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


The post above your post is my team. I can expand a bit and offer my perspective though. The team is student led like Chief Hedgehog mentioned, but mentors and students attack every challenge as equals. Our mentors aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty… but neither are our students. This year 90+% of our fabricated parts have been done on a manual mill by students. Mentors trained them before the season and they’ve been owning that machine since. I’d say a similar percentage of work has been done by students on the engineering/CAD side of things. That’s not because the mentors aren’t trying… the students are just crazier, and in some cases better at a lot of things! But they didn’t get that way because the mentors were hands off. Our students are so skilled because they’ve learned from our mentors both by watching them and working with them as equals.

My personal philosophy as a mentor is to try to solve every problem I can, and get the ball as far down field as possible so that when we’re figuring things out collaboratively, we’re solving problems that will make us successful at a high level. As mentors we could let the students struggle to assemble the kit bot… or we could help get the team to a place where we’re solving mechanism integration and other higher level problems. Ultimately this comes down to the question of whether it’s easier to inspire students with a successful robot or an unsuccessful robot. Within our program we’ve found that success breeds success.

The “right” answer to the mentor involvement question is that there is no right answer. Every program is different and all that matters is that students are learning and becoming inspired.

Our students are mentor built and proud of it!


We don’t have students on our team. We ran out of those.


When I am working with 5458 I will do what is required to help the students meet their goals. Last year 5458 lost their old location but got a new one, that really made mechanical training hard when we had no space to work in for a while. I ended up doing most of the design and most of the non-lathe parts, then it was up to the students to assemble, program, and deal with further challenges. All that said the students learned a huge amount building that bot and getting it to do it’s thing. This year we switched to Onshape and it has made the task of working as a decentralized group on our CAD so much easier and I have been able to provide guidance to the students who are seriously leveraging other team’s published CAD! I have not had to do anything more than a few parts and moving some assemblies around for CAD this season. This year the students wanted to go for the hard stuff and are building their first elevator, based very heavily off of 1678 last year. I will be the one making most of the tube parts but the students are going to make the sheet parts themselves. Prototyping is a mix of my 14 seasons worth of knowledge of what works and what doesn’t mixed with ri3d and team videos that guide us to a more finished solution, very steal from the best, invent the rest.

I’ll step in when needed but I make sure that the students have ownership and understanding of the end result. They are the ones that still have to make the bot work and work well at the end of the day. Sometimes you teach through doing, sometimes through helping, and sometimes you teach by managing the group.


Our mentors build field elements and help us make sure our designs obey the laws of physics, but otherwise we’re competely student driven.


Entering my sixth year as the only programming mentor on our team, some years I have written zero lines of code, some years I have written the vast majority of our code.

I’ll try to get the students to write as much of the code as possible, but some years we have had seniors with lots of programming experience, and some years we have had freshmen who don’t understand when they have to call a constructor. I don’t think it would be fair to the build and design subteams to send them out with an unprogrammed or poorly programmed robot just because our highly talented senior from last year graduated and the only programmer on the team was an enthusiastic but inept freshman. (That actually happened one year. He eventually became a highly talented senior, but he graduated last year.)


@Dez That would be the lumber cannon, better known as the table saw. Students are allowed to observe, and learn from, the mentors who are operating it. But the mentors are the ones who operate it. This is a mentor-applied safety rule due to experience (of others, mostly–we do our best not to have to learn from our own experience).

We actually have a progression of who is allowed to give training on tools. Hand tools, bandsaw, and sander are generally student-trained (as are drill presses); the chop saws are mentor training due to an incident a couple seasons back but once trained the mentors will back off. Mill/lathe/welder/shear/break/CNC are mentor training/supervision.

Essentially it’s a progression based on danger and ease of messing up.


I am going to have to disagree with this one. There is everything wrong with a “mentor designed anything”. This is my 4th and last year on my FRC team as a student. My team’s mentors are pretty hands off. They make sure we have a KOP drive base, the mechanisms we build are not glaringly wrong, and no one gets hurt. Other than that, we are student-run. If we don’t know how to do something, we ask and they teach us. We don’t win thousands of blue banners and competitions but, if I could pick any other team to be on it would still be my team. I have learned so much by not having mentors designing the robot. To make our team better I had to teach myself a ton of design skills and invest in hundreds of hours during the offseason (this investment is not only in my team, it’s in myself too). Would I have gotten as much out of FRC if all the design was spoon fed to me by NASA engineers and everything was made on super expensive machines? I think not. I wanted fancy CNC machined parts so what did I do? I got a cheap CNC router (Shapeoko) and turned my garage into a miniature machine shop, taught myself how to program the machine, experimented with feeds and speeds, tuned the machine, upgraded the machine, made all my own work holding solutions and touch probes ect. Would I have done this on a team with a bunch of fancy machines and mentors who know everything about the machine? I think not. I will remind you what the first website says about mentors. : A mentor/coach: Can be a person of any age, teaching others what they know

The key word is teaching, not designing, not building, not winning. Mentors should win if they taught their students enough to be able to win, not if they design and build the robot. All mentor built robots do is make teams with robots that are built by students feel insignificant. Why would people want to keep competing in a rigged game with an unlevel playing field? The bottom line is it just isn’t fair to students who put in hours of work to lose to a bunch of NASA engineers. Think about this. All mentor built bots do is make students learn less and make students who try their best feel like their best is not good enough.

And to address this, well wouldn’t students be more motivated to up their game, learn more, ect. if they thought there was any hope of winning besides being picked by the mentor build bots? Also, most students don’t want to win just to win or get that blue banner, we want to go to Champs and be able to use our robot more and see all the other robots from around the world. Besides, it is a lot less satisfying to see someone else’s robot winning than it is to see your own robot winning. Our team took second at a regional last year and that was huge for us. It was our best year ever and I take pride in knowing that the robot was mine, not NASA’s, not some random mentor’s, it was me and my team’s robot. I hope every “mentor” out there that is designing a robot takes this into consideration. When you win just know that you are taking satisfaction in utterly and absolutely destroying an inferior opponent, crushing the dreams of hardworking students (both yours who want to design a robot and your opponents who want to win), and not allowing the real learning to happen for your students. I urge every mentor out there who is designing and building a robot to throw out their designs, get rid of the robots they built and let there be a fair game. Tell your students to figure it out, if they truly are in it to learn and not just to win they will. That’s what I did and it was the best experience I ever had.

Hillary Clinton: There’s a difference between fair game and playing games.

So what do you want FRC to be?


Consider yourself highly disagreed with. YOUR TEAM runs as very thoroughly student-run, and that is commendable. However, YOUR TEAM is very definitely not MY TEAM. And that’s what Akash was getting at.

Your team, my team, Akash’s team, the team down the street from you, and your local powerhouse team are all very different. What works for your team would quite honestly probably shut my team down. You’ll have to trust me on that. I doubt that my team’s operation would work for you; I suspect the same for Akash’s team going with a model from either of our teams. a

And I’m going to be 100% blunt: while you are correct in citing the FIRST site, you’re also missing something on there. You’re missing that FIRST is a mentor-based program set!

The mission of FIRST® is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting mentor-based programs that build science, engineering, and technology skills, that inspire innovation, and that foster well-rounded life capabilities including self-confidence, communication, and leadership.

Also, it is your 4th year on a team, correct? (Akash and some of the others probably know where I’m going with this one.) Please, follow your own urging. Toss out your designs and the robots you built this year. Because YOU, sir, ARE a mentor, and have been for 3 years, if you have been teaching your fellow students how to follow in your footsteps. Your second year on the team is your first year as a mentor, regardless of whether or not you realize it. So your home machine shop is now shut down, per your own request. Also, please return all your VEX and AndyMark products, as they were designed and built by FIRST mentors. I mean, we couldn’t possibly allow you to be inconsistent with your own statements, could we?

One final note: you seem to assume that mentor-built robots are the dominant ones, and student-built robots not so much. While I haven’t seen anything like that myself, that I’m sure about, I have heard from those that have. And from what I’ve heard, that assumption is at best deeply flawed, ranging from there to completely reversed. Teams that do better do tend to have more experienced mentors, yes. But more experienced mentors does not mean mentor-built. Those experienced mentors tend to know to step back.

And: What do I want FRC to be? I want it to be what it always has been: A simulation of The Real World, where the rules are the same but the resources are not, where creativity has an even shot at succeeding against bureaucracy, and where the real competition is not for shiny trophies that end up collecting dust but for the dollars that a successful product can bring in, and where an industry veteran can instruct an industry newbie in the art of creating a masterpiece without someone three companies over complaining that “they have veterans, it’s not fair!”. (OK, so that last one isn’t entirely something you’ll see in the real world, mainly because that someone a few companies over is doing the exact same thing.)


I always try to be honest with this question. We run as one team. everyone brings different levels of ideas, skills and abilities. In the end even as a mentor the students have taught me just as much as I have inspired and shown how the design and build process might look like. Our team is small with nearly 1:1 student to mentor ratio. With that I believe I can still say WE build good robots together in the short time there is that the team meets as a group.


It’s almost as if the world isn’t black and white :open_mouth::open_mouth::open_mouth::open_mouth::open_mouth::open_mouth::open_mouth:


I often see claims that robots should be 100% student built coupled with complaints about losing to “mentor built” robots. While the implication is that the robots are better because mentors build them at the expense of the students, another possibility to consider that that perhaps with more mentor involvement students on the “mentor built” teams actually learn more than the students on teams where mentors are intentionally handcuffed. Consider that there are many different learning styles, and by restricting mentors to teaching only when students ask, and not allowing them to teach by example, this might limit the benefits that many students could gain if they weren’t stopped from helping as much as they could.

As always, teams have different goals. Find what works for one’s team. But it seems counterproductive to complain about the fact that other teams are more effective in certain ways and then intentionally not learning from their successes.


If you’re going to repeat this dead rhetoric multiple times in your post I’d suggest you just name specific teams who you are making assumptions about and are upset at for no good reason.




I’ll admit to it. I remember being a student and trashing talking “mentor built” robots and teams. Heck, I remember being a mentor and doing it.

I’m not proud of that. Just like I’m not proud of coming back to mentor an FRC team as a college freshman. I can admit I was wrong though. I can also offer a truly humble apology to anyone I ever offended when I said those things. I was wrong.

It took me another 4 or 5 years to learn that being “mentor built” isn’t at all what others think it is. It’s about trying to form a partnership between students and mentors.

I think beyond the first 4 or 5 years, it took another 4 or 5 before I really began to see something else - that calling others “mentor built” as some sort of disparaging remark is something else entirely, it’s jealousy. As a student, I was jealous of what those other teams could accomplish as I struggled to make a barely driving robot. As a mentor, I was jealous of how well those teams had students that were in sync with their mentors at competitions.

Now, I’m on a team that has others point the finger at us ALL THE TIME. It’s obnoxious. No, our road cases weren’t built by students but it took students to make them. No, our swerve modules weren’t made on a drill press in a basement but it took 20+ design reviews with students and mentors providing feedback to make them. No, our space at the school didn’t come freely provided to us, it took us nearly five years of bouncing around from location to location before we finally met with the right people and told them exactly what we needed and they saw the value in our program. No, our collection of banners wasn’t bought, it was earned, not by students or mentors but by students AND mentors.

Anytime the term mentor built is used, either in jest or in frustration, you demean the program, you demean others, and you show some unnaturally green eyeballs.


Hey, Ben. Y’all did great in Utah last year, we were the alliance captains of the one that you didn’t play against since we lost in the semifinals. Also, looking forward/scared to see y’all in AZ in a couple months!

How much do you know about the team that beat you guys in the finals, 1678? I hope that you talked with their students. Those kids really know their stuff, like, really. They have very involved mentors, but if you are thinking about them when you refer to mentor-built teams crushing your dreams to get a blue banner, you are badly mistaken.

Anyway. We shall see you soon, I hope you’ll come over to 1339’s pit and introduce yourself to me. My kids have designed and are building a seriously badass robot which I hope will kick butt in AZ North, and it will look like (and hopefully perform like) what I once assumed were “mentor-built” robots, ten years ago when I was unaware of how things really work on powerhouse teams.


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.