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Unread 04-30-2006, 10:28 PM
D.J. Fluck
 
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Exclamation Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

Now that the championships have past, I decided I want to share a story with everyone. The school years are winding down, graduating high school students are pumped up from their nationals experience are getting ready to go to college. First thought in their minds (most of the time) is that they want to listen to Dean and go get a team started at their college or university or joining one that is currently already in place.

Just a fair warning from someone who went through this first hand. Although it is very tempting, think carefully before you join. Mentoring is a serious commitment as you know. Many of your mentors spend hours and hours during the week sharing their knowledge with you. Jumping in that role right away could be overwhelming especially with college.

If you haven't figured it out yet, you soon will, college isn't high school. There are so many more factors involved. Most students live on their own, you have more freedom, the classes are more demanding, you have to know how to study. Temptations are there that weren't when you were in high school. With all this in mind, it might be a good idea to not be involved with a team your freshman year of college.

Why am I wasting my time making this point? Because, I am a victim of this. After a semester of mentoring, I ended up on Academic Probation and having to retake 2 classes that I took during the spring semester because I let mentoring take priority over class. I have spoken to many fellow college students who have ended up in a similar situation after mentoring.

Guess what? As much as you want it to be, it isn't. Getting that degree is the reason for going to college. Failing out of school because you mentored isn't really a good reason. In fact, there aren't many good reasons for failing out of school.

Don't get me wrong, there are many college mentors out there that can handle the workload. In fact, a friend of mine graduated from Purdue and took 21 credit hours one semester in addition to mentoring and still finished the semester with a better than 3.0 GPA. Some people can handle mentoring and class. I won't deny that.

So now that you've spent time reading and thinking about this, you yourself need to spend the time from when you finish reading this until the fall starts and teams have callout meetings thinking, "Am I ready to commit to something so time consuming? Do I have the work ethic, time management skills, and study skills to be able to handle this?"

If you are 110% sure you think you can handle mentoring and school, more power to you. If you have any doubt in your mind, take a year off. Volunteer at a local regional or championships, go to an off season event, and keep in contact with the numerous friends that you make through this organization. Mentoring is not worth failing out of college. As Ken Patton of the Huskie Brigade once told me, "Robotics will still be here after college. Just make sure you get that degree." Those words didn't mean much to me right away, but a few months down the road, they became very important to me and I am still living by them. My bad academic experience during my year of mentoring is most of the reason for my burnout and my hiatus from FIRST. Once I get that degree, so many options open up, and it will be a much easier way to transition myself back into FIRST.

Think about what I said. It could make a difference.

D.J. Fluck
Purdue University, Class of 2008
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Unread 04-30-2006, 10:37 PM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

As a College mentor, I agree with this.

It is not wise for the baker to starve himself.

Remember that if you do provide your help to a team like I did, you are provideing what you can, if you provide too much, you will lose track of your future and eventually you will slide in your studies. I know too that Robotics has occationaly slid my grades a bit. So instead of attending robotics, I stayed and did my work and was an inseration for the students to make sure that they do their work, rather than spend all their time on the robot.

A college mentor's greatest gift for a team is the willingness to continue education and to show that there is a future for them all.
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Unread 04-30-2006, 10:50 PM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

This is very important stuff--until FIRST opens its own college, you need to keep your grades up. (It'll open up far more opportunities.)

I'm lucky to be in a college with a reasonably flexible timeline. With some intelligent scheduling, I was able to take some of the harder classes in the fall of this year, while holding on to one or two easy courses for the spring, which helps take the load off at times. Don't let it completely rule your scheduling, but be smart if your college allows it. You will not want to be doing work for five hardcore, lots-of-small-assignments courses in the middle of build season.

That said, know yourself and know what's important. You have the rest of your days to help with FIRST--but only one relatively easy crack at college. (The rest, from what I read, are far more costly.)
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Unread 04-30-2006, 10:51 PM
sanddrag sanddrag is offline
back to school ;-)
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

For me, mentoring and my first year of college went great. I found the college clubs kind of dumb and thought FIRST was way better so I stuck with it and it was fun. And I didn't have any problem keeping my GPA high enough to get into an honor society. For my second year of college (this year) FIRST was a little more demanding and my school slid a little bit (I'll have to repeat diff eq.) but I believe I am still elegible for another (junior level) honor society. To me, school is kind of boring so sticking with FIRST was a good way to keep me from being bored. I think I'll stick with FIRST, however my involvment may become more limited (and it somewhat has already).

Recently, I have taken on the role of Construction Co-Chair and Webmaster for the Cal Poly Pomona Rose Float project so I'm quite busy in that.

For me, I can't spend my life listening to professors babble through equations full of greek letters then go home and struggle through books full of stuff that the professor was too lazy to mention. I can take it but I can't drown myself in it. There's got to be more for me. I've got to just go out and build something every once in a while. That's why I did and will continue to stick with FIRST. It is a nice break from boredom.

I will say this though: I have yet to find any extracurricular as good as or better than FIRST.
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Unread 05-01-2006, 01:50 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

I agree whole heartily with everyone here. High school is different than college on many levels as DJ already stated. It has been an interesting first year in college for me. I've had a lot of ups and downs and wasn't able to really mentor a team like I wanted to. And I don't believe I will while I'm at USF. I'm involved in a lot of other activities and I'm the type of person that can't handle a million things and keep up with school. As usual for me I go way beyond that I can handle so FIRST and mentoring has to be put in the back burner. I miss it a lot, especially this year my first Championship event I missed since I've been in FIRST. I will though be trying to volunteer at some Regional Events and still work with the RCU. Other than that, I have to tear away from FIRST just to keep up my grades. FIRST has taught me a lot over the years. I'm continually amazed to met new people and see how FIRST has impacted so many lives. We have heroes that nobody understands. My friends laughed this past weekend when I told them to be quiet so I could watch a match and just said i was a nerd. And may be one but I'm proud of it. I'm sure that everyone won't forget what FIRST has brought them, it is simply hard to forget. But don't forget about grades because sadly they are important.
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Unread 05-01-2006, 03:00 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

I agree with everyone. I saw my own academic level drop during the winter quarter because of robotics, and had to take time off the team. Academics always comes first, and don't try to take as much of a leading role in the team as you did in high school, it will only come back to haunt you later.
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Unread 05-01-2006, 08:02 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

I'm going to make this short and sweet. I love my team. I love my students. I love my mentors. But there is one reason that I always make Dean's List fall semester and not spring. I'll let you take that guess...
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Unread 05-01-2006, 08:34 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

DJ et al,
I wholeheartedly agree. Your priority list should be school first, family and church second, anything else (including robots) third. I, as a mentor, would rather get an email from you saying "Hi, I am doing well in school" then to see you face to face, volunteering at a FIRST event and tell me you dropped out because robots were taking you away from school. You can come back stronger as a graduate mentor than a struggling student.
Academic probation is something you can come back from. It needs some hard work and dedication to detail, but you are already trained for that. Use the skills you have learned and get the job done! I can say "See you in four or five years" and be happy and sad at the same time. DJ, don't make me come down there!
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Unread 05-01-2006, 08:52 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

I agree that it can be difficult to balance mentorship with academics, and I do agree that academics should come first. It's a good idea, wherever you go, to take the first semester (or first year) to figure out your schedule and what you can handle before you get too involved in *anything* -- including clubs, sports, and FIRST.

However, that said, mentoring as a college student can be really rewarding. In engineering in particular, it gives you a lot of perspective. Engineering can sometimes be overly theory-based and it's easy to lose sight of what it truly is -- design, teamwork, fabrication, testing, all the fun stuff that FIRST taught us about. And it's incredibly valuable to be on the "teaching" side of the equation where you must truly understand something in order to explain it to someone else.

I go to an extremely challenging college where working hours are pretty much any time Outlook can send a meeting request for both students and professors and where committees, clubs, and classes easily eat up your time. But I (and other students) have made time for things like FIRST. It does require the sacrifice of some things (like social life, or like getting an A instead of a B+ on something), but it is doable without failing out -- because I have figured out my limits

Our group has found it particularly helpful to be working with a team with a very involved high school teacher (who can take care of the logistics of workspace, funding from the school, registration, and keeping the kids coming) and which, because it's an inner city school, *only* has open hours from 2-4 in the afternoon and, when we can argue it, some weekends. That means no all-nighters, no practically living in our lab, and that we all have to take a step back and remember that we have other things to do. Does it mean we can be one of the hardcore teams? No. But it doesn't mean that both the students and the mentors aren't learning, building important relationships, finding inspiration in engineering and science, and still fulfilling the FIRST vision.

You certainly can't have everything. You can, however, still have a valuable FIRST experience, and provide one for high school students in need of a little push toward the awesomeness of engineering.

<plug for Boston FIRST Regional> And if all else fails, volunteer at competition. That's a really important job, too, and it makes planning committees happy! </plug>
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Unread 05-01-2006, 09:00 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

Quote:
Originally Posted by D.J. Fluck
D.J. Fluck
Purdue University, Class of 2008
Thanks for this post, DJ. Everyone in FIRST respects your experience as a TecknoKat. You'll be welcome on any team, any time.

But there's a whole 'nother level of respect that you'll earn when you get that Purdue degree. FIRSTers know that competitive robotics, especially as practiced by 45, is demanding -- but nearly everyone knows that Purdue graduates can think under pressure, solve tough problems, and complete difficult assignments.

This also applies to many other highly regarded colleges and universities, too many to mention them all here. (My degrees are from Georgia Tech.) All you other college students plug the name of your future alma mater into the above.
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Unread 05-01-2006, 09:06 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

Another point to consider:

Taking a year off from being on a team can be a great decision. Although FIRST is a great program with many benefits for students and mentors alike, "burnout" can really make the season drag. I volunteered for a regional my freshman year of college and that was about it. The time away helped me establish what role I wanted to play in FIRST (and college) and allowed me to approach mentoring with a fresh perspective. The student-mentor transition is tough...the expectations are different as well as the responsibility levels. I would suggest taking some time off...odds are you will come back to FIRST with more enthusiasm than before and will be ready to take the next step.
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Unread 05-01-2006, 10:39 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

I know exactly what you mean...

I came into college this year thinking that I had what it takes to do very well and school and still make a major commitment to the robotics team. I spent loads of time working with the team building the robot and going on trips. Now that the season is over, I find myself rushing to prepare for finals with just one week left in the school year.

Well, at least I can say that I am still passing my classes (barely). I do find myself saying 'Well, if i hadn't spent that all nighter with the team, I probably would have finished my homework.' or 'Maybe I should have studied more for my organic chemistry midterm instead of spending time helping students build the robot,' but despite those decisions, I am still barely making it by.

At this point, there isnt much I can do about my low GPA, but I can cosign to what all the others are saying in this thread...Think and plan before you commit
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Unread 05-01-2006, 10:46 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

Know your limits and stick by them. Absolutely agree that your study is most important so that extra activies should not get in the way of that. There are alot of temptations in college and a robotics team can be one of them. Just know your limits, figure out how much you can contribute and be confortable in that role. I was a college mentor yet only contributed five to fifteen hours a week. Yet I wasn't the go to guy, did what I could, and the team was happy with my involvement. I'm just trying to say that you can do FIRST and not dive head in as paradoxal as that may sound.
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Unread 05-01-2006, 11:29 AM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

Quote:
Originally Posted by D.J. Fluck
D.J. Fluck
Purdue University, Class of 2008
Everyone should listen to DJ. He has personal experience, as do I about how FIRST can impact your grades when you go on to college.

After my final year as a high school member on 229, I decided I would go to Clarkson where I would be able to still participate on the team. (believe me more was put into thought than just i wanted to be on the team. I had to make a lot of decisions concerning Clarkson and my other 2 top choices) However once the season started I never budgeted my time, and so ended up doing a lot more things for FIRST than I could handle along with doing well in school.

Short story is I ended up not doing so hot this semester. So for all of the people that are going on to college and starting or joining teams, remember that school should always come first. That is something i learned this year and i hope that it doesn't happen to any incoming freshman not only on our team but on everyone's team next year.

Good luck

Tim
Team 229
Clarkson University
Class of 2009
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Unread 05-01-2006, 12:06 PM
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Re: Attn: Present & Future College Students, Think carefully before you mentor

wow this is a touchy subject, and my post here may not be very popular

The purpose of FIRST is to team up engineering and science/technolgy professionals with HS students so they can get an idea what a career in that field will be like.

While you are in college you are not yet an engineer / professional / scientist... you are a student with no real-world (employment) experience

if you were on the FIRST team in HS, you were at the top of the ladder as a HS senior. While you are in college you are somewhere between HS student and professional mentor.

From my experience in college every hour devoted to classes and study and projects and lab assignments directly correlated to your grade for that course. The more time you spend on your studies, the higher your grade. When you graduate the primary factor your potential employers will look at is your QPA. Excuses and rationale for why you do not have a 4.0 average + 25Ę will get you a cup of coffee.

The logical conclusion is: FIRST motivated you to goto college. Do your best there, get the best grades you can, do the college level engineering projects and contests, get a job and a few years experience, THEN find the time to be a mentor to a FIRST team.

If you do decide to be a mentor while you are in college then accept the fact that you will not play a key role on the team. You are no longer a HS student, and you are not yet an engineer.
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