Company-Based Teams & Full-Time FRC Mentors?

I’m the lead mentor of an established FRC team. We are school-sponsored…our workshop is at school and we operate just like any other varsity sport. We have stable sponsors. But there’s one important resource we lack … TIME.

Our mentors are stretched thin - whether they’re teachers at the school or engineers at local companies, nobody can devote the time required to support the growth we would all like to see on our team.

In a perfect world, we would partner with a local company who wants to employ a full-time (or at least 75%) FIRST Robotics Mentor.

Is anyone aware of successful examples of this kind of a partnership? A model where employees are all-in, or even a company who has a full-time FRC mentor on staff?

This list will help me do more research and hopefully work toward bringing this type of model to my area.

Here are a few partnerships that might (not sure) be close to what I’m talking about:

  • Stryker (2767)
  • Baxter (16)
  • DANA corp. (279)

Do you know of any others? Thoughts or comments? Thank you!

EDIT: Thanks for the feedback! None of the teams I listed actually do this type of thing. I was completely mistaken. Thanks!

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I didn’t even realize this was a thing!

The only examples I am aware of are when companies have full-time employees running their STEM/outreach initiatives. They aren’t full-time mentors, but they do dedicate their time to coordinating the company’s support for FIRST and other outreach programs (college recruitment, internship programs, grant programs, etc).

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Or find a retiree? I have lots of time to give to our team (and to another area team), but I do lack the ambition to work on this stuff year round, so they only get me from January to April-ish.

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While I can’t speak for the first two teams listed, 279 does not follow this model.
Full disclosure: I was on 279 for the previous 9 years and this is my first year away.

Most of their mentors are Dana employees; with some school personnel, alumni and parents of current students/alumni still mentoring.

This line essentially sums it up nicely. All robot work is done by the team as a whole, at the school, during evening hours and weekends as needed. The Dana employees aren’t full-time FIRST mentors, but do a few robotics-related tasks throughout the day along with their normal duties (purchasing/travel reservations/etc)

In my early years (and before my time with the team) they would often move their build space from the school to Dana midway through the season to utilize their facilities and would be able to work later into the night, but for the past ~6 years or so all work has been done at the school only, with some occasional parts CNC’d at Dana.

Dana also sponsors another local team, 451. I’m not sure the level of support but maybe @AgentSmith451 or someone else from their team can comment.

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While I don’t know of any teams actually doing what you suggest, the very idea disturbs me. This is like when they started allowing professional athletes to compete in the Olympics, but worse. The whole point of FIRST is that it’s being done by the kids, that we’re all here as volunteers (the mentors, refs, judges, etc.) because we love the idea of FIRST and want to help the kids achieve. I would find the idea of a full-time, paid mentor antithetical to the ideals of FIRST.

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If that full time mentor is inspiring students to enjoy STEM then I’d say they’re exactly fulfilling the ideals of FIRST

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To be clear, I am not suggesting that paid employees should be designing, building, and programming FRC robots all day while the kids sit in school. Instead, I’m thinking about how nice it would be for a company to recognize the impact a FIRST team has on these kids, and therefore wants to employ someone in an outreach capacity to be able to support a team.

As a lead mentor, I’m currently working 70 hours per week during the season (my full time job plus the time I spend doing FRC planning and practice). It’s not sustainable for every team, and I’m wondering if companies exist that want to employ someone so they’re doing the work of a lead mentor as part of their ~40 hour work week.

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Head Refs, Judges Advisers, FTAs, Volunteer Coordinators, etc are still volunteers. Most of them spend 3-4 weeks, 2-3 weekdays each week away from work to run these events. At some point, there would need to be some compensation given to them past just “Volunteering”. That point has not been reached yet, but with how quickly the FIRST programs as a whole are growing, it may only be a matter of time before there needs to be additional incentive given to keep these people supporting the program in a part time way. Events cannot be run without them, and they all require a rather extensive understanding of various parts of the event, so they cannot be easily replaced at the drop of a hat.

At what point does FIRST have to go the way of other highschool sports, where they pay refs and technicians a small amount to help run the basketball field/football field/commentate the game. This would then technically make these people professionals.

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If I were doing this full-time, I wouldn’t be spending it building the robot.

I would spend it getting ahead on logistical issues
I would spend it developing a more robust training method for our machine tools.
I would spend it troubleshooting our newly purchased CNC router.
I would spend it learning more of the skill set that our previous software mentors had.
I would spend it investigating the error messages our students haven’t been able to solve.
I would spend it coming up with better organizational systems for our shop.

There’s a thousand things teams just never get the time to do during the season.

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This is starting to sound like work.

Being retired, I have no interest in doing work, so these things never get done on our team.

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@TheJoe is correct with how Dana operates. Full time engineers like myself volunteer to be at robotics after working hours, and for the most part it doesn’t affect my day job, with the exception of working remotely during events if needed. I occasionally do robotics-related things during work hours but it’s pretty minor. 451 works out of a shop within a Dana facility, which makes it convenient for the Dana mentors to get to meetings on time. The downside is that we’re basically working a full time and part time job back to back during build season.

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@TheJoe and @AgentSmith451 Thanks for your helpful clarification!

“hardest fun you’ll ever have”

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News to me we have full time mentors.
There are a lot of us that put in 40hrs a week on top of our day jobs though. However, I don’t suspect this is unique to 2767. I personally do not work at Stryker, however they are (from the outside) great with the support of FIRST.

Same on our team with one of our lead mentors. One of our mentors has to track his volunteer hours/time for his job. In 2018 he put in roughly 750 hours towards our team…or 2 hours every single day for year. And when you add to that the personal expenses that come with mentoring a team: lost vacation time at work, cost of travel, cost of team gear and the dreaded covering a team expense because the team doesn’t have money for it right now…it’s a lot for one person.

That said I don’t know that a full-time or paid mentor is the answer but I do think something needs to be done because I suspect this is going on on more than just our team and how is it sustainable?

I guess what I am wondering is whether there are mentors out there who are able to count the time they spend doing FRC work as part of their full-time job commitment. As in…that mentor’s time is part of the company’s sponsorship of the team. Do you think this exists?

I’m not aware of it. I mentor a team with a primary corporate sponsor, and the most we get that could be considered paid work is some small percent of the person whose responsibilities include community outreach. But we’re talking <5%, not 75% plus.

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it may look like that from the outside, but its probably less than you think. a big part is having young mentors that have the time to pump in 40+ hours a week during the build when needed.

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I think there are some jobs that give paid volunteer hours (like Ford maybe) but I think it’s more built into their contracts. Like they get paid for any qualifying volunteer work, and only a specific number of hours, and is not even close to what they actually spend.

There also might be some smaller companies that sponsor a team and will give an employee a paid workday (maybe 8hrs for the friday or something) to attend a competition. But I also think it’s rare and due to the generous nature of the sponsor.

I’ve also heard rumors of some teams having stem directors at their schools that devote their full time to running their teams, though usually it’s ALL the teams in the district at every level.

Then there are teachers that have robotics classes during the day that count toward required school credit. But I’m sure that’s not the only class they teach.

Most of what I’m saying is just stuff I’ve heard and I can’t give specific examples, but I don’t think any of them quite cover the extent that your talking about. It may be out there, but I’ve never heard of a team that plays a mentor full time just to mentor that team.