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


We are completely student driven, we have five mentors, but they are a biology teacher who just signs the paperwork, a chemistry teacher who is learning as he goes along, just like us (we are a fourth year team, I being one of only two seniors in their fourth year on the team), a dad who hardly knows anything, thinks he knows everything, and overall has a net negative impact on the team imo, then we have a very lovely mechanical engineer, and a very lovely programming mentor, both are extremely helpful when we have questions about what materials to use, how to machine something, if they can see any glaring issues with the design. But our mechanical guy will not design anything for us by our request, and the programming mentor steps in a bit where needed, especally with trouble shooting. Our team is very small, Three Seniors, all mechanical designers, one of which also does the electronics, and I do most all of the mill work, a junior who does pneumatics, a sophomore who does mechanical, a sophomore who does a lot of machining, including most all of the lathe work. Then a group of probably 6 freshmen who are purely in training. We have pushed ourselves to the absolute limit this year, and myself and the other main senior have averaged 40+ hour weeks easily working on the robot. We definitely completely opverdesigned the bot, but I think the feeling of pushing the team to accomplish something great is very present when it is the students that are doing all of the work.

Ultimately my view on mentor involvement is that mentors ought to step in when something goes completely out of a students control. This in my opinion never happens mechanically except in bizarre cases of mysterious problems that seem to have no source or solution (i.e. last year when we had speed ramping on half of our drivetrain, the mentors helped us take steps to troubleshoot once we were completely stumped, it ended up being a voltage ramp in the code with a typo in the line) this is a much more common occurrence in programming, where problems are complex and intangible. We don’t have an electronics mentor so that’s pretty much all on us and the orange hats. Should also say I have no problem with mentors machining student designed parts when the students are unable to.

I firmly believe that the lack of mentor involvement on our team has led to a more valuable experience, one where you are supposed to solve your own problems, where you learn how to organize and lead a team. You learn how to lead a build team, including instruction and quality control. Several times while reflecting with our mechanical mentor he reveals his knowledge of our design shortcomings, yet didn’t tell us, because we didn’t question it ourselves. He was not setting us up for failure, no, he was setting us up for learning.

Additionally, I accept no justification for mentor designed robots, this is a high schoolers competition, and as such, high schoolers should be the ones to design their robot. Mentors should not have any reason to wear white gloves, our team rule is “No mentor hands on the robot” and by god we stic by it, I want to look out onto the field, victory or defeat, and own it, be able to say that the W or L is a result of my own work.

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Fair point, I disagree, but I definitely see what you are saying. I have a distant cousin who goes to bellarmine (254’s school) and they have said that they recruit directly from grade schools, and start training as soon as they can. From the experience I have had this year designing quite a complicated robot but with a small team of only about 8 non freshmen, I believe that it is entirely possible for a dominant robot to be designed and built completely by students (our team rule is no mentor hands on the robot), and it simply takes a sustainable infrastructure of teaching the younger, and having enough people to design, prototype, etc. while it may be wishful thinking for me to believe many of the most dominant teams truly are student designed, what has inspired me the most is the thought that I have the capability to design that robot, and whether or not our team is able to make that robot next season is completely of my own volition, and how much I am willing to do for the team.

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I believe mentors should be partly involved in all build and support processes the team gets into. There is nothing more fun for mentors and students alike than to work side-by-side towards a common goal.
I also think the robot should be scaled to the student’s and not the mentor’s abilities, plus a “stretch goal” to make the build challenging… for the students.
It is quite a challenge for mentors to come to know every student in the build team, their aspirations, their capabilities and work with them so that they grow with every build season they partake in.
On the other hand, there is nothing more frustrating than when mentors hijack the build process and create a design that is even challenging for them. What often happens then, and I have lived through it, is that mentors push students aside when things get tough in the last two weeks of the build and do everything themselves. Students then take spectator seats and watch adults grind their way to Bag Day, sometimes not even having fun as they struggle to the goal line.
The former is gratifying… the latter has me knocking my head into the walls and walk away when the established mentor team refuses to change.



We have a pretty big team (I think…). This year we have 35 student, 5 alumnis and about 15 mentors. Our mentor/student ratio is a bit high but most of them are parents that want to spend some time on the project with their kids. They don’t show up every time so at most we have about between 4 and 6 mentors present during build days. Some of our kids are completly autonomous and report to the lead mentor from time to time. Others will work on project with an adult. We would’nt allow a mentor to work on a project alone. It’s not part of the team philosophy. I think part of our somewhat humble success come from the fact that in the end, it’s the student’s robot. It’s their metalic baby. They built it and took pride in it doing so.

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2643 designed a beautiful and functional elevator for 2015’s Recycle Rush. There were some - admittedly polite - suggestions that we mentors had a hand in its design and fab. Our students responded just as politely - and truthfully - that the elevator was 100% student work. We (our students) won the GM Industrial Design Award at SVR, and left with pride in their work, and more importantly confidence in their abilities and potential. To me, as a 15 year mentor, this is what FRC and FIRST is all about.



Oh goodness, why do people keep poking the beast :grimacing:.



Ask @Tyler_Olds :slight_smile:



note sure how you can see that as fair, but i will agree with you that its reality



because they mentor teams like 254 and 118. not saying i agree or disagree, but thats the reasoning of many who say that



In previous years (2017 and onward) I was the one and only programmer on our team (student.)

Insert yikes.jpg here. Very stressful, very prone to burnout. We have trainees and mentors who can actually read Java now, so things are… improving? Maybe?
I’m going to answer for before and after the start of this season (and maybe give future predictions?)

Before: no, because none of them could read or write code.
This year: depends on the system. Ideally, Each of us has specific things we run. If it’s an issue with Alice’s code, Alice fixes it. If Bob brought us the bug it’s on him. Etc. (Realistically, we have people who aren’t always in so there’s the occasional fix that’s on the guy who’s always in (me.))

Mentors have been mostly just been providing commentary as long as I remember and I don’t see that changing soon.

I don’t ever hear about mentors uploading CAD.
As far as code, this year ostensibly all our git commits are authored by students. However, I know that even the trainees who are in the most often receive (to me) large amounts of mentor assistance (from complex autonomous commands to “simple” subsystems.) And yes, I worry about the future because of this. Without hijacking the thread entirely, I believe we have multiple issues with our current programming trainees that need correcting if (IMO) we want to be successful in 2020.
(In past years I handled all the code, so… no mentors there.)

I’m one of those idealists who fantasizes about the students truly running everything and the mentors being there “just” to educate. Obviously, this is a bit unrealistic for a few reasons, but in all the mentors should be “making” as little as possible and guiding the students through the process. For a (bad) example, if the students want to build a serve drive, the mentors help them work through the problem, but the students are ultimately responsible for the design, CAD, fab, programming, the whole deal.

Anyway, that’s my… probably twenty cents, seeing how long this post is.



Because most (I won’t say all but it is close) of the powerhouse teams were built up with great amounts of hard work and fundraisers. If you want more tools or a better shop, go get them. No one is stopping you. Powerhouse teams were built, they did not just spring forth in all their blue banner wrapped glory.

We launched as a community based team after a school team decided to shut down. Started with a handful of students, some mentors, zero money, zero space, zero sponsorship and zero stuff (tools, parts, computers, etc). 4 years later we have partnerships that hopefully will turn into longer term stable space, enough tools to build reasonable kitbot based robots, 4 competition robots built, 4 practice robots built, and a development platform generic bot. We now have 14 mentors and 50 students from 13+ high schools. If our build space stays stable we will be looking at expanding our fab capacity. Have not won a banner yet but we made it to Worlds last year.

If you want more stuff find companies to partner with. Go fundraising for particular equipment. Find a sponsor that is a specialty metal fab shop. Get a business mentor and develop a business plan. Develop a training plan for new students so they can contribute more sooner. There are lots of ways to get better The key thing is deciding what is the most important to your team and then figure how to make it happen.

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While that may work for non-school teams, our team is highly restricted by the school, and a large amount of parts were paid for out-of-pocket by our sole mentor. We were approached by potential sponsors, but the school board turned down all of them, and while we have a large amount of tools, our school’s tech classes take prescendence over FRC, and we only have access to 1 small table to store our parts.

I know that we have access to tools that not many other teams have (including 4-5 CNC machines, 6 3D Printers, and a resin printer), but we lack many materials and parts. Anything that we need takes 2-3 weeks to get cleared by the school, which means we often receive parts weeks after we needed them.

On another note, many teams would stop after 1 competition due to lack of funding, and success stories are rare and few and far in between.

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But that is my point. You could move your team to being a community based team if you find the restrictions your school system places on your operations too restrictive. You would get much more operational freedom but would give up the really nice shop. As a team you need to decide what is important to you.

Other school based teams have spent a lot of time pitching and explaining the program to their school board to get exempted form some the the centralized purchasing issues. Some setup separate funding. However, that is all on the team to make happen, not on First to give you.



There is also a middle line you can take here. Many school based programs have other forms of financial support (see booster clubs). You can start a non-profit and still operate out of the school.



I think they would still have to get board approval to accept support from the booster club. I recall us having to do that in past years…yes, I’m the president of the non profit “booster club”.



Your post hit me right in the feels. While our former situation wasn’t quite as rough as yours in some ways, we changed school districts (a whole state, actually) to get with a school district that is aligned with our mission and mode of operation. This might be a viable option for you guys.

You and your team should feel empowered to change your own circumstances however you need to in order to operate efficiently. Your team is comprised of people, not the school district you happen to be located in, do not forget that!



“I firmly believe that the lack of mentor involvement on our team has led to a more valuable experience, one where you are supposed to solve your own problems, where you learn how to organize and lead a team.”

Are you saying that this doesn’t happen on teams where mentors are more involved than on your team? Do you know a lot of students on other teams? Have you talked with them about their experiences in this regard? Your statement is pretty black and white and requires a substantial amount of evidence to support–this isn’t just about opinion but also empirical support given its strong recommendation. I say this because you will be faced with many other situations where you will be required to provide evidence in support of your views, not just “off the top of your head” opinions.



Further to add to this point. How are you sure you wouldn’t learn more with a quality “hands-on” mentor?

Sure there are some mentors that “don’t make the grade” for lack of a better term but there are many outstanding people that help in a HUGE variety of ways.

This subject in general is SUPER subjective. Depends on the team structure and also the individual people, personalities, and knowledge available.

Even as a mentor, if a mentor I know is more knowledgeable then I am at something (which is A LOT of people) wants to show me how to do something, I’m going to stop and let them show me. Heck if a STUDENT is more knowledgeable then I am, I will stop and let them teach me.



I see a future for our team where we’ve got student training programs for every spot on the team and every new student goes through this training and becomes super efficient at building world class robots.

I’m sure that the elite teams have something like this already in place. That’s the real reason why they’re elite teams.

But I also realize that even if there were a fully developed self taught training program for FRC teams that the students would still need mentors to explain the whys and why nots that you just can’t cover completely in a training manual. There’s a lot of FRC tribal knowledge that mentors have that most students will never know.

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Students can eventually learn this tribal knowledge, and become effective mentors themselves. But even the seniors are learning more from the mentors who hold the institutional knowledge.

It’s interesting as I get older, I gain a greater appreciation of what I can learn from those more experienced than me. It is NOT that I think my experience is more valuable, but rather I value more that of those who have gained more experience on a topic than me (even if they are younger.) As they say “youth is wasted on the young.”