We had huge growth a few years ago and jumped from around 40 students up to 70. Knowing that we would struggle to provide a good experience for that many people, we decided to raise our expectations of students to weed out the slackers. We added a minimum number of volunteering hours, including a certain number at our FLL tournaments. We started tracking attendance better and trying to put numbers behind who wasn’t attending. We decided that we can’t kick someone off of the team for attendance issues unless we have data to back up our stance. None of the changes were insane, and all of the requirements were still levels of magnitude lower than the participation from the more dedicated members.
We started hosting a mock kick-off in the fall to walk new members through the initial brainstorming process and introduce everyone. We have also hosted a few rookie teams at these events.
This season we’ll be hosting a “Sub-Team Fair” for the first time. Instead of students blindly picking a subteam, they’ll spend, for example, half an hour soldering and crimping at the Electrical station, then rotate on through the other teams. Hopefully more kids can get on a subteam that they enjoy, which should prevent them from losing interest and quitting.
Another problem that we’ve had is veterans doing the work during the build season instead of teaching rookies, so this year we’re stepping up our pre-season training as well. Instead of having 20 veterans and 20 rookies on the build team, we can, hopefully, have 40 students with the skill level of veterans.
We looked for new mentors and found some. We also stressed parent involvement, and have had great results. Because of the increased mentorship, we created a new technical subteam, R&D, to take some of the load off of mechanical and create a group dedicated to robot carts, tracking and leading prototyping during the early build season, battery carts, pit design, the practice field, and, recently, drivetrain prototyping. We expanded non-technical, jumping from “non-technical” to Business, Media, and Awards & Outreach, which has had great success creating new events for students to fill their volunteering requirement and found more funding to make our expansion possible.
This past season we went from 70 members down to around 55, a more manageable number. Some preliminary results from this year’s recruitment, which focused heavily on the non-technical side of the team, are looking like we might have a big team again this season, but I think that we’re more ready than ever to handle it.
We’re still working out our system and trying to find what works best for us.