How involved are your mentors?

My team’s mentors try to stay back and help only when asked because they want us to get the most out of the FIRST experience. What about your team?

Our team’s mentors play a large part in the design and fabrication of the robot because they want the students to learn from good leadership and get the most out of the FIRST experience.

Our mentors suggest ideas and prototype alongside us but the actual robot is basically student designed and built.

However the trend is slightly toward increased mentor involvement as there’s a lot we could learn from them that we don’t take advantage of as much.

Our team is run 50/50 with mentors and students working hand in hand on ALL aspects of the season. We’ve found when students get to work as peers with “real” engineers, magic happens. This really allows our students to get the most out of the FIRST experience.


If students and mentors don’t work side by side, how will the students gain enough knowledge to even know when to ask for help?

I suggest you take a roadtrip and visit a couple of teams in your area named Wildstang and Winnovation. They will have lots of suggestions about getting the most out of your FIRST experience.

John is my hero for so many reasons, most of which are summarized by this short and sweet post. John knows what I mean.

How involved ?

It depends on ‘when’.

When we go to our 1st regional competition I like to be at about ‘2 tau’ here

That would be about 13.5 %.

If we make it to the Championship I want to be at about ‘3 tau’.

I’m going to be the second to quote John in this thread, because he sums it up so well.

Personally, I prefer to build parts that the students designed, than to have them build parts the engineers designed. However, what happens is that the students develop the design concept with assistance from the engineers, and then the engineers work with them to make make it something that can be built, so they can learn that important piece of the puzzle. And then, because none of the 4 high schools represented on our team teach shop classes anymore, the engineers work with the students to teach them fabrication techniques and the importance of taking pride in their work. Then we all work together to get it done and in the crate.

Students make all decisions by consensus. They decide on strategy and brainstorm ideas for robot. Occasionally mentors will give ideas during this process if students have not thought about something that may be important but students make all final decisions. One of the fun parts of the season is when they all bring in mock ups of their ideas made from various materials or on CAD. In most situations they will come up with 2-3 winning ideas that we will see other teams develop. The gotcha moment every year is when a student turns to the mentors and says: " this is possible right?". The learning about engineering principles and the math and science behind the robot starts here.

Students build and/or fabricate about 90% of the robot parts. We do not have a machine shop so we always look at what can be made from ITEM, kit of parts or bought off the shelf. Occasionally we need help with a sponsor/mentor who needs to fabricate a part that the kids design. We are fortunate that we have a 3D printer and students design and install parts that they created on the 3D printer. Student do all the building, rebuilding and rebuilding again. Mentors are there to assist and help but kids have tools in their hands almost all of the time.

You will never see a mentor in our pit working on the robot with a toll in their hand. By then, the kids can almost tear that robot apart with their eyes closed. You’ll see mentors observing and giving guidance if needed but kids do all the work.

Mentors go through and show students the calculations of how and why things should work. Students need occasional help with learning how the CAD parts should be made. They learn about strength of materials, gear ratios, rpm calculations, center of gravity, MOI, centriods, ohms law, etc. etc. etc.

This year we had another one of those great moments after our first event. Students saw how well vacuums worked and wanted to investigate if we could do it. A mentor brought in his hand held vacuum cleaner and we saw it had the power needed. The team tore it down saw how the impeller worked and reverse engineered that impeller on CAD and then they made the part on the 3D printer. The student excitement was awesome when it worked. The CAD team went on to make the shroud (casing around the impeller and tested various KOP motors and funnels. You should be able to see our vacuum on our robot next week at 10,000 Lakes.

It has been said in another thread but just going through the above process has made our students winners. They’re proud and we are proud of them.

Another requote of this.

(Sorry for the long post)

My high school’s team (23) was run this way. Our mentors would split into 2 or 3 groups with the top ideas from the student brainstorming (chosen by the students) and they would start doing the math and building prototypes. Showing the students the process of design is really important. We would bring our prototypes up to the “Driving by RC” stage wherever possible, then whichever one seemed to be working better would be chosen. We often didn’t settle on a design until sometime week 3, but all the major dimensions and materials would have been figured out and tested by then.

My senior year, we were at the wiring stage, and one of the mentors sat down with me, wire strippers, and a crimper, and said “tell me what you want me to do”. I was the only student interested in electronics that year, and we didn’t have an electrical mentor, so he couldn’t help design anything, but he could assemble anything I asked for (to leave me free for programming). I would have enjoyed helping route wires that year, but we simply didn’t have time.

I have worked with mentors since then that are the “hands off, let them ask questions” type, which would keep themselves amused with non-robotics work while waiting to be asked a question. The students never wanted to interrupt what they were doing, so they never asked those questions.

I also agree with GaryVoshol. The students need to see the process to ask questions about it. My favorite question as a mentor is “why can’t/don’t we X?”. That’s the perfect time to learn what the student is thinking, and take a 10 minute diversion into the math about how the new system would work, compare it to the old, them let them help decide if we should change plans.

Towards the end of the season (when everything is behind schedule), I like to make a list of what all the students are working on, then suggest to them the items that are not strictly needed, but have become a “nice to have” to help them prioritize the remaining build time. (Things like wheel encoders and accelerometers, which are helpful for a better autonomous, but won’t help the robot drive when it doesn’t have the rest of the drive code yet)

We have mentors that are very involved working hand-by-hand with the students in all aspects of the team. We have a general rule that the students own the decisions. When there are choices to be made and sometimes the students react, “I don’t care”, then our mentors go on strike until such time that the students get to the point of stepping up to own the decisions. Some would think, it would be more efficient sometimes for completing the actual end product if the mentors didn’t go on strike- but that is only if you think that the end product is the robot- it’s not.

Students typically come in with a lack of experience that usually make them overly optimistic about how little work that they need to do to be competitive. They are usually less than impressed with being told there is significant value in studying what others have tried before them.
Design engineers from technical industries know better.

Being able to be creative AFTER you study what others have done is much harder than being creative without studying anything- but that is typically exactly what it takes to be competitive.
One of the key mentors roles is to open up the students eyes to this in a manner that is not demoralizing.

Instilling these concepts into students takes much energy by both the mentors and the students- but it is highly rewarding to both even if you do not win championships.

But I’m still relatively a newbie to FIRST.
I think a substantial difference between FIRST and other programs is to have students recognize the value of experience of the mentors in a manner that they are not intimidated by it but use it to grow their own capability and confidence. Students have to give up their free time to become capable of making persuasive arguments not only to their peers but to their mentors. Mentors have to control their passion to “be right” and allow the students to truly own the decisions.

The process is never perfect. The dynamics are very active -but the key is it’s not really about the robot at all- the robot is just a prop.

There is also healthy contention between mentors. When is the right time of build season to stop working on new ideas and prototypes? Some say week 3: I say probably January 1st of the following year. :wink:
Students get to see how mentors negotiate with each other and with students. They are very enlightening lessons.

This is such a wonderfully wise statement.


We’re in our fourth year, and every year it’s been different. Part of that is the impact returning members can have on a team - when you have returning members that already know how to build a robot, they can work a lot more autonomously than a student who doesn’t know what a wrench is. But most of it, i think, is the evolution of the mentors understanding of how to work with the team.

In our first year, no one knew what we were getting into (yeah, i know… that’s everyone’s story). As a result, the robot ended up being mostly mentor designed and, since our only equipment were easy to use hand tools, built with a good combination of student and mentor input.

In our second and third years, we tried to get the students more into the design process, which was good, but unfortunately we started to move away from too much student work - a lot of items were prepared by the machine shop at work, and later welded together by mentors. The students did get to do a lot of prototyping and design work, however.

This year, i think we hit the best balance we’ve ever had, and it came from (mostly) a 50/50 approach. After the initial big-group design meeting, students divided up between the subsystems (drive train, kicker, and lifter), and we had one dedicated mentor to each. They all then worked together in developing ideas, prototyping, and building. One of the best parts about this robot, in the mentors opinion, is the complete and total lack of welding. Everything on the competition robot was constructed from stock materials at the workspace with student involvement. The only off-site machining we did was for some custom made mecanum wheels, which really would have been impossible to machine at the workspace.

IMO, the best a team can do is blur the line between mentors and students, and work together side by side to build the robot.

Ever since we started three years ago, our mentors have been there to guide us. They stay back until we have a question, and most of the time they ask us to attempt solving a problem before giving us the answer. At other times, they step in to point out how we could make things easier for ourselves. It is their way of getting us to think about what we are doing.

This method has worked for our team and is the style that, as a senior, I am planning on adopting when I mentor next year.

We pretty much just work together as a team.


Yep, that’s how we do it too.

FIRST seems to approve of it, based on who has won the Chairman’s Award.

I cannot begin to explain how much mentors building the bot disgusts me. This competition is about the students, not about the robots. The amount of knowledge that is imparted by students building and designing the robot is immense, and every time that a mentor helps with the bot is an opportunity to learn lost. I have talked to teams a regionals where they didn’t even know how their robot worked, much less how to go about designing it. We have built our robot with hands off mentors for three years now, and I have learned the value of seeing the mentors as a extremely valuable resource, not just another team member.

I see the value of the 50/50 argument, but I believe that in reality it leans more towards 60/40, 70/30 in reality with the students doing less and less work with the mentors solving the problems when the kids get stuck on a problem.

If the students can’t build a robot like this I have little respect for your team. I admire the hard work and long hours many teams put into their robots, and when I compare student built robots to mentor built ones I find mentor bots to be extremely lacking, despite their fluid design and effectiveness.

Well I’ve be rude, watch the flame wars begin.

I’ll say it again… some of the most incredible learning opportunities come from mentors and students working side by side.

What exactly are you basing this belief on? Have you spent a lot of time on other teams? Come by the 148 pit and our students can tell you about their experiences.

Why would anyone flame you?

I don’t care one iota how you run your team. The only thing I don’t like is when people talk about how “disgusted” they are about how I run mine. Your disgust stems from ignorance, imho.

I summarized your post in my head as “You’re wrong, I’m right, and I don’t believe your teams work like you say they do.” That doesn’t make me angry, just sad.

If you genuinely want to learn about how this stuff works for us, come by the 148 pit (or the 217 pit, or the 1114 pit, etc, etc) and talk to the students. If you don’t care to learn, your ignorance isn’t really hurting me any.

I’m really sick of my students hearing how disgusted some people are with our team’s model and that they “don’t do anything” and they should be ashamed that mentors work with them on the robot. It is getting very, very old.


PS - I’ve yet to see a member of a 50/50 team come on Chief Delphi and talk about how disgusted they are with the all student built robot. Live and let live? No?

I’d have said much the same thing, but one one fewer word: every time that a mentor helps with the 'bot is an opportunity to learn.