Being a FIRST Alumni

Hi guys. So now that my fourth and last FRC season as student has came to close and I am now a FIRST Alumni and pretty soon going to be a mentor, how have you guys that used to be alumni handled this?

Since 2013 I have been part of an FRC team as a student. I am going to college now where the rookie team I was part of for the Stronghold season (Glitch 5854) is hosted, so thats pretty awesome. But I feel like it’s going to feel weird now that I’m going to be a mentor. I feel like at competitions I will feel out of place. On the team and on CD I will no longer be “Lead Programmer” or “Programmer” I will be listed as mentor. I’m no longer going to be part of student decisions or any of that sort. I know that I will adapt to it, but it seems odd.

How are you guys (class of 2016) going to handle now being a FIRST Alumni and mentor? How have other former first year alumni/mentors handled being part of a team they were part of as student? I would really like to get some pointers or advice on this from other alumni. Seems so surreal.

It’s gonna be one heck of a shell shock next Kickoff when you realize that you gotta step back and let the students decide what strategy they want to pursue and what mechanisms to use. Try as you might, you’re mostly there in an advisory role.

Also, College courses are much different from High School courses. If you even feel the the tiniest slip, completely step away from the team and make sure you’re on stable ground.

Volunteer at events.

My senior year of high school I started getting involved volunteering. It really allowed me to continue to get my FIRST fix, while being accommodating to my college student schedule. Plus you’re going to meet so many other FIRST Alum who are passionate about the same things.

Volunteer at events. You won’t regret it.

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Can’t quote that enough. Volunteer, it’s an amazing way to stay involved once you graduate.

Also, remember that your studies still come first, don’t feel like you have maintain ridiculous hours of commitment. I took some time off before mentoring, and it was the right choice for me (FRC was still there when I was ready to jump back in).

Also, I see you’re a programmer. If you’d like, help us build The Blue Alliance - it’s totally open source and community driven. I started contributing after I graduated as a way to stay involved and choose my level of commitment, and it was by far the best choice I’ve made. You can help contribute to the website or one of the mobile apps - we’d be happy to have you. Check it out on GitHub or shoot me a PM if you’d like to learn more.

Everyone’s different, but at least for me, the hardest year was this year (senior year of college) balancing the team and senior design. To be fair, I’m an edge case where I’ve been running the team for the last three years.

This is my recommendation. Or mentor an FTC/FLL team. The FRC build season is not the most accommodating for a college course schedule. I have seen too many alumni bite off more than they could chew their freshman year of undergrad.

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Do this.

When I graduated I dropped away from FIRST for a solid 4 years. This year I volunteered at Palmetto and have really caught it again. You think the people you have met in FIRST are great? Wait until you are standing next to an 80 year old woman who’s been doing field reset for 15 years, and says it’s her highlight of her entire year. That’s when it really hits that you’ll want to stay involved.

Also, what Phil said. Jump into The Blue Alliance. It’s a great way to sharpen your craft, meet people, and work on something that the entire community uses (300k visitors)

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Oh my God I hope there are people in this world who love you too much to let you mentor while you are in college, at least for your freshman year.

FIRST is not going anywhere as far as I know for the 2017 season. Take time to get good grades and discover yourself!

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I’ve been told be alumni before me to try to stay away from mentoring, at least for the first couple years of college. Volunteering, as others have said, is a great way to remain involved and to give back. I will probably remain as a design consultant for my team with no actual responsibility or obligation as I’d like to focus that on college for the next few years.

Yes, as the talking orange juice said, it’s best to give back and volunteer. I remember being a judge a few times for FLL tournaments and you get a good feeling, know that you inspired people. Also it might help to find a new team. I personally stuck with my old one, but it’s up to you. If you’re going away for college, see if there’s teams out there that need help. And most importantly don’t try to take control.

I rarely post on Chief, but as I was in your shoes just a few years ago, I feel qualified to give you some advice.

I was one of the top students on my team, and my life pretty much only consisted of FRC for 6 months of the year. I networked, I CADded, I CDed, I worked with suppliers, I even did work for other teams when I didn’t have enough to do on my own (shoutout to Travis on 971). I couldn’t imagine not having FRC in my life.

When I asked them about mentoring in college, my friends that were mentors or alums all advised me to take a year off of FRC, at least my freshman year. And I didn’t really listen to any of them. I had the team I would join all picked out, I even planned out ways to get from my college to their meetings and back.

And then college happened. For those of you who don’t know yet, college is amazing. It’s when your classes suddenly become not boring. It’s when you get to live on your own, and you don’t have to go to bed by midnight if you don’t want to. It’s where you figure out who you are when your life isn’t framed in terms of your parents, or your high school friends. It’s a place to explore, and be challenged, and be an adult in ways that you really couldn’t in high school.

Pretty soon, my desire to mentor just went away. As stupid as it is to say (and as much as it may fall on deaf ears in this forum), there’s more to life than FRC. Staying up late talking to french majors and wandering around the roofs of campus will teach you a lot more about yourself, and have made me a lot happier, than doing FRC for a 5th time. FRC, especially on Chief, can be pretty culty, and once you’re forced to step away from that when you go to college, you’ll gain a lot of perspective and maturity.

The stuff I learned in FRC, like how to use a lathe, or troubleshoot a system, or make a professional network, or work extremely hard, are things that continue to put me ahead in college, and STEM is still hugely important to me (I’m studying physics, and just used my CAD skills to design part of an experiment that will help us discover and understand dark matter). But I don’t mentor, and for the moment, I’m glad of that. I get to do research, I get to play in bands, I get to have an amazing group of friends who aren’t all engineers, and I get to try awesome new stuff all the time. That wouldn’t be an option if I was mentoring.

Maybe this will fall on deaf ears, and if it does, I don’t really blame you for not listening. I didn’t listen either. But don’t mentor when you’re in college, at least your first year. FRC will always be there. But you’ll only have one shot at figuring out what you’re actually like when you take away all the old, external stuff in your life, and start having to make choices about what’s actually important to you. As happy as you are to be a student in FRC, being a mentor isn’t the same (although it’s still awesome), and it can wait. College, and taking one of the last steps on your path to maturity, won’t.

Anyway, good luck. You’ve got a wonderful four years ahead of you.

I had very little trouble mentoring and volunteering my Freshman year of college. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a fantastic student by any means, but I work hard. If you are good at managing your time you can mentor, volunteer, and effectively participate in college activities while also doing well in class. If you can’t manage your time correctly you need to realize this and correct for it. The first thing to go for me would be mentoring, then college activities, then volunteering.

Don’t be scared off from mentoring by people on Chief Delphi. It’s doable, and you can thrive in that role. However, nobody knows your situation (and capabilities) better than you (and probably your parents). If classes aren’t going well, make a change.

I took a complete break from FIRST for my first three years of college. Would not recommend…

But! In some ways, it was really nice when I finally did go back and mentored my old high school team. It was a very smooth transition to being familiar with a few members of the team, but not so much to make the mentor/student situation awkward. I found that some alumni who came back to mentor their first year fell into the trap of being “just one of the guys” and not setting a good example for the students.

I highly recommend volunteering, but it’s not for everyone. If you don’t think it’d be a good fit for you, then definitely mentor. In the end, as it’s been said over and over, time management is huge.

I agree with what everyone else is saying. Oftentimes taking a step back at least for a short period of time, (whether a full break or volunteering) gives you a completely different perspective of FIRST than what you would get as a student on a team. It sounds to me like you want to mentor a team you are an alum of. Let me just tell you, that is one of the toughest ways to learn how to mentor. Not only are you trying to figure your own life out (because trust me, the first year of college will change you), trying to figure out your new place on the team, the students have to adjust to you not being their peer, AND the other mentors have to adjust to seeing you as ‘one of them’. Each of these is quite difficult. But it can be done. I would not advise taking on a full mentor role your first year, or even in your college years. You’ve got to remember that school work comes first, and you just don’t have the workfield experience the older adult mentors have, yet. However, perhaps you can work with the other mentors to find a way you can be sort of an apprentice mentor. That way, you can help with a specific area, that requires less time commitment, somewhat like a contractor.
I don’t say any of this to discourage you from mentoring; I was told much of this when I became a FIRST alumni, and I blew it off. Looking back I realize how wise the people were, who told me to back off a bit from my daily direct involvement in FIRST. Mentoring is incredibly rewarding, but it takes time to adjust to ‘growing up’, and others adjusting to you ‘growing up’ as well.
I like what they said about maybe helping with The Blue Alliance. For me, after mentoring for a year, I got the opportunity to mentor some teams in Australia with Robots in the Outback. There, I saw a completely different side of FIRST. Getting to experience that, really helped me see what I had missed when I was a student. So for you, getting involved in FIRST in a completely new way can also really help you learn more about FIRST and what you’re passionate about, before trying to jump all in as an ‘adult’.

Mentoring is different, powerfully so. I do not know you in a meaningful enough way to tell you how it will unfold for you, how it will change you. Only you can decide the right path to take to continue being a part of the FIRST community. But I can tell you that in your transition from student to mentor you will make mistakes, mistakes that you will learn from in order become a great mentor. It will push the boundaries of your ability to communicate with others in all senses of communication, because your focus is now on everyone around you. You are going to learn to be a teacher of skills both tangible and not, the balance of which just depends on who you are really. It will feel weird and odd but all changes do at first. But the real weird part is that being a mentor is just a label like being called an adult, there is no one point in time that you change, its a gradual shift in how you define yourself. My journey has been long and often rough to become the mentor I am today and I am a better person because of it.

I was always focused on doing when I was a student and was rather bad at properly teaching and delegating tasks. I had a rough first year of mentoring. I pretty much ended up building a separate robot from the majority of the students. The students of course fielded the robot that they put their work into, why wouldn’t they. That has been my biggest mistake and I have been learning from it for 8 years now. I’ve learned to teach and communicate better and I’m proud of my kids, that I can see the skills I have given them and some have even surpassed me with what they do. I have learned more as a mentor than I ever have as a student because there is something about teaching that makes you critical of your own views and skills. It makes you really look hard at why you use the methods you do and pushes your to learn more. When my late wife told me in 2009 that I was becoming a teacher I brushed it off, I would never be a teacher. But she was right, I have become a teacher; something that 10 years ago I would have said was a crazy notion, but here I am.

I will be here until the end of time working my butt off to inspire and enable the ever changing group of students that pass through our doors.

Also, that DampRobot guy has some good words.

Concur. A 1 year break is correct and should be customary (check my sig). Volunteering is OK.

Heck I took another year off after graduating college. You need to know where you stand before you can think of teaching people.

This this this this this.

There’s opportunity cost in every decision you make, even mentoring. By every metric you listed here, I also “successfully” mentored 5188 for the past 2.5 years. It’s still a decision I regret sometimes.

It’s so hard to explain why you shouldn’t mentor during your freshmen year (or at all) during college. The profoundness of the college experience is not something you realize immediately. It took me 2-2.5 years to finally realize what I was sacrificing in order to mentor and admit that it wasn’t worth it.

For a lot of students heavily invested in FRC, FIRST becomes their social life as well. I believe a lot of these students go through college mentoring and getting decent/good grades in school, thinking that they get to have the best of both worlds. In reality, they’re missing out on so much of the college experience, because IMO the things you learn socially in college are just as important as what you learn in the classroom. College has the potential to be the best four years of your life, and the people you meet there can be your closest friends for the rest of your life. Don’t miss out on that just because of this weird addiction to FRC that we all have.

As tempting as it may be to do otherwise, please just take your freshmen year off. Join clubs. Hang out with your freshmen floor at 2AM doing absolutely nothing (or things you probably shouldn’t be doing). Try rushing a fraternity and joining Greek life (it’s the single most rewarding decision I’ve made in my entire life). Join other engineering clubs (Formula SAE, Shell Ecomarathon, etc) and see how the skills you learned in FRC apply to the real world. There is so much more this world has to offer, and college really is the best place to experience it all. Don’t miss out on this just for something as trivial as FRC.

I have to agree with the general sentiment of the thread here. I was in your shoes this time last year, actually. I was one-hundred percent ready to mentor a team in the city I went to my freshman year of college. Heck, I even scheduled my spring semester classes so I wouldn’t have classes that required attendance Thursday and Friday.

By the time build season rolled around, I had so many other things to do (responsibilities! activisim! 2am pizza! HOMEWORK) that mentoring was at the very back of my mind. It’s also of note to mention I wouldn’t have done the above things if I was mentoring in some capacity - I may have a different way of doing things than you.

I decided to volunteer instead when a regional came to the city I was in. During competition season, I’d watch a few regionals while doing my homework. It was an easy decision for me to make because I had already volunteered my senior year of high school and knew the VIMS process. I also really enjoyed volunteering. It might not be an easy one for you, maybe because this may be your first time volunteering. Looking at your location, there may be an off-season event in NC that you could go to.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to mentor a team, even your own team, straight out of high school, but that isn’t to say it will be as easy as jumping back in where you left off with your old team. My older brother ended up going back to our old team, but limited himself for a few weeks when he had school off. That way, he knew he would not fall behind on his schoolwork - which happens a lot in college. The transition was also easier for him because he was a team captain when he graduated. If you do want mentoring resources, I’d go on NEMO.

I know someone already asked, but have you considered mentoring a team on the jr.FLL/FLL/FTC level?

Either way, I wish you the best, and will be here for advice. If it becomes overwhelming, there’s nothing wrong with stopping and taking time for yourself.

Our team doesn’t allow freshmen to mentor strickly due to the fact that school should be put first.
In regards to mentoring in general, I believe that the difference between being a bad mentor and being an amazing mentor is being a leader and being a facilitator. Bad mentors are like a roller coaster where they provide constant feedback/leadership to keep the team on a perfect track. Good mentors are like the rides with the middle track and only step in and provide students guidance when asked or to prevent the students from crashing off of the general track in a facilitator type position. Personally for me I found it hard to mentor my team even being gone for 3 years after I graduated. I was offering ideas throughout build season, which I really need to work on doing better. The ideal perfect mentor would not win a Woodie Flowers award because they shouldn’t be doing anything for the team. The students need to do it all.

To echo the multiple people who encouraged volunteering. This is the easiest thing you can do and commit very little time to it. Volunteer for ALL first events in your area that you can (not just FRC), as they are usually in need of volunteers and can use the help of someone experienced!

First off, there are a lot of other threads (ex. dedicated to this topic; it’s one that has impacted many people who do and do not read this forum, including myself.

Secondly, my best piece of advice is to, at a minimum, explore other options other than mentoring FRC at your school. There are SO many other things to do in college that most people never did in high school, and many more types of people to talk to and learn from.

I’m not saying do not mentor: ultimately, you need to make that decision based on how much time you can/want reasonably commit to the team and keep your grades at a high level. However, if you’ve done as I’ve explained above and budget your time appropriately, then I don’t believe there is anything to keep you from mentoring.

A few other points:

  1. Don’t mentor your old team for at least a couple years. The difficulty of the transition is magnified and it is harder to separate yourself when you need the time for other things (like school, for example). There are countless stories of people where this has not worked. If you are going to mentor in freshman year, find another team.

  2. If you don’t feel like you have the time to mentor, volunteer, as many have already said. It’s really a great way to give back to the FIRST community without committing to long team hours. This is magnified if you’re going to school in an area transitioning to districts.