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


yeah! I agree. I meant in FIRST’S POV they use competition to accomplish their goals, not that we have to accomplish FIRST’s goals. It doesn’t mean we need to have the same goals. FIRST can leverage our wants of resume building, career exploring, social wants, self improving, wanting to win, technical skill, etc, and combine them with their goal. If it sounded like I meant that the only way of FRC is inspiration, sorry I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.

edit: I guess for mentioning mentors and going against the mission of FIRST, that was if they were supporting mentor success inspiration as a guise of going with FIRST’s student inspiration.


This reminds me of something I have to do every year on our team. That is that I have tell our scouting group that what they are doing is very important to the success of the team despite the fact they are sitting in the stands and not working on the robot. It comes up every year because we keep on getting g*d**n NEW students! It is SO annoying! ;^)

But more seriously, it probably would be helpful to somehow pin these threads to a CD forum so that the students, who are new to this every year, can see that there is history to this discussion and that they can learn from that history.


So well said. One of the powerful aspects of FRC is that it opens up the sports team model to a large population of kids who don’t have the physical skills to play varsity sports in high school. I think this was an unforeseen benefit from Dean’s initial insight.


The phrase I like to use for the mentor involvement on my team is “guided independence”. Whenever the team is brainstorming and coming up with ideas, the students do it separately from the mentors, and after both sides introduce all of their ideas to their assigned groups, then our students and mentors come together to deliberate on ideas and concepts together.

During design and normal activities, students lead almost everything we do, students are responsible for actually heading every project. With the exception of a few specialized mentors (like programming), our mentors usually just shift around groups, providing tremendous help and guiding students that are struggling.

Not saying that our mentors are not involved, because they most definitely are, they have a large influence on the group, and they provide essential assistance and guidance, but we have placed a large emphasis on reducing the independence our group has on mentors, and we’ve shifted to a more student led process, and it’s working wonderfully!

Personally, that’s how I think a Robotics Team should work. The students are what make up the team, so I think they should be the ones to lead the group. In my opinion, mentors are there for mentoring, not for leading.


Often, the technology that I am demonstrating to the student is not anything fancy but the physics I learned in high school like leverage, gear ratios, torque etc. The teacher on our team said that the school’s curriculum does not cover that until the Senior year. Afterward, the student is thinking “yes, the stuff my teacher is talking about has real applications in my life” and they pay closer attention in class instead of doing just enough to pass. We didn’t even have to go to a competition for the student to gain something from our interaction.


The general ethos I personally think works best in terms of balancing safety, education, competition, and fun is to have the students running the team with the mentors supporting.

I think student leadership is really valuable, and students making key decisions is a really good way to foster confidence, teamwork, and life skills. Also, students doing as much as the hands on work as possible helps them learn and feel involved and invested in the work. Mentors are invaluable because of the experience they bring to the table. The role I personally see mentors as fulfilling is to support the students and provide advice and guidance.

One specific scenario I think embodies an ideal mentor-student dynamic happened on my team a few years ago. The design and technical teams were brainstorming ways to design a certain mechanism. A mentor who worked in a machine shop offered an idea based on something he had once built for a customer. The students debated the idea, and decided to adapt it for our purposes. They designed it in CAD, with the mentor offering guidance from how he had done it. Then, the students went to the machine shop and worked on it with the mentor (watching if a tool was needed that wasn’t safe for them to use). The mentor provided helpful experiential that a high school student probably wouldn’t have had, taught them about it, let them learn to adapt it and work with it, and helped them bring it to fruition.

Mentors are a collaborative part of the process. They bring knowledge to the table and share it with students, teach students how to use tools and software, and welcome us into their machine shops. They don’t make final design decisions, participate on drive team, write code, or do our CAD.* But you can’t have a robot without their help!

*Every team is different. I do strongly believe that building and sustaining a strong student leadership is key to a successful team, but this can be hard to do. Do what it takes each year to maximize student education and enjoyment and don’t worry about it


I do think the “spirit” of the term “mentor-built” is meant to connote a team where the mentors do a majority of the creative and manufacturing work on a team, and then teach the students about what they did.

I think almost everyone in FRC would agree that’s not ideal.

Having mentors help is not being mentor built. This phrase gets thrown around far too frequently. Usually when people are bemoaning top tier teams.

The mentor built teams that worry me the most aren’t top tier. Most of those teams aren’t. It’s the struggling teams I see at competition where none of the students know anything about the robot or the code, they’re miserable, and there’s a semi-belligerent mentor refusing CSA/RI assistance. That’s the only time when the negative term of mentor built really deserves to be applied.

Edit: I do know this is not what the term was supposed to mean in FRC. It wasn’t supposed to have a negative connotation. But realistically, today in FRC, it does. I urge someone to coin something better to represent the positive, symbiotic relationship mentors and students should have.


Read Karthik’s post from earlier on this topic. FIRST does a truly terrible job at making this policy clear to teams (minus vague definitions on the website and speeches given 20 years ago).

Many teams have a toxic attitude towards “Mentor Built” teams that they can’t be completely blamed for (when I was a student, I was a member of one of those teams). FIRST needs to step up and have Dean or Woodie give an equivalent to the 1998 speech. I believe this would benefit everyone. Too many teams aren’t letting their mentors provide help and inspiration for their students because they are convinced that it would be “cheating.” Too many teams believe that they got knocked out by “cheaters” in eliminations.


Just a few thoughts of my own…

I’m a seamstress by trade. Naturally I’m “the bumper mentor” :smile: 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?”


This is a great thread, also my first time seeing the CD forums. I had a great conversation with another mentor team last year regarding our failures. We had 0 mentors and just me and another HS teacher last year throwing scrap stuff together and let the kids design it (no CAD). We do another robotics event where we can’t touch stuff as adults and have been very successful in it. So we did what we knew worked for us…Long story short we sucked bad at FRC the past 2 years and it wasn’t because of the quality of students. It was 100% me being prideful in not wanting anyone around and letting the kids do 100% of the design and build. It was hard, we didn’t enjoy it, we didn’t learn, the kids were discouraged and thats when I knew this year I needed to change our direction (this is now our 3rd year). That being said FRC is almost mentor required. This year I went out and recruited local companies who can help mentor our kids.

I am happy to say that we have around 6-8 mentors this year and I’ve learned more about engineering in 2 months than I have the past 2 years doing FRC. I know my kids have learned more than me. If you are trying to run your program like I did my first 2 years do yourself a favor and recruit mentors, find adults with a teachers heart who want to pass wisdom and knowledge to another generation.

I do however think some of the “student” only programs are able to find success because of the exposure to robotics earlier in their careers. For where I am the students can’t take programming until their Jr year. We are working at starting middle school and elementary type programs to feed into FRC (FIRST was ahead of us on this from their structure).

Thank you to JVN for showing us mentors how to lead and navigate a team. I was able to watch him and 148 last year from their facilities to competition and know their kids built the robot, designed and maintenance the robot , and they had a great group of mentors (some fresh college kids). Our team might not be a top dog this year but we have learned so much and will be able to enjoy competition, we’ve enjoyed the design stages, its nice having help and other adult opinions. The past 2 years were miserable for my students and myself. You can’t do this alone and you need mentors to invest and help guide the process of FRC.


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”?

As a student on a small team (we average about 8 members on a weekday, 4 on weekend) I would have felt much less pressure if we had a mentor to CAD the robot. I practiced CAD a lot before designing my first competition robot because the student who had done CAD before was graduating. I knew that role would have to be filled, or our team would fail. My life would have been a lot easier if our team had highly involved mentors, but now that I’ve had that experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

And just to respond to your example, I am able to wire the robot and CAD because I don’t CAD at practice since I can do it at home.

All that isn’t to say that our team’s policy is best for every student on every team, but it’s still something to consider. Personally, I think the way things are right now is fine. Dean Kamen’s speech was spot on.


That’s an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing!


To be fair there is a very wide variety of design/build quality in ROBOTS. Some of that is due to the level of mentor involvement. A much bigger part is due to how the team is setup and resourced. A large team, with good facilities, that can spend significant amount of time off season training on their particular role, with good access to high end tools, has a huge advantage over a team that has no off season space, low resources, and little or no fab capacity.

As a fab mentor I spend much of my time at events talking to other teams about their build process and see beautifully made parts that we have zero ability to make, as we currently have very limited fab capacity. Certainly being a school based team would make it easier as it typically comes with a shop, but such is life. Does not make it unfair that other teams have better resources, better training, or better machine shops.

Welcome to real life.


Just to note, you do not have to have a large facility to accomplish these goals. We are definitely not in a “large” facility, but we spend a lot of time trying to optimize our work flow and become more efficient. Over the past 3 seasons our workshop has gotten rearranged probably 5 times in attempts to fix bottlenecks and congestion points. You can also spend some time optimizing your design process on reused designs like a drivetrain.


The correct response, every time this question comes up (and comes up and comes up), is “You mind your own team, and let other people mind theirs.”

If you’re asking as a way to gain perspective on how other teams inspire kids and mentors to be awesome with robotty goodness, then you’re asking a legitimate question. If you’re asking because you want to judge how others inspire kids and mentors to be awesome with robotty goodness, then you’re just being a busybody.

There’s more than one way to do FIRST right, and you, whoever you are, probably don’t even have the best answers for what’s best for your particular team in your particular situation, much less what’s best for other teams in their situation. You should only ever reach out to other teams to help, never to cut down.


Unless it’s to cut down an oversized chassis. In which case it’s also ok to “cut down”. :stuck_out_tongue:


Or to help them cut down that tree to make their bumpers.


I agree. Before 2015 we worked out of classroom and shipping container. We finally got a bandsaw and an old CNC router in the container. We relied on outside vendors for making some of the more difficult parts. Moving to a larger dedicated shop helped a lot for training our students and expanding their experiences, and has helped improved the quality of our robots, but we were successful before that move.


… And from some of the videos your team posts, it is clear that you don’t meet as often or for as much time as other less successful teams (really the rest of us). Your team is successful because you are working smarter than other teams, not because you are working harder or being spoon-fed by NASA engineers.


On our team, we try to let the students come up with all the ideas, and then the mentors work with the students to make the idea they choose as successful as possible.

During the brainstorming phase, or if the students don’t have any ideas, we will provide our own ideas. But for the most part, the ideas that end up on the robot are student-originated (even if the mentors think they had a better idea)