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


It’d be a real shame if some of the libraries and designs that teams share were influenced by mentors.


would all those “white glove” awards be null and void??!!!?!!11??


Lost my white gloves today.


Don’t forget @Ken_Patton that at the 1998 FIRST Team Forum there was specifically the following topic raised.


I like david’s response to this question about 40 posts ago:

To the rest of your post, i dont want to say its embellished, but a fairly new account with 1 post and no team affiliation, makes me weary of some parts of your first paragraph.


Yeah, I think its fine if this is discussed every year. It is “out there” if we bring it up or we don’t.

The OP asked about the level of involvement, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to learn about how other teams work.

When your hard work is rewarded with the mantle of “mentor built” you might want to say “thank you”, then proceed to tell them how your program is structured to enable students to execute a robot design/build that appears as if it was made by adult professionals.

To me that means dedicated students who are willing to put in the extra hours outside of build season, as well as patient mentors who are willing to take the extra time it takes to show someone how to do something, instead of just doing it themselves.

I don’t know your team or program, but it seems like it is in that sweet spot, like many here have talked about.

Then again there are other programs where they don’t have enough mentors, or enough dedicated students, or enough resources, and maybe by having this conversation every year, it helps those teams improve, or at least better understand FRC, then it is worth it.


Sorry if I asked a repetitive question, I’m fairly new to FRC after FLL and only started lurking around CD this season. And your dedication is pretty cool! As a fellow CAD person I abandoned studying for my history exam tomorrow for CADing the nth version of the elevator and measuring out mounting holes

and components are still overlapping.


Usually, our mentors let the students design, and offer suggestions on how it could be more efficient, but they allow for the students to design it. During the actual building, they mostly use the big machines for us (lathe/mill/drill press/etc), because our school doesn’t allow students to use those machines without a shop teacher watching, which we don’t have during our build sessions. For programming, they usually help us solve problems.


Teaching, training, and student-lead aren’t anywhere in the acronym FIRST. It’s all about inspiration. Each team is called to inspire its students in the way it finds most appropriate. Let us all please safe FIRST from the twin curses of “common core” and “no child left behind”.


Choose your own adventure:

  • The students could build a robot with adults. They could learn things beyond what even a college classroom teaches. The adults could learn a lot more than we realize from the students and each other, thus be so inspired that we net about 600 volunteer hours a year. We go to every competition, cheer the students’ failures, successes, and ultimately: growth. The students learn the truly advanced stuff that exists - you know, the things that the adults barely understand themselves. These are things like CGANs, ROS, Macgyver-isms, Agile processes, and deliberate, prioritized design. Ultimately, the students learn how to problem-solve at all levels - whereas the adults learn what they want to be when the grow up, and also words like fleek or bae.

Don’t underestimate the 2nd half of the last sentence; it’s the really important stuff for adults as we age.


  • The kids could build a robot on their own. I could teach them the small bits and pieces I know from my profession (software) and my profession alone, for about 100 hours a year. They’d probably be inspired about as much as they would from a great teacher in the classroom. I’d learn a few words from students, and probably nothing from the other adults. Adults aren’t allowed to be hand-on. Maybe I’d go to competition; these aren’t my kids after all and taking vacation for competitions is rough.

The mentor who has taught our students CAD for the last 2 years was in finance before he retired and joined our team in 2011. Through working with the students, building things with them, and competing with them, he was inspired to take the torch on leading our CAD curriculum in the Fall of 2016. I’ll let our 2017 record (and beyond) speak for itself.


Our mentor has little to nothing to do with the design, build, or programming process. He is there to help us only when we need him to. We pride ourselves in almost 99% student ran robot


Hey, I wanted to make a comment on a personal level. As a senior you’ve got only a short time left to take advantage of an incredible opportunity: to learn how to form a real peer-to-peer working relationship with someone who’s way outside your typical peer group. This is what having a “mentor” really offers-- the chance to work alongside a bonafide professional, facing and solving tough problems together as a team. There may not be any explicit lessons taught when this is going on, but there sure will be a lot of learning happening!

You mentioned that the dictionary refers to this person as an “advisor”. This advice is valuable, and your access to this advice is special and rare. Even if you’ll ignore most of it, I’d recommend you use whatever tools you may have at your disposal (charm, wits, bacon, etc.) to capture their advice before you move on. Luckily, you’re in the middle of a super exciting project which might entice some people to work alongside you!

When I think back to my high school friends who had this experience in their lives (through FIRST or elsewhere), I believe they were ultimately much more successful than those who didn’t. I hope you get a chance to experience it.


It’s also worth noting that the idea of the mentor-student partnership in FRC is not only unique among activities available to high school students, it’s also unique among the rest of FIRST’s programs. You can spend 10 years working independent of “coaches” in other FIRST divisions before you step foot in FRC. Heck, you can work on an FTC and FRC team within the same school program and have two wildly different sets of experiences between the programs.

I think it’s safe to assume FIRST knows this is a hot button issue. The question I like to ask people whenever these discussions reach this point is “why have they not spoken up about this?”


I would argue that your opinion on student built, mentor built, and especially inspiration, changes with the amount of work/life experiences you have.


I would just like to say that mentors are people too. Mentors are just as capable as students at coming up with unworkable designs, making fabrication mistakes, and poor assembly and quality of work.
Mentors have the advantage of experience and education, but certainly no advantage in intelligence or creativity.
Students have the advantage of an ability to quickly pick up usage of technology, and generally more free time.
There’s no reason to assume that a mentor-built robot will automatically be a better bot, or that a student-only bot will not be competitive. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The collaboration between the two categories of people is what makes teams great. Combining experience/education/insight with quick learning/creativity/time is the perfect mixture of success in this competition. And both groups of people stand to benefit from this relationship. I don’t see a reason one should take pride in their team “missing” one of these two parts.


Why should a team not get to experience what you just described, simply because they don’t have a student like you? If a team requires a student like you in order to get that experience . . . very few teams will get to use those kinds of resources.


So wait, you’re telling me that not everyone has $1500 they can drop on new tools?

I wish more kids were in the position to do things like this, but it’s just not the case.


If he spent $1500 for a CNC machine then he’s not a student, he’s a sponsor.


I wanted to point out a couple more items for you to consider Ben. First - there is a very large group of people who would not consider any type of CNC router (even used or Craigslist) a “cheap” investment. Most people are not in a position to spend that type of money for a hobby. Certainly not most high school students.

Congratulations on your hard work to earn that money and better yourself. That type of initiative will pay dividends down the road. However, I think you should be careful assuming that other people have the ability, means, time, or expertise to do what you did. Don’t paint people with your own brush. This world is incredibly diverse and your experiences don’t translate to others. For some people, just getting to robotics meetings every day can require a herculean effort. Mentors can be priceless for those team members.

Also - be careful with the snarkiness. I know there is a group of posters here who revel in it, but it’s not a good or professional look. It will close doors you didn’t even know existed.


Yes, every year, there is a post like this.

Do you really think that students cannot be inspired by a mentor built robot? I was inspired by watching the first landing on the moon many years ago and I don’t think there were many students helping to build the equipment they used. The Superbowl is coming up and I would have to say my friends who are into football are inspired by the game play regardless of whether or not they have any ability to play.

As a mentor, I place a lot of trust on students who have earned it. There have been a students where they just need to be told “install X” and they can be trusted to figure out a good way to do it and that they will accomplish the task in a reasonable time and in a safe way. At the other end of the spectrum are students where you wonder where they went after they spent 10 minutes on the task and they don’t show up again until 3-4 meetings later. It is wishful thinking to generalize and suggest that all students will do amazing thing if more trust is placed on them and they are given a chance. Heck, I have coworkers who have to be followed up on every second day to make sure they are on track. You may also want to ask the mentors on your team how much time they spend cleaning up after the team members leave…

One point that people who argue against mentor involvement in FRC teams is that the high rate of retention of mentors is BECAUSE mentors are allowed to be involved in the design and building of the robot at ANY level. Speaking as a mentor who no longer has children in the program, I have few incentives to stay and help students like you other than the feeling of fulfillment I get from becoming involved in some way. I am not a call center.

I have also spoken with the students and mentors of our local NASA sponsored team over many years. The students definitely do the work because they can explain all the gory details of their code and all the different alloys chosen to make up a particular part and why those alloys were chosen. In the past, one of the mentors was the guy who ran the CNC machinery in the machine shop at the NASA facility. The students gave him the files and he would give them the parts back. While this may be “mentor-built” to you, it is exactly the situation you would have if your team got a machine shop sponsor. It is also exactly the situation for my coworkers who are professional mechanical design engineers. The people running the CNC machinery get specific training on that equipment and due to the potential for costly damage to the machinery, only those people are allowed to operate it.

Lastly, the local NASA team is often the one who has the knowledge, experience and capacity to provide help to those teams who arrive without bumpers, without a working drivetrain or without a control system. I have joked with some of their mentors and students that they were spending more time in the pit of the rookie teams than in their own. I know some of the rookies were in awe that “the best team” spent so much time and energy to help them get on the field. If that isn’t inspiration, I don’t know what is.