Just a few thoughts of my own…
I’m a seamstress by trade. Naturally I’m “the bumper mentor” Most of our kids are not super interested in making bumpers, especially if there is a lot left to do on the robot and we’re nearing bag day. I know bumpers can be done after bag day but, we often compete in a week 1 event. And still, we WANT the students to do it. Sometimes I will sew the bumpers so all the kids need to do is staple them on. (we use reversible bumpers and you can even buy them like that I understand. Would that be “mentor built”?)
So, here we are and the student I’m trying to show how to put the bumpers together maybe makes a silly mistake, like cuts the noodle too short. “oh no,” they say terrified they made a mistake that will take a long time to fix “what do I do now?” They look to me, eyes wide, knowing we are in a time crunch.
“Tape 2 together” I say simply.
“You can do that? Is it legal?”
These are the moments I love. From experience so simple shared. The key words there are SHARED and EXPERIENCE. Ask yourself why do we have “industry professionals” as mentors? I know, not all mentors are, and you don’t have to be to be a great mentor. But they’re there. And If all a mentor was supposed to do was watch and make sure the kids were safe, there are many students that wouldn’t learn very much at all. And although, most FIRST kids are usually highly motivated to learn and will even go seek it out on their own on occasion; I am often amazed at how many students seem to not understand where to look, or how to look and just need help.
Now, I know the student in the example I gave could have gone to the internet and looked it up and found out on his own how to fix the mistake, but we would have lost something. We were both trying so hard to get those bumpers done on time, and we were BOTH so proud when we did. This is not always the case with every team however. At the beginning of one of our events (I don’t remember when) I was call to the pits by one of our other mentors. The team right behind ours had NOT finished their bumpers on time and were desperately trying to hand sew them together so they could play. They were a small team (maybe 5 or 6 students if I remember) and every one of them were trying to fix the things that didn’t pass inspection. They didn’t have a student to spare. The inspector waited (so nicely) and made suggestions while the students worked on the robot. I sat in the corner for about 5 min and sewed the bumpers. (It probably would have taken a student 15 min)
I tell my students…if you see ME doing it, it’s already too late. You’ve procrastinated too long. I’m not a technical mentor. I couldn’t do a thing with the robot if I needed to. Does that mean if I do the other things it’s ok? Would it be ok if I made the bumpers completely and just handed them to the students? What if a student thought it was cool and it inspired a student to make them the next year?
Most of the time when you hear “mentor built” it’s a complaint. Maybe because of envy, or anger, but someone is complaining about “another” team. And “Our team is 100% student run” is a boast. BOTH phrases don’t tell the whole story. There is no such thing as 100% student run. FIRST doesn’t allow it. They don’t even allow teams run by only one mentor, you MUST have 2. I will admit, I heard it, I’ve said it, I regret it. “Their team is mentor built while ours is 100% student run.” This might be one of the most self righteous phrases in FRC and I’m ashamed to admit I’m sure I’ve said it myself at some point.
If someone is saying “mentor built” about their own team try to find out what about it is bothering them. Are they not getting to do something they wanted to? Do they feel like they didn’t learn anything? Have them ask themselves the deeper questions and encourage them to talk to their mentors about how their team might help them have a more fulfilling experience. But it honestly means nothing to you. Not if they win. Not if you loose. Not if you win. Not if they loose. FRC is about the experience. A personal experience everyone relates to differently. So the only thing you should as yourself is “Is my time on my team inspiring?” and if not “What can I do about that?”