View Full Version : FAHA: Too much help from mentors?

Ken Leung
02-20-2004, 07:39 PM
This topic have been debated every year. It gets old for the veteran FIRST participants, but I believe it is helpful for rookie members to see what they have to say about this topic. I consider this topic one of the most important things to learn about when growing in FIRST. So, how about it folks, lets give this concerned rookie FIRST participant some good answers.

If you have some links for previous discussions, that will be great too.


I myself am from a rookie team and am new to the FIRST exprerience, but can mentors help too much. In a team close to mine I have seen a robot that many people from many surrounding teams suspect is "mentor fabricated" and bolted together and wired by students. is this going too far, allowing experienced engineers to build the robot for them.

Just a question.

Concerned FIRST participant :mad:

Kevin Sevcik
02-20-2004, 07:56 PM
This is a hot-button subject on these forums as there are many, many answers to how much mentor involvement is too much.

According to FIRST, any amount of mentor help is appropriate from none to building the entire robot. The only important thing is that the students on the team become inspired by the process. Thus the meaning of the acronym. So from a technical standpoint, having an entirely mentor built robot isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The important thing is that the kids on the other team are getting interested in engineering and sciences and such. You should talk with the kids on the other team. If they're sulking about, annoyed that they didn't get to do anything on the other robot then there's a problem. If they're at a competition and they're only near the robot to drive it and they're complaining that they never get to do anything with the robot then there's a problem.

On the other hand, if they're excited about their robot and such, then it's probably ok. I, personally, don't think a mentor built robot is a good idea, but it could be right for some teams, it just depends.

On the whole, it's something for that team to work out for themselves. You can give advice and ask them if they really like having a mentor built robot or if they'd rather work on it some themselves, but the team needs to decide that for itself.

02-20-2004, 08:37 PM
in general, when new students join a FIRST team, they have to be shown how to do many different things, from writing C code, to crimping wires, to soldering, to using a drill press...

so for a rookie team, none of the students will have any hands on experience with building FIRST robots.

Its always been our teams goal to show the students how the different tasks are down, then let them try it and after a few weeks they are able to take that part of the design over completely.

For a rookie team, I would not be surprized if the mentors ended up building at least half the bot before everyone was up to speed. And something to keep in mind - very often rookie teams dont quite understand what FIRST is all about - they dont 'get it' until they have been to a regional, seen the interaction between teams on the field and in the pits, seen all the students working on the machines between matches

So rookie teams can have a wide range of mentor/student work done on the machine, but dont worry - once the students see what other teams are doing, and they gain confidence in themselves, they wont sit idley by next year and let the mentors do all the work. :^)

Kris Verdeyen
02-20-2004, 08:45 PM
Dear Concerned FIRST Participant,

Your concerns have echoed those of many of us over the years. FIRST has a reputaion of being a "High school robotics contest", and that can lead to come concerns about engineer involvement. "High school students could never have built that," the naysayers say, and the rub is, they're right. The average high school student knows, if anything, very little about mechanical, electrical, and software design and farication. And it's not the goal of the FIRST program to teach them. As the wise old man of these forums* has said, it's not our job as engineer mentors to teach high school students engineering in six weeks. How could we? It has taken years for we engineers to be able to do what we do.

So what is FIRST all about? As has been pointed out time and time again, the key letter in the acronym is the second - Inspiration. It is our job as engineer mentors to make student want to pursue a career in a scientific or engineering field. That's it. The teams you see with really cool robots, like the one you described, have really cool robots because a really cool robot is more inspiring than one that you spend six weeks building with your buddies only to find out, when it's all over, it doesn't turn.

Put the question like this - would you be more likely to want to be an engineer when you grow up if you helped a team of engineers spend six weeks building an incredible robot, or if you spent six frustrating weeks banging your head against what turned out to be a pretty simple problem?

*Dr. Joe - sorry, after a search I haven't been able to find the post.

Redhead Jokes
02-20-2004, 09:23 PM
can mentors help too much. In a team close to mine I have seen a robot that many people from many surrounding teams suspect is "mentor fabricated" and bolted together and wired by students.

2001 our robot was student built - our national champion. Since then lots of mentors on the team. This is the first year I've been there hour after hour witnessing students welding/machining independently, then the mentors teaching machining/welding to less talented students, the students working on pneumatics by themselves...however our control board gets little student input. Last year a student worked for awhile with the mentor, this year a couple of students did some soldering.

I remember that story about the rookie team arriving at a regional with a box of parts and 3 veteran teams building a robot for them in 6 hours.

What's too much? *rhetorical* Do what your team wants to do, let others do what they want to do, and luck and talent enter into who's going to win a competition, but everyone wins by the process involved in the experience.

02-28-2004, 05:51 AM
It is our job as engineer mentors to make student want to pursue a career in a scientific or engineering field. That's it.
That's the way it works in my mind. I've seen teams where the engineers have the students gather around the robot on Thursday in competition and explain how the robot works and what their strategy is. It saddens me simply because I love working on the robot so much and apparently those students did not. However, if those students are better off because of their experience, I'm not one to complain.

On a slightly contrary note, I would say that I expect more from teams that place high year after year. If your team is doing well in competition, that's great and I won't be upset if the champion robot is entirely engineer built. However, I expect more students to be involved simply because of the amazing inspiration that winning is when you are involved in creating that work. It's a horrible loss otherwise.

Greg Perkins
02-28-2004, 02:11 PM
back in my sophmore days in HS when i was first introduced to FIRST, our team 151 was a really great team. our primary sponsor, SANDERS/BAE SYSTEMS believed that FIRST should be student oriented. so thats what they did. now due to the fact that our team did not have a Machine shop that was readily available to students, BAE did all the Milling, Lathe work, and miscellanous. The students then came in, assembled all of the parts, wired it all, coded it all, and made one heck of a machine.

in 2002, our team took a new route, giving some of the students the opprotunity to machine parts. 4 other students including myself, had a machine shop class during the day so we were qualified to make parts. we made a killer set of mag 5 spoke wheels for the bot out of aluminum, taking about a week; during school, and after schooll; to make all 10 of them. Then BAE also did the Milling of the chassis, and parts too. But none-the-less the students still got to "make their robot" by assembeling it, and doing all the other stuff to it, to make it competitive. that year we were semifinalists in our division at Nationals.

in 2003 we had a major turning point. Tyler, a senior, was hired by BAE to work after school in a machine shop at the facility. this was a huge difference in the aspect of how 151 had operated. the tube aluminum was cut, and BAE welded it together. but all the other parts that were made for it were done by students. that year we had a lot of problems with the machine, but hey, what can you expect from a team who went from assembling parts, to now making parts, it was more of a Time Management adjustment.

Now my FIRST travels take me to college. I go to a tech. school in Concord, NH. and Pembroke Academy is just down the road. so this year i decided i would help them out. it was quite a new experience for me. this team the mentors did as much work as teh students. since i was a "mentor" i expected to make sure a kid didnt hack his arm off w/ the sawzall, but no, i was actually building the robots along side the kids! i really enjoyed it! Thanks Pembroke! Good Luck this year!

now for my Opinion on this subject. I think that the robots that are entirely made by engineers is really unfair for those teams who can barely make their robot drive. I think first is about showing kids how to do it, not do it for them so now they know. let the kids do as much as they can so they are gaining knowledge. and if someone screws something up, dont go awal on them, let them know what they did wrong, and let them fix it. ive seen some mentors get pretty hotheaded over a simple mistake by a student, and i believe that that is very uncalled for. so all in all, i think that students should have AS MUCH input into the robot so they get something out of it.

03-06-2004, 10:08 PM
Students have got to be exposed to engineering. As such, they have to have some involvement in the process.

I have been a student in a Robotics team for 3 years, then mentored a FLL team, and now I"m back mentoring my old robotics team. From this, I have learned that you should help the team build a nice robot, but not too much. If you give the students as much as they can handle, but not alot more, they will grow. To little and they will not. Too much, and they will begin to hate the process.

Koko Ed
03-07-2004, 07:10 AM
When I joined the X-Cats two years ago to mentor the animation team Greg(who is now the animation mentor for Webster Sparx) and I both agreed how blessed we were to have four wonderful, enthusiatic and talented girls who took over the project from day one. They were practically climbing over each other to work on the computers. We both alos knew that there was no way that future teams would compare to them and we were right.
Our philosiphy on the X-Cats is the kids have to at least do one year working on the robot so they may do only one year on animation, so every year we get a whole new animation team and kids of varying degrees of talent,ambition and work ethic. 3D Studio Max is a bear of a program especially of you are new to it and the last two years I have found myself having to hustle just to finish the projects with all-nighters while attending college and working full-time.
One is I think I have poor communication skills as a mentor because planning still equates to a rush job in the end with less than desirable results. I need to make sure the kids know where the project stands better instead of just hunkering down after hours and going it alone. It definately makes me rethink strategies to take advantage of the kids I get. Every year I'll grow a little more from the mistakes I make. That's a good thing.

03-29-2004, 01:11 PM
:D KoKo Ed makes a good point. This will continue to be a hot-button topic simply because the make-up of each team changes from year to year. Kids leave the team, younger team members mature (the difference between 9th graders and seniors is astonishing), new members join, mentors gain experience and change as well.

Since the make-up and personalities of the team will change year-by-year, the role of team mentors will continue to evolve. Know how "much" to mentor is just one of many challenges that face team mentors every season.

Fortunately, most of us mentor for the big bucks!