View Full Version : FAHA: Student to Mentor?

Beth Sweet
10-30-2008, 07:53 AM
This FAHA'r is struggling with the reasoning behind a team policy of who is allowed to mentor. Can anyone offer a voice of experience on this issue?

The team I am a member of often has strong clashes between the opinions of the students and those of the mentors. One of the recent clashes has been over the idea of having students who have graduated high school after the previous season return to "mentor" as college students. These graduates go to nearby community colleges or universities and feel they could be of use during the season. They feel that helping their old team would not only be a productive use of free time, but also make them more desirable for potential transfer schools.

Most of the students currently on the team see no reason why the team shouldn't accept help when offered. The students make strong bonds to each other and seeing a student lost to graduation is always tough. An obvious possible factor in wanting the graduates to return may be that they just want to see their friends again. The graduates in question were, however, very active and productive students during their time on the team.

The leadership believes that having graduates return as college students is counterproductive for all parties. Their point of view is that the graduates need to move on to other things. The general feeling is that graduates will not be able to transfer roles from student to college student. The graduates feel they are being cut off by the team leadership, and the current students feel like this is against the spirit of FIRST. It has become a rather divisive issue on a team which was already going through choppy waters.

Obviously a mentor who is a college student will not have the same qualifications or experience as a mentor with an engineering degree. Does this mean they are not fit to return to their old team until they receive their degree? I understand there are many teams out there making good use of college students. Are there any teams that have had good/bad experiences with inviting old students back?

I'm not asking anybody to either support one party or the other. I'm just simply looking to hear your honest personal experiences and wisdom.

FIRST-a-holic Anonymous mailbox is a place to share your concern and frustration about your FIRST experience anonymously. It is the perfect place if you just want someone to listen, or ask for advice when you don’t know what to do. Submit your letters today at the FIRST-a-holic anonymous mailbox forum. If you wish to respond to this thread anonymously, please PM Bharat or Beth with your response and thread title.

10-30-2008, 08:36 AM
I've been involved with a couple of teams where this issue has come up. To be brutally honest, my personal opinion is that is depends on the student. I've had the opportunity for phenomenal students come back to help the team as college freshman and I've had to tell other college students to stay away for two years to establish themselves outside the team. I've also been witness to how a former student who did not have an identity outside of the team and was close friends with too many high school students caused a major team breakdown.

In seeing both sides of the coin, my best suggestion is to have student mentors wait at least a year to come back to their high school team. Otherwise, they may have an easier time becoming a part of another local team they were not a part of in high school (this can ease the issue of college students with high school friends on the team). There are lots of teams out there looking for mentors.

In the end, whatever decisions the team makes in terms of their mentors - stick to it. Don't make exceptions or pick favorites because you think they can handle it.

10-30-2008, 08:56 AM
A few general thoughts...

1. Students who graduate to college will take a few years (in some cases more than a few) to develop into mentors. That transition represents a major paradigm shift. One difficulty in that transition is most students (myself included) don't even realize a change is necessary. In some cases this ignorance can border on arrogance, "I'm mature, I understand this program and because I've been a student in the past I'm probably a better mentor than some adults out there. I've even got an advantage because I'm close in age to the students I'm mentoring." This can be a major problem to overcome in any student.

2. Students who return to their original teams often find that members of the team (students and mentors alike) will have difficulty adjusting their perceptions of them. Team members will still think of them as "little Billy, the shy kid who we got to come out of his shell" or "little Johnny, that punk kid who set the lab on fire because he was being an idiot". These preconceived notions make this student-to-mentor transition even more difficult. Joining a new team will solve this problem, and provide a clean-slate for the budding mentor to build on (whether they choose to make the transition effectively on the new team, or whether they find themselves falling back into "student mode" is another story... see #1 above.)

I only mention this third point, because "strong clashes" between students and mentors were mentioned...
3. Sustaining a program often means doing things which are unpopular to the students on the team. To keep a team running, the sponsors, community, parents, school district all need to be happy. Sometimes mentors are forced to make difficult decisions for the good of the team which many of the students may not understand or like (this can take many forms). A younger mentor who has not fully matured, and who still has strong ties to the students on the team may cause problems for the program.

Everyone loves passionate students. Everyone loves passionate mentors. However when you have someone who is really passionate but may not fully understand all the "politics" involved with running the team, they may do harm even as they try to do good.

4. There are other college activities which are as much (or more) fun than FIRST, and will look just as good on a resume. (I wish I had time to do Mini Baja at Clarkson, but instead I focused on college mentoring).

5. Just because a college student is not involved in a team, doesn't mean they can't be involved in the program. Regionals are always looking for more volunteers.


10-30-2008, 09:13 AM
You asked for personal opinions, here are some of mine:

If I had re-joined my HS team as a college student, I would NOT have made the transition from student to mentor effectively. I can say that with some measure of certainty. That would have been partly due to me having trouble shifting my paradigm, but also partly due to the other mentors not being able to shift their paradigms either.

I will never recommend ANY student participate as a full-time mentor on a team in college. I strongly believe that college time is better spent focusing on academics, and getting into non-FIRST related trouble. If a student wants to stay involved they can volunteer at a regional.

That said, if a student DOES want to get involved in a team, I hope they would do it in a part time manner such that they could put their academics and other pursuits first. NO MAJOR COMMITMENTS. Working on a FIRST robot is a slippery slope. It becomes tooooooo easy to say "I'll blow off studying for this test because we NEED to finish the robot. I'll catch up on my studying after ship date." This is obviously 100% unacceptable, and yet it is an easy thing to convince yourself is "ok" in the heat of the 6-weeks.

If one of my former students asked to come back and join our team, I would do everything I could to talk them out of it. However if they still wanted to be involved I would be supportive, while continuing to push them to maintain a healthy balance.

I greatly sympathize with the mentors of the team described. There is no right answer here. I've had extremely positive experiences with returning students, and I've had extremely negative experiences with returning students. I've seen extremely great examples from doing FIRST in college, and I've seen extremely BAD outcomes from doing FIRST in college. This is a case by case thing, but the team may require a "blanket" policy in the interest of "fairness".

If this team is going through a rocky a patch (as described), I can see why the mentors would issue a blanket "no returning students" policy. There are many situations where I can see how eliminating even a single additional "complication" would make my life easier as a mentor or could be the difference in the program continuing or folding.

On the flip side... a returning student is still somewhat a student. Letting them back on the team provides additional opportunities to continue to mentor them. There are cases where returning students need the team WAY more than the team needs them. It may not matter if they help the team, if the team can help their continued development. Again... sometimes this continued development will NOT be helped by returning. "Fly free little bird... find your own path in life..."

Okay... enough rambling.
To summarize, there is no right or wrong answer here. I personally sympathize with the mentors in that if they decide to bar returning students there are probably good reasons for doing so (I've rambled about some potential ones, above.)

If the anyone wishes to discuss further, I'd be happy to do so. Just shoot me a PM. Hopefully my (semi-coherent) thoughts on the subject provide some sort of help...


10-30-2008, 10:20 AM
From my experience, it is very difficult to make a direct transition from a student to an 'adult' mentor with the same team. The team will be, in most cases, composed of most of the same students and mentors as before, but the new college student is expected to take on a mentor/adult role with their friends. This difficult interpersonal change is hard enough without the pressures of freshers year college. The degree means much less than the experiences that go into getting it and the jobs that come after.

My recommendation is to take a year off. College has much to offer and you should give yourself the opportunity to explore, and focus on your school work. ;) If you still feel the strong call of FIRST, it is much easier to transition back in as a college mentor after you have been away or involved in a limited fashion.


10-30-2008, 10:22 AM
The transition from high school to college is one that involves a lot of change and a lot of shifting in many areas, including thinking. In the first paragraph of the FAHA post, it says that for the college students to return to mentor the team, it would be a productive use of free time and also make them more desirable for potential transfer schools. By reading that, it appears that mentoring the team as a first year college student is good for the college student from that perspective. It doesn’t say anything about the benefits to the team.

Second paragraph – the graduates were very active and productive students during their time on the team. That holds some of the keys as to why this is a tough topic. High school students enter the team for set number of years, finite. During their stay on the team, they develop many skills, including leadership and organizational. If they are wise, they mentor incoming freshman and new members during that stay. It becomes a cycle of students and mentors mentoring. Other times, student leaders are productive and do the work, forgetting to mentor or train the newer members or perhaps, ignoring them altogether. In the meantime, the new students continue to enter the team and with each passing year, they become veterans moving through their time in high school and then graduating.

When a group of graduates want to return to the team as new college mentors, they are still very close to the high school students in age, in mutual experiences, in familiarity with the team set-up. A danger lies within that. The danger is that the high school students will not be able to grow and mature into their development as leaders, deferring to the new college members/old teammates who could easily dominate – not having given themselves the time to develop and mature outside the team during the college transition.

Team development and growth in maturity is a natural part of the process and those team members/alumni who understand that and help in the development are very wise. That is the spirit of FIRST, in my opinion. The team mentors are thinking about the team and they are also thinking about the freshman college students, aware of the opportunities available for both.

There are teams that are successfully developed and managed by college mentors. That is not the same thing as returning to the team you were on during high school for purposes such as becoming more desirable for transfer schools. It runs deeper than that. This is food for thought, nothing more.

Collin Fultz
10-30-2008, 10:55 AM
(Goes back to bait department. Picks up can. Goes to front of store and buys can and walks outside. Opens can exposing worms.)

*Note: These are all based on MY experiences. I make no claims as to others' experiences.

I will answer this question by basically telling the story of my FIRST journey over the last seven years.

In high school, sophomore through senior year, I was on Cyber Blue 234 in Indianapolis, IN. I was even lucky enough to be a co-captain my senior year. During my time on the team, occassionally a team alumnus would come back to help out during the build season. I remember this bothering me a lot as a younger member on the team, when they were people that I had not been able to grow a friendship with as a student. I felt that they were intruding on the new team's ground. I felt that they should move on and let us take the lead on the team. Of course, I was thankful for their contributions to the team. They had been members before we had a dedicated machine shop or the kind of support (financial and mentor) we had when I was a new member. Yet, I felt that it was my turn to see what I could do on the team, and as long as they were there, I would never be able to grow.

Upon graduation I went to Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN to study engineering. Purdue is about 70 miles away from the south side of Indy where my high school is located, so being a "mentor" for that team was not really possible. However, if the distance had been shorter, I still don't know if I would have been able, emotionally, to mentor. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) was a member of the team, my younger brother was a member of the team, and I had really strong friendships with the students remaining on the team. Some of them had been on the team as long as I had, since I started as a sophomore, and I didn't feel right coming back as a former team leader because of how I had felt when I was in their situation. I also didn't feel as though I could adequately separate myself from the "friendships" to a mentor relationship. I'm not saying that I wouldn't consider the mentors my friends, but the type of friendship is very different between two students and between a mentor and a student, or, at least it was for me.

At the time I graduated, Purdue University sponsored one team, 461. During my freshman year, as I tried to get my feet underneath me with the transition to college, Purdue began another team, 1646. I chose not to be involved because I wanted to focus on school. I was in the engineering honors program which took up most of my free time. Also, I still felt as though I would have a hard time being a mentor to students who were possibly only one year younger than me. However, I did still stay involved with FIRST on a less commitment level, checking the forums, watching the kick-off, etc. I wasn't involved with a specific team in any aspect, but I kept FIRST in my mind. That also happened to be the first year of the Boilermaker Regional. This is where my life took an unexpected turn. I was asked if I would like to be a backup emcee or game announcer for the regional. The goal was for me to study what some of the best in the FIRST buisiness do (Blair Hundertmark and Dan Green in this example) and eventually transition to where I could be the primary. I accepted the invitation and have never looked back. That year, I backed up Dan at Boilermaker and at Midwest. The next year (sophomore year), I was primary GA at Boilermaker. The year after (junior), I was again primary GA at Boilermaker and the GA on Curie in Atlanta.

Game announcing wasn't all I did sophomore year. The summer prior, I spoke to a rep from Purdue FIRST who mentioned that Purdue was starting a third team. She asked if I (and a few other younger college students) would be interested in mentoring that team. At that point, I felt like I had grown enough that I could separate myself from high school students, so I accepted. Mentoring an established team is hard work on it's own...mentoring a rookie team is even harder. We had school board issues, school administration issues, work space issues, etc. The one thing that wasn't an issue was the students. The students on that team were so driven that it pushed the mentors to do their best for them. They were fantastic; I honestly cannot say enough about them. The season was stressfull but memorable. The robot performed well, the team won a Rookie All-Star, and qualified for The Championships. However, my grades began to severely suffer. I was putting SO much time into the team that I was struggling with my coursework, and I knew that GPA was an important factor for most employers, especially in my industry (aerospace). Eventually, I had to skip the trip to Atlanta with the team to catch up on classes and spent the next two years at school trying to raise my GPA back to where it was (it's much easier to drop it quickly than raise it quickly, I realized). I needed to focus on me; the team would survive without me. It a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but Scott Ritchie (234 founder) put it best at our senior banquet. He said, "You guys (the seniors) did some great things, but you can and will be replaced." He was right. I thought the team at Purdue would fall apart without me. Instead, the next year, they were inches away from winning a regional, and one of their mentors won a Regional WFA. They had endured some hardships, but the students had perservered and had thrived. They continue to inspire me as most of them will be seniors this year.

One other thing Purdue FIRST did that year was amend the Purdue FIRST constitution. As a group, we decided that students who joined the college organization could not mentor their own team as a freshman. We thought this would be good for the team at the high school as well as the student. There was a lot of debate about this change, and it came down to a vote. Not everyone was happy with the rule, but the reason they were not happy were the same reasons we didn't want them to be mentors for that team...mostly they had friendships which tied them to the team as a student. We did not want them to have to give up FIRST, on the contrary, we wanted them as involved as the wanted to be, just not specifically with their team.

So, I took two years off from mentoring so that I could get myself right. I graduated (May), got married (June), and started a job (July) this summer. In September, I went back to 234. I had spoken to some of the mentors (only two really remain from when I was a student) and they had agreed it would be ok for me to come back. The entire student populus on the team has turned over, so none (or at least very few) of these students know me as Collin the former team member. They know me as Collin the engineer and mentor, which is how I wanted it. We were standing around after one meeting and one of the mentors said, "We always knew you'd be back. Sometimes, you can just tell." So much has changed on the team over the last four years that it's like coming back to a totally different team, which is kind of nice. I don't try to put the team into the box it was in when I was a senior. The team has its own life that I get to be a part of this year, for which I am very thankful and very excited.

Hopefully this begins to answer your question. In summary, I personally couldn't balance mentoring and being a student. Yet, there are those that have balanced both quite well. The hardest thing to remember is, even if you take a few years off, FIRST will be here when you're able to come back. It may look a little different, but different isn't bad...it's just different.

Good luck.

10-30-2008, 11:45 AM
There are some threads on this topic already, but it is a very good one to bring up. Mostly, the past threads have been from students wanting to mentor in college.

There are really three points of view at work here, and three different pieces of advice. One is for the college students, one is for the mentors, and one is for the current students. I've put my advice at the end of this post, so if you want to skip the reasoning, go ahead and scroll down.

First, the college students need to stop and reevaluate their position. What is their course load like? Is it light, heavy, or in the middle? How are their grades doing? Why do they really want to return? Quite frankly, schoolwork should come first. You don't go to college to participate in robotics, do you? I thought not.

Next, the mentors. I'm going to tell a little story that I think explains why they don't want college students.

About two summers ago, I worked at a Scout camp for the summer. The camp had a rule: No staff member can go on trail with his troop. One staff member was able to, however. I asked about that, and was told that "The reason that you can't go on trail with your own troop is that the Scoutmasters might not listen when they need to, and the Scouts won't either. The Scoutmasters may see you as a Scout still, without the experience needed to lead, and the Scouts could easily see you as one of their own. The reason that [the other staff member] can go with his unit is that he's already a Scoutmaster in that troop." [/paraphrase]

The above statement sums up what is probably going on. Sure, college students do know more than high school students, and teams have had college mentors that graduated from the team, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good thing. The mentors may be afraid of division within the team.

Finally, the current students need to think as well. Why do they want the college students back? Is it because they are friends, or can the college students provide some piece of the robotics puzzle that the mentors can't for some reason?

Now, the advice: The college students should examine why they want to return. Possibly, they should find a different team in the same area. However, schoolwork comes first. The current students should try to understand the mentors' point of view. And the mentors should take a look at each college student individually, to see if they are mature/respected enough to return, or if they should join another team.

10-30-2008, 12:29 PM
IMHO: College students should defiantly be allowed to return to mentor their old team. On 555, kickoff for us is like a big reunion. We all go to our design meeting to brainstorm, and its great to have the old team members help generate ideas or pose questions to people to people who generate ideas to help them come up with something feasible. For 555, we don't get that much help with actually building the robot from our alumni, that's left to the students on the team. The alumni then usually during the competitions and cheer us on, volunteer at the events, and just help the traveling process run smoother.

Over all, your alumni are a valuable resource, and turning them away is really not a smart decision.

Alan Anderson
10-30-2008, 01:48 PM
Can there be a smooth transition from student to mentor, or does it need to be a more distinct change? I think it would be best for newly graduated students to take a year off, let the old relationships with the team fade a bit, then perhaps return in a new role.

10-30-2008, 03:06 PM
One issue we had with a student that wanted to come back to help was that he was very "productive" while a student. When he came back he tended to want to do more than just mentor. (Our team sturcture is the kids do almost all of the fabricating). We had to pull this student aside and teach him what mentoring is/means for our team. A year later things are working much better. He has also learned that he should be involving himself in other college related activities to round out his college experience.

That being said another one of our mentors is a past alumni that came back after college. There was enough seperation there that all of the students were new and she could get the repect of being a mentor instead. Only having seen those examples, I could understand a rule of requiring a new college grad to sit out one year.

On a slight tangent. Many universities do not allow alumni to become professors at the university they got their PHD because of imbreeding identical thought processes. If you take a HS Senior from your team and immediately bring them back, they may be more likely to stick with the same habits as opposed to learning new things.

One suggestion for Freshman that still want to be involved, why not get on a regional (or District in Mi) planning committee. This should help you get a whole new appreciation of FIRST and give you brand new skills.:)

10-30-2008, 03:13 PM
I'm on the side of the team leaders here. I can attest from personal experience that it is awkward returning to your high school team as a college mentor. You're not far enough removed from having been a student for all the other students and adults to treat you as a mentor and respect you as such.

You can't go from joking around with your buddies as a student to suddenly being in charge of them a year later. The social dynamic there is just really difficult. In addition teachers and mentors will be used to you as a student and it will take awhile for them to adjust to you now being one of them.

I know for me moving to another team worked out well. I was immediately accepted by the kids as a mentor, regardless of the fact that I was barely older than some of them. I never really have found being a mentor awkward because of age.

I would definitely caution you to think long and hard about whether or not you have the time to mentor though. School is more important than robotics, and it's very easy to get sucked back into FIRST and lose sight of that. You don't want to make that mistake.

Akash Rastogi
10-30-2008, 04:31 PM
One thing I'd like to drop in there from my experiences of losing and missing my senior friends is that almost all of them took breaks before (and if) they came back to mentor. This period of separation led my friends and I to learn not to rely on the knowledge that our friends had and instead learn those things on our own. Bringing back alumni as mentors without any time of separation also leads to the same ways of thinking just circulating within the team. The younger students need time to think for themselves and learn on their own on how to develop a better team otherwise there is no progress being made.

10-30-2008, 06:11 PM
Were I given the opportunity to repeat my FRC-related escapades in college, I would not have spent the 2005 season (my freshman year of college) working with 1293 for exactly the reasons laid out above. In the minds of many members of the team (and maybe myself), I was Billfred Leverette, Marlowe's Older Brother That Graduated Last Year. These days, I don't have that trouble; none of the students on the team now were on the team when I was in school.

I've seen the switch happen the very next season in very rare cases, but as a rule, I'd highly recommend taking a season away from your high school team in whatever form you desire. Volunteer at an event, work with another team (with all the warnings of John above), but give yourself the space to make the switch.

10-30-2008, 07:50 PM
This is a very tough subject. I have seen this happen several times over the years and several teams I have been on. The biggest problem I have seen is the new mentor acts like a high schooler and hangs out with their old friends. This breaks down the mentor/student line too much in my opinion. This is especially important when the high school students try to get away with something they shouldn't and the college mentor is with them. Don't get me wrong you should have a great relationship with your students but there needs to be a line.

The policy I have on my team is if you are going to a college with a FIRST team then you can not come back to mentor with my team for 2 years. Otherwise we can talk about it. This has worked out great because after working on a different team they then get new experiences that they can put to work for us and after 2 years the team dynamics are different enough that their friends are not on the team anymore.

10-30-2008, 07:51 PM
There is another aspect nobody has addressed. How does returning as a mentor affect the college student's professional development?

College should be about exploring new territory. While it is nice to stay with the comfortable and well known, you do not learn nearly as much. You get comfortable and then eventually you get stuck in your comfy chair and can't get out.

I recommend that FIRST students who want to go into technical carreers put their time into one of the OTHER numerous college level engineering competitions. Mini-Baja, SAE Aero, Concrete Canoe, SAE Formula One, Bridge Building, Underwater UAVs, Airborne UAVs, various sizes of robots, tricycle races, I really don't care which you pick. Getting involved with one of them will expose you to a whole new world of requirements and problems.

For example, FIRST robots have a pretty benign environment. Think about the things you could learn about dealing with vibration by participating in SAE Aero, with it's small internal combustion engine vibrating at several thousand rpm? or Mini Baja, or SAE Formula One all of whom will have similar issues.

I vividly remember staring in shock at the hole in the steering mechanism where a bolt used to be on the Mini Baja I built in college. Of course it fell out on the backside of the endurance course and while I found the bolt (damaged), the nut was long gone and there were no spares in the vehicle. We really put some effort into learning about how to secure nuts after that. (castle nuts and safety wire anyone?)

At the same time you bring to these teams a level of experience in participating in an engineering prioject that many of your fellow students will not achieve for a couple of years. You know how to set requirements and analyze the rules to figure out how to win the game. My year in Mini-Baja we never did figure out there WAS a game. We thought it was a race. Silly us!

You also have a precious comodity that most of your team mates and a good percentage of your competitors won't. A bunch of people with demonstrated competence in a wide variety of fields who are willing to advise you at no cost. It is called Chief Delphi.

So go out and start thinking outside of the KOP. If you are really involved in your team, you won't have time for FIRST. But when you come back, you will have a broader experience base to draw from and will be able to contribute more to whatever project you are working on.

Who wants to eat ice cream all the time? sometimes pie is nice too.


10-30-2008, 09:40 PM
My opinions:

The roles of student and mentor are very different. A mentor who was very recently a student may not be able to fill the mentor role, instead falling back to the student role.

The students do things. A mentor doesn't, instead guiding the students and serving as a reference or teacher for tasks unfamiliar to the student.

A mentor who picks up tools and works on the robot, while a student is watching, is taking on the student's role. Instead, the mentor should show the student what to so, then supervise them (at varying levels, usually reducing as time goes on) to ensure the job is done safely and correctly.

Yes, sometimes a mentor must pick up the tools. This should be the exception however. Also, a mentor sometimes has to let the student fail, as failure is a powerful learning experience. As I have said before, that's darn hard to do as a mentor.

If the person can be a Mentor, let them. But if they are just another Student, they should not be allowed to participate.*


* Take this to the extreme: Team 9999 consists of one High School student and 35 "mentors" - is that in the spirit of FIRST?


10-31-2008, 02:43 PM
I graduated last year and have been helping out this year as a mentor now with team 910. I can understand some of the issues some other college mentors have had but I've been fortunate enough not to have them so far. For one thing I really only go to the off-season competitions at this point (though I plan to help out during build season too.) Secondly, the large majority of the students on the team this year were not on the team last year, so I have no issues with the students not respecting me or thinking of me as just another student or anything like that, and finally I feel I've made the student to mentor switch perfectly. The senior members spent a large majority of their time last year mentoring anyways, and we tried to make it a policy not to pick up tools unless absolutely necessary.

Finally, and most importantly, I know how to balance my time. I don't plan on helping every day, and that never was my plan. I just plan on going back to help out here and there, teach the new guys how to do some machining, and help them adjust to the atmosphere and spirit of FIRST.

I'll never really be an engineering mentor at any rate, as I'm going into anthropology, but it is just as important to teach the students the ideals of FIRST as it is the machining and wiring and programming.

10-31-2008, 04:27 PM
Can there be a smooth transition from student to mentor, or does it need to be a more distinct change? I think it would be best for newly graduated students to take a year off, let the old relationships with the team fade a bit, then perhaps return in a new role.

That is what happened with one of my best friends from MOE, we graduated the same year, he took a few seasons off and now came back to mentor and from everything that I have seen is doing an excellent job. When he returned none of the students knew him, they had only heard that he was on the team before, so he did not have to deal with the "I knew him before" from the students. He helped lead a sub-team with great results. It was o weird seeing students look up to him and listen to him as a mentor but it works.
I think that it dose really depend on who the student is, their skill level and if they have the time to offer without hurting school.

Just my quick 2 cents

11-01-2008, 06:29 PM
Many of the posts here have, in my opinion, not been descriptions of mentors but rather of helpful alumni. I've had experience with several of them over the years, and their help is generally well received. What doesn't work well is when they start to think they have decision-making authority. I can think of incidents that caused hard feelings, and sometimes wasted work or materials.

We need to go back to think of what the role of a mentor is for an FRC team. We have two basic types, engineering mentors (EM) and non-engineering mentors (NEM). The NEM's take care of things like team organization, school/community relations, travel, expenses, etc. The EM's have the responsibility to teach engineering principles to team members.

Any recent alumnus who returns to work with the team needs to be evaluated as to whether he or she fits into either the EM or NEM role. In most cases, they do not, simply because they do not have enough experience. There are teams that are essentially run by college mentors, in the true mentor sense, so that model of a team can work. But for most teams, alumni should be content with being in the position of supporting alumni. Help on work days from time to time - don't design the work to be done, but lend a helping hand to hold parts as the students work on them, and make sure safety procedures are being followed. Be there to support the team at things like kickoff, competition, and off-season events. But recognize that your role is now somewhere in between - no longer a student, but not yet a mentor. And please be sure that everything is in balance - your schoolwork, your extra-curriculars, your life outside school - with anything you do with the FRC team.

Brandon Holley
11-01-2008, 09:47 PM
Speaking as a FIRST involved person starting in high school, and then making the transition to mentor in college, I have a couple of thoughts:

1. The transition from student to mentor WILL NOT be instantaneous regardless of what team you are going to (your old one or a new one). It is just simply too hard to flip that switch in your head to become a full on mentor in 1 year. The saying you always hear around here is that you start becoming a mentor after your first year in the program. While this is true, it is sometimes difficult for students to realize that they are acting like a student (this comes from observing several dozen college students help out our team)

2. Even though that switch cannot be thrown in one year, I do not think that a student should not be able to become a mentor the next year. On our team, we don't have any "adult engineers" or "adult mentors" as most people call them. We have about 15 college students who are working on the transition to mentor. The first year college kids are still in the middle of the student/mentor transition, but the seasoned veterans who have been in college for a couple years GET IT, and they usually can take the role of an "adult mentor".

3. I agree with what the mentors are doing, by not allowing the student to come back as a mentor, however it seems like the team may need a 3rd category. There does not necessarily need to be STUDENTS and MENTORS....why not have STUDENTS, MENTORS, and COLLEGE STUDENTS. If the students really want to stay involved, why not let them stay involved. It may give the mentors on the team a chance to flex their mentor training muscles if you know what I am saying. Allow the college students to lead some design discussions, or some other task, but under the eye of a mentor.

4. The college student in FIRST is unnatural. Plain and simple. FIRST, in my opinion does not have a good place for college students, which brings up what JVN said about joining other groups (like mini baja, which is awesome). However, I feel college students just need time to learn this amorphous role that FIRST leaves for them. I know that over my 4 years at northeastern I have changed from ex-student to mentor, and I think that I do a fairly decent job at being a mentor while handling everything else that goes with college.

5. Finally, I feel that being a college student does give an advantage. JVN, I know you said that saying things like "I'll be a better mentor because we're so close in age" is an easy door to hide behind, but if a college student is effectively being a mentor, I think it DOES give an advantage. High school students would tend to relate more towards a college mentor. Maybe a high school student seeing that being an engineer (or whatever you want to be) does not mean being a "nerd" or someone who dwells in basements all day and night.

Take this advice for what you will. It is my honest opinion of FIRST life for a college mentor. For me, being a mentor has been very gratifying, and it means a lot to me to be able to "payback" what someone did for me in high school.

Good Luck with your situation, I hope my advice helps!


11-03-2008, 07:17 AM
I did the student-to-mentor transition on my team. I definitely agree with what Brandon said about the switch not flipping. It's taken me almost my whole college career to really "get" how to be a mentor, in the capacity I originally imagined I would be. I've been perfectly capable of teaching and helping with the system that I knew very well, but there's more to mentoring than knowing a system and being able to show someone how it works and how to put it together.

At the same time, I have set an example for our students. Many of them have seen how I learned from the team activities, took my learning to the next level by going to college and getting my degree, and am now a successful engineer in industry. As I am closer to their age, many of the students seem to be able to talk to me more easily about lots of topics, especially college. The parents have also taken advantage of that, asking someone who has JUST been there, how things are at college, what their student can expect, etc. Also, several of the students have seen me go through and be successful at my now-alma-mater and decided to attend the school myself.

11-03-2008, 09:26 AM
This is a good topic. It lends to lengthy responses which can be helpful.

I know our team has dealt with the college mentor thing a few times. I feel for our team there is no one answer. Some college students are ready for the task & others aren't. One of the first things I do with returning college mentors is give them the "junk" jobs. After kickoff, all of the un-fun things that need to be done get assigned to returning college mentors. You wouldn't believe how quickly you can weed out the college mentors that want to help & those that want to come back & build robots & hang out with friends. Once they have proven that they want to help & mentor, I encourage them to get in and teach the kids, guide them, help them.

I have found that some of my best mentors are the college students that are going to school for an education degree. These students want to teach & I know this will help with their growth as a future professional. One of my team assistants for the past 2 years was a former student studying to be a Technology teacher. He is now heading off to finish his degree so I have asked another former student to fill his role, another future Technology teacher who is studying at a local community college for a year.

This is not to say that the students studying engineering aren't good mentors, many are. The engineering students just tend to be the mentors that want to "do" more than show. I let them learn that role.

Likewise I have had to ask returning members to leave. Sometimes they just aren't mature enough to have around the kids. It isn't a fun thing to do, but it does show the other college mentors that if we don't think you are helping you will have to leave.

As for the growth of the college students, I always encourage my graduating seniors to go out & try new things. Like has been said above. Join Mini-Baja, Formula 1, or whatever club/activity you think YOU will enjoy.

Al Skierkiewicz
11-04-2008, 07:12 AM
If we are all about inspiring students, when does that officially end? I think the answer is never. If a student wishes to come back and mentor, we should inspire this student as a mentor. If a student wishes to return and give back to the team I don't think they should be turned away. As Eric has pointed out, Boy Scouts make the transition all the time. A scout turns adult leader at age 18 by definition. By that time, he should have received enough leadership training to make a smooth transition. In First we should also be giving that training. However, as other have pointed out, there are other things in college life that should take precedent and it is our experience which should guide that student. As in high school, students should have priorities which govern their daily activities. Family, school, church, scouts, and then First. If a college student is struggling with these demands then we could help by turning them away but I think there is something else that could be done.
That said there are other factors that come into play here. Local school district rules, insurance, team rules, social interaction with younger students, will all play a part in the team decision over returning students. Each of these need to considered in the final decision.

04-06-2009, 01:17 PM
I kind of see FIRST like college athletics. The best thing about these sports (I'll use Football because that's what I know) is that the team is always changing. Look at any pro team, with the few execeptions of injuries or retirement, most "all stars" stay on the same team. Peyton Manning is the face of the Colts, Tom Brady the face of the Pats. The coachs job is much easier with "all star" players. Look at college teams, though, and you see much more innovation. By implementing new blood into the system teams have to adapt.

How does this relate? FIRST is an organization established to teach the future of America and the world. No one should stop learning, EVER!!!! That being said, a returning alumni could and most likely will harm the learning process of future students. The great thing about my team, 234, is the student to mentor relationships. We all hang out, act like buds, throw a few cokes back. There is still line, though. If you were to come back a year, even two later, you might hurt your team.

Does that mean that I don't want to be a mentor in the future? No. I will go to Purdue to study ME tech and then the USAF. After, I would love to teach a group of students who love to learn. That is what the mentor is there to do. If you as a senior in high school can seperate yourself enough from the students to teach instead of do to much yourself, than I congradulate you. If not, stay away and come back when you are ready.