How involved are your team’s mentors in the design and programming process?


Its seems like we get this type of thread every year. If people are going to insist on making such threads over and over again then CD should just sticky one to the top of the General Forum so it at least saves us from the redundancy of seeing the same argument recycled.


Read this thread with a strong feeling of deja vu. Like Marshall, my opinion on this matter has changed over time and like many others, my hands-on involvement has varied quite a bit for a number of reasons.

As I was reading this time, a thought occurred to me that has not before. I will leave it here for others to consider and comment on…

Perhaps the correctness/goodness of a mentor’s direct design/build involvement depends primarily on the motivation for that involvement. Is it due to the needs of the students/team/program or is it due to the needs of the mentor?

This is something that an outside observer from another team could not judge and can lead to many very different good, and bad, behaviors.

Just a thought,


3082 is largely student-run. I am grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to take ownership of most of the team’s work.

  • Goals are set by students
  • Strategy is done by students (with sanity check by mentors)
  • Prototyping done by students
  • CAD done by students (this is the one time where mentors are most involved, but it’s always in packaging ideas and not in the actual CAD)
  • Build done by students (other students on the team are definitely more skilled on machines than any of the mentors are)

A few years ago, I probably would have criticized other teams that had significantly better robots because I thought they were “mentor-built”. One of these threads at some point gave me a bit of a change of heart. Now I think it isn’t right to bash other teams for being “mentor-built,” especially if you have no real evidence for such an assertion. For two reasons.

  1. If they are in fact “mentor-built” (where do you even draw the line??), so what? Their students are probably still learning from seeing what their mentors are doing.
  2. If they are NOT actually “mentor-built,” then it’s unfair to the students who put in the hours and knowledge to make a robot that stomps on yours. You’re trivializing their abilities by saying that they wouldn’t have been able to do that if they didn’t have a bunch of adults doing the work for them.

Given the choice, I wouldn’t switch to a different team, especially one where there is significantly more adult involvement. But almost any point on the spectrum of “an adult shows up, sometimes” to “a student shows up, sometimes” is probably okay. Save for those extremes.


Why is it that NASA Engineers have such a bad rap?


The students do the work, the mentors help guide and if dangerous instruct on how to properly use the equipment. Oversee fabrication off site. Aid with proper coding techniques.

In strategy (one of my mentor hats) the students come up with their ideas over several days and then I present my ideas, often the basic game capability ideas are similar just weighted differently. I state why I prioritized certain aspects of gameplay, explain why some harder apects are worth it, they then they discuss and vote as a group on the final design strategy and system priorities. I tell them it’s their robot build what you want, I’m just stating what I have seen as successful in prior years and will likely work to our advantage this year. This helps students learn critical thinking and ultimately produces a more competitive entry.

In essense that process simplifies and focuses priorities and robot capabilities. The final ordered must have/do list was neither of ours but made total sense and if they pull it off we should see success. Next up for me are rules and scouting, and float around as its being built answering gameplay questions and dimension, strategy and rules queries. As well as keeping up with CD and any events our Ventura bots will play in before that competition.

I don’t typically help build any of it, unless they need me to hold something. In the end a season is a lot of time and expense… its more fun to enter the competitions with a chance as the competition is very good at every event we enter. Have to be ready and when competitive the students have a more enjoyable time. We have good seasons when: Strategy, driving, engineering, programing and scouting all are on the same page and each does thier part well.


If you are interested in ancient but important history, attached is a transcript from Dean’s kickoff speech from 1998. He talks about this topic.

2c526e78295a5492c3720f1feaadb887d76ef8b5.doc (20 KB)

Keep in mind that back then we has less than 150 teams total, Andy and Mark were just Andy and Mark, a couple Texans named Tony and Bob always seemed to be on top of helping teams figure out how the control system worked. More trivial things, you could diagnose a speed controller just by smelling it, no one knew what an Atwood power jack was, a team from Michigan made their robot move sideways, the cover of the Small Parts Catalog was a thing, making your own gears was almost necessary, set screws sucked, and FIRST added a rule that made “Death from Below” illegal.



Actually. While being instructed on how to assemble swerve modules the other day by a student I remarked I should wear gloves to keep some of the grease and crap off my hands. I guess they coulda been white?

Idk. They needed more hands to parallel the process so I helped. I guess this technically makes 900 mentor built in the most literal sense but it’s a running joke that Marshall and I just do the boring crap that would be a waste of time for students. Like the 20 minutes I spent sanding tabs off of parts or holding a board up to test auto alignment for the programmers.

Sure I sometimes point out “yeah I tried that a few years ago and it did not work” but outside of safety concerns I’ve never taken a job away from a student who wanted to do it. To me that would be the line.


I as a mentor have been inspired by so many other mentors. Which has resulted in me being able to inspire my students that much more.


That’s truly inspirational.



Students and mentors working side-by-side is what FIRST is all about as far as I am concerned.


I have a huge amount of respect for 1678. They are a very reasonable team and the robot is obviously mainly built by students after I talked with them. I have no problems losing to 1678 and honestly no problem at all with losing to anyone. I would just prefer it if all teams were more student run ( not saying 1678 isn’t) I think everyone would benefit.


Please explain to me how small teams would benefit from struggling hard to field competitive robot because their mentors stepped back? Would it inspire them more to have their mentors say “sorry, I can’t design that while you wire the whole robot, it’s better for you”?

You need to articulate why this policy would be beneficial across the board.


Indeed it is a thread that comes up every year, and will come up every year from now.

I just want to say though, to those who tire of the same old thread every year, that for some people reading this thread, it isn’t the “same old thread”.

When I started participating in First in 2014, I wasn’t familiar with the same old arguments, and I brought a lot of preconceptions with me to First, and a lot of opinions about how teams ought to be run. Threads like this can help people who are new to First understand sides of the argument that they’ve never seen before. So, although this is the same old thread and everything has been said before, I think threads like this are actually very valuable, and always will be.


Or teams that have no students interested in programming. Do you force a kid to do it?


Ken- Thanks for posting this! I remember seeing it on CD many versions ago, and I’ve long since lost my copy. Now it’ll live in the cloud for eternity, or googles version of eternity.

For those who haven’t read it, its worth a couple minutes. But, right off the bat we get some pretty germane thoughts on this topic:


It probably would. That doesn’t mean it is right to have mentors building everything. Wouldn’t the students benefit more to see their own robot compete rather than the mentors robot compete? That just my opinion.

As for this I am sure there are plenty of powerhouse teams that are mostly student built and designed. If a mentor runs the a team right I am would not be surprised if the things students design are crazy awesome. I have just talked to some people at competitions who flat out tell me that their mentors design the robot. That is what annoys me a little.

The differnce is that I will leave and another person will get a chance to design a robot. Mentors likely don’t leave. I joined FRC to design robots. I think I would be really sad if I was on a team where I couldn’t design a robot.

Also on one final note I want to make this clear. I am not trying to say that the mentor built teams are the same as well run student teams. There is a difference. I am also not trying to say their is anything wrong with any of the people on a team where mentors build most of the robot. I am sure everyone is kind, good people and students still learn a lot, I just think a different kind of learning happens when the students have to do most or all of the work.


In my opinion, one of the main problems today is that our society has segregated adults and children in as many venues as possible, including work environments. I did not go to college initially, but instead went through an apprenticeship. That system teaches the apprentice how to interact with those not their age, and also how to teach the apprentices that they will eventually be assigned once they become a journeyman craftsman.
My team is only a few years old, low income, rural, and there is ZERO computer science available in the school currently. I am shocked and frankly appalled at the lack of basic knowledge I witness daily.
We do make great strides every year, and I strive to expose them to as many skills and concepts as they want. Kids are sponges- we all know that. I plaster the walls with tech info and leave robot magazines and books everywhere I go.
To the question- I do a lot more than I want to, but considering how much difficulty they have just getting fed (we have 70% food insecurity here), I think that the small victory they get to be a part of with my help beats the heck out of yet another kick in the teeth.
My two cents. I hope everyone has a great season!


Precisely. The last two seasons I had no students interested in CAD, [sarcasm] so I guess we shouldn’t design the robot?[/sarcasm]


Quite an assumption.

I move around a ton, in fact I haven’t lived in the same state for more than two years since college. Every team I’ve worked with has kept something from me, some bit of experience I shared. But I’ve kept some of them with me, I learned a ton from my time on every team I’ve been with, from the students and the mentors.

I’ll eventually leave this team - so it’s kosher for me to design their whole robot?


Sure, no problem. I think every team should still have a working robot. I am confident that mentors could teach students enough to have at least a slightly competitive robot. A student doesn’t need to know a whole ton of stuff to build a KOP drive and through trial and error make a simple mechanism that does one or two things. Students should then be inspired by what they have created, rather than being inspired by what their mentors built. Maybe we could do this if mentors put more trust into their students. Give us a chance, what high school students can do is amazing.

Also, I am not trying to say a mentor shouldn’t teach students. I just don’t think building the robot for them is the right approach. In my opinion they would learn a lot more if a mentor showed them how to do something then checked over their work to make sure the robot wouldn’t catch on fire.

Finally am not trying to say mentors can’t give some feedback on designs and built parts. That is how we learn. I just think they just shouldn’t be so directly involved in the process to the point of actually doing the design.