to be important throughout this, is that if we are teaching students and they learn and applied what we are saying to better understand who they are and the world, then thats great.

Last edited by Freddy Schurr : 08-17-2005 at 09:20 AM.
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Unread 08-17-2005, 09:39 AM
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Sean Schuff Sean Schuff is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

My first thought when I read the opening message in this thread was "What is Andy Baker doing up at 12:30 AM? Isn't that waaaaayyy past his bed time?!"

I like what I’m reading here and I agree with Kim that the quality of responses is far greater than anything else I’ve read.

I have seen this discussion played out before on these forums and I always feel compelled to reply. I am one of those people who used to spout about how our robot was student built and how all of our ideas were original to our team and blah, blah, blah. Looking back on those days all I can think is "what a bunch of crap!"

It's not that I should not have been pleased with those accomplishments but I was not proud of them for the right reasons. I was trying to make a statement against team's whose robots have a significant amount of professional engineering and manufacturing going into them. Boy was I naïve. FIRST is not about scoring a team’s success based on what percentage of the design, manufacturing, scouting and so on that the students do. It is about the impact it has on students and their future pursuits no matter how that is accomplished.

This year our team “borrowed” ideas from other teams (hey, sharing is a part of the spirit of FIRST, right?) and put them to use on our robot. One was a two-speed shift-on-the-fly transmission and the other was an omni wheel. Both were courtesy of Andy Baker and the Technokats. (Thanks Andy!) We did have our engineers and students do some tweaking to make them fit our needs but the fundamental ideas came from another team. And both worked phenomenally well; so much so that we finally won our first competition in our 9 year history. Sharing is the spirit of FIRST and I think we employed those resources well this year.

In the last few years I have made a conscious effort to correct those members of our team that point out how Team So-N-So has a robot that was built by engineers. So what?! It’s their team! How would we like it if other teams told us how to do our business? Besides, who has time to analyze other teams like this anyway? How counterproductive and what a tremendous waste of time.

There is no one correct way to function within the world of FIRST and there is no magic recipe for team success but staying focused on your team and working as a team certainly play big parts. And any mentor worth their salt will tell you that the ingredient none of us has control over – luck – plays a significant part in each year’s game! While chance favors the prepared mind (and prepared team) a certain amount of luck will always give you a boost or take you out of contention.

In my opinion I think FIRST takes teamwork to a whole new level. Not just among members of the same team but also among competing teams. Imagine that – the teams that are trying to beat you every year are also sharing their ideas and expertise with you! Now THAT’S teamwork! Why would you want to knock other teams?

If we stop trying to micromanage the FIRST experience we’ll all have more fun and more success. Big picture – stop worrying about how other teams manage their affairs. Not to put too fine a point on it but it really isn’t any of your business anyway. When your team is absolutely perfect, then you can begin judging the others. And for crying out loud, HAVE FUN!

My 2 cents.

Sean
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Last edited by Sean Schuff : 08-17-2005 at 03:17 PM. Reason: grammar
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Unread 08-17-2005, 09:56 AM
Conor Ryan Conor Ryan is offline
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Re: Why do teams voluntarily do FIRST without adult technical mentors?

I've been on both sides of the tracks and heres my opinion on technical mentors.

Saying No to assistance that a technical mentor can provide is saying no to help. I'm trying not to make any religious connection but its saying no to a good Samaritan. Who is making them help you?

Well anyway I'm strongly in the opinion of never saying no to help, because in the end everyone benefits. You can ask any engineer thats assisted a team, they learn from the student too, so why say no to their education too.

FIRST stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, any I'm starting to believe that in order to be inspired, the closer you work with the mentors on your team the more inspired you would become. I wouldn't have the understanding I have today of mechanics and many other principals if it weren't for technical mentors that have been assisting me for over 4 years now, yes I've been lucky enough to of had mentors in middle school too. And I'm a living fact that mentors work.
__________________________________________________ ____________
However lets look at the advantages of a student built robot and compare?

Student Built
Pros:
-If something breaks you can fix it, you built it, you can repair it
-Team Pride
-Feeling that You've contributed something signifigant to the team
-Learned how to use the kit and potentially other items
Cons:
-Not the greatest track record (reliability issues are most common, I'm a design scout I have pictures and stacks of reports on it)
-Didn't get the optimal Engineering experince that could of happened

Student and Engineer Built
Pros:
-If something breaks, you can fix it. Why can't you?
-Team Pride
-Worked Side by side with real life engineers and got a better grasp of the engineering experince
-Generally the best track record available
-Contribution to the team
Cons:
-You didn't make every single part yourself (But is that really a disadvantage?)


edit:This is definetly not complete, so don't get angry

Last edited by Conor Ryan : 08-17-2005 at 09:58 AM.
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