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


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.


The point was just that there will likely always be a mentor to design the robot on teams that are run that way. There won’t always be me to design the robot. I will leave and someone else gets the chance to take over.


You’re ok with an Andymark or Vex designed drive base, but not a mentor designed drive base. You’re ok with a mechanism that uses Vex planetary gearsets, but not one that involves a mentor on your own team. These are devices designed explicitly for FRC teams by FRC mentors. Do you see how there is no such thing as a 100% student built robot? Every single team is collaboration, whether they want to be or not.

Story time:

Once upon a time there was no KOP drive train, or off the shelf gearboxes (unless you count the drill motor gearsets, which I don’t). Every team had to gin up a drive train every year from scratch. It was common for teams to not move in matches, and it was punishing for rookies and vet teams alike.

And still, when the kitbot debuted there were a lot of voices on CD and elsewhere bemoaning the dumbing down of FRC. There was this idea that FIRST just giving teams a working drive train would rob students of all the education that came with calculating gear ratios, center to center distances, learning all the gear terminology and so on. But this was wrong; students still learn plenty about drive trains, even though that knowledge is nigh on useless and entirely not the point of the program. The more important result is that students have a lot more fun when the robot drives, and there is a direct link between fun and continuing involvement. The longer students are involved the better the odds that they benefit.

Two big issues with your line of thinking;

The first is that there is any such thing as a entirely mentor designed or built robot. You’re certainly not the first to posit such a thing, but I’ve never seen in it in nearly 20 years in FIRST. Every single robot, from the biggest most successful and best funded teams with 80 mentors to the teams that think they’re 100% student run depend on the effort of both mentors and students alike. I’d suggest that the all mentor built teams have a lot less mentor involvement then you’d think, and the 100% student built teams have a lot more mentor involvement then you think (including your own). But the exact proportion of student or mentor effort is totally inconsequential, because your second flaw is thinking that this is about education.

It isn’t. The goal of FRC is not to teach you about robots, or CAD, or design or fabrication or even engineering. Anything you learn along those lines is totally incidental and in the long term just as useless as the sport specific skills you learn on a high school sports team. The reasons we teach kids how to dribble balls and skate on ice and do back flips isn’t so they know how to do those things when they’re 40. It’s so that they know how to work as a team, the importance of persistence, hubris and grace and all the other totally intangible things that come with youth athletics. The soccer ball is a vehicle, just like the robot.

Will you learn some hands on skills in FRC? Inevitably, but it doesn’t really matter if you do or not. FRC teaches you how to build FRC robots and beyond that the skills are less transferable then you’d think. The goal is to convince you and your fellow students that STEM stuff is important and worth the huge effort it takes to learn it.

Four years of FRC is a drop in the bucket of engineering skill and knowledge. The next four years in college gets you a couple cup fulls. The next four years of work experience gets your bucket half full and you’ll spend the next 30 filling it the rest of the way. Don’t get too hung up on how much you are or aren’t learning in FRC; the important thing is that you learn whether or not you want to commit to a career in STEM.

And have fun. That’s an important and easy to forget part, mid season.


This quote is powerful and I really wish FIRST would give this type of speech ever year at Kickoff and Championship. There are now thousands of teams who have never heard this type of official messaging from FIRST. Each year there are more and more teams who come into this program who assume that FRC is intended to be completely student driven and that mentors should be limited to issuing guidance from afar, as @Ben_L has expressed. These teams aren’t of the common CD mindset of “Each team should choose their mentor-student balance based on their own individual needs”. Rather, they believe that teams with what they deem as “excessive” mentor involvement are doing it wrong and are in violation of the rules or spirit of FIRST. Frankly, I don’t blame them. The mentor-student partnerships in FRC are completely unique within the realm of high school activities. If you entered FRC today, saw no official messaging indicating just how involved mentors/adults are allowed and encouraged to be, you would be pretty shocked walking into an event and seeing mentors actively working on robots. You would be even more shocked hearing how many teams have robots that are CADed and programmed by mentors. You don’t have this type of active adult participation in high school sports or clubs.

It’s for this reason I think it’s important that all teams hear a speech like this directly from Dean or Woodie or Don or Frank each year. To remind teams what FIRST is all about, that mentors are encouraged to be active participants in this program, that teams can have any level of mentor involvement that they desire, and that we shouldn’t judge or shame teams for operating outside of our paradigms. FIRST should be celebrating this major difference that makes the program special and valuable,

But without this type of direct messaging, I am very sympathetic with those teams who are confused or frustrated by how some other teams operate. FRC is a beautifully unique program, but without having these nuances explained to you, it can be terribly confusing.

What does “mentor-built” mean to your team?

A student/team experience does not have to be a choice between these two black and white options. You appear to be assuming that every student will view the experience the same way you do, which is simply not true. Furthermore, you seem to be approaching the student-mentor replationship as an ‘us and them’ and not ‘we.’ We should be inspired by what we have created together.

You should be aware that I, any many other mentors replying to this thread, am/are FRC alumni. We know exactly what HS students can do and how mentor involvement (or lack thereof) can impact a seasonal experience. We also have the benefit of being ‘on the other side’ of things and thus have a reasonably complete view of the FRC experience.

You ought to reconsider these rather absolute statements in the broader context of how other students might be inspired. It appears that you are extrapolating your own viewpoint to a much broader group of people, which is a problematic practice at best.

We all occasionally hear stories of mentors elbowing students out of the way to do the work themselves, but these are fringe cases and must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The vast majority of teams are truly collaborative efforts to varying degrees (as @Andy_A describes) and this degree is up to each team to sort out for themselves (as @Karthik describes).


No kidding. How else are us mentors supposed to learn anything?