Incorporating Alumni within FRC Teams

I know there are a lot of threads regarding alumni mentoring/not mentoring, but I am wondering how your team incorporates their alumni into the team.
One of the focuses lately has been reaching out to alumni, specifically college alumni, to get involved again. While volunteering is fun, I am curious of ways to incorporate alumni into their team specifically. In my experience, I’ve learned a lot about trying to be a mentor while just being out of a team myself. But with college classes, work, and less industry experience, I couldn’t dedicate enough time or experience to be a full adult mentor. From conversations with other alumni, I know my team isn’t the only one struggling to figure out what to do with their alumni.

So, what does your team do to keep alumni involved?

On my team I help mentor Wiring & Pneumatics. This gives me a chance to learn a lot from the main mentor about leadership, while allowing me to help wherever I can, and still stay involved in FIRST. I do understand what you are saying though. I don’t really have enough experience to be a “real” mentor, nor am I old enough, but I still feel like I can contribute to the team.

I think the key to any part-time help/mentors is to focus on smaller scale projects that can be accomplished in their available time. Having someone who can’t be there all the time means they should not be responsible for any critical parts of the robot, or any bigger, long term parts - things tend to grind to a halt when the mentor involved with a mechanism isn’t there to advise.

Instead, focus on smaller, contained things part time alumni can help with. We usually get a few during the first week or so of build, as they’re on winter break. During that time, they can help with prototyping (which is relatively short term), build field elements, or serve as a reviewer on chairman’s submission materials.

Above all, remember that being a mentor is completely different from being a student, and you’ll probably need mentoring in how to be an effective mentor!

Some teams have “Junior Mentors”, for recent alumni that are under 21. Its good practice to separate recent alums from high school students for a variety of reasons.

Holy Cows do this and describe it pretty well in their team handbook.

I was a college mentor on a 100% college student run FRC team (FRC1817 www.team1817.org). All of our mentors are college students, and some alumnus. We’ve been around for 11 years now. Here are a few recommendations I have for college/alumni mentors.

  1. Keep the college freshman away from the team. They need to discover themselves before mentoring a team. Also, mentoring requires a tons of time and dedication. It’s best for the freshman to get 4.0 their first year in college.

  2. Alumni should be invited to team events to be part include them as part of the team, but not necessarily a mentor.

  3. Alumni mentors MUST be properly trained and reintroduced to the team as a mentor, or else their mentor creditability and authority can easily be ignored by students (ie college freshman/sophomore is only 1-2 years older than a HS senior).

  4. School should ALWAYS comes first for college mentors, therefore if a college mentor is suffering academically, then they shouldn’t be mentoring a team.

  5. FIRST is much more than just building a robot. Mentoring is much more than just the technical skills. College mentors can also share their experience on how to prepare for college or what to expect as a young adult moving away from your family. The near-peer experience is often overlooked by FIRST teams.

  6. College mentors should be treated as a mentor-in-training. Give them actual responsibilities and see what they’re able to do. The best way to put this would be a Padawan in Star Wars (if you get the reference). College mentors require mentorship too!

These are just my 2cents

I will half-disagree here. When done well, this is a great idea. I read through the Cows’ section on it and really appreciate how well thought out the scope of their role is. If I could fault them for anything, it would be a lack of criteria as to how someone gets promoted. Is it an evaluation at age 21? Is there an annual evaluation to show gaps as to where the jr mentor can improve? What are the criteria that they are being evaluated on? This structure is super important for a young mentor to grow.

I have more often than not seen this done extremely poorly, where it causes more problems than good. College age mentors are eager to show their worth in their new role, and providing very little scope as to the position but calling them “junior” or “training” builds great animosity between the post-HS members of the team.

One of our alumni who graduated in 2006 is now a Warren City Schools teacher, a Warren City Councilman, and is poised to take over the Team 48 lead teacher role at Harding High School. It’s fun when your team (and you) get ancient enough to see this happen.

We also have a number of other alumni from that era mentoring the team. A 2012 alumnus has applied to come back home from Kettering and get a mechanical engineering job at Delphi (who wants to bring in more FIRST alumni as interns and employees - yins all come work at the Champion Technical Center in Warren - 48 and some other local teams could use the help!). Many of our most recent college-age alumni still attend kickoff, go to our competitions over their breaks, and assist with scouting and pit crew support.

I’m all for the youth mentor movement on the team. It encourages a team to re-evaluate old (like reallllllly old) practices and consider fresh new ideas. I also think having more younger mentors on the team can be good for student recruiting.

Our team mostly has our alumni interaction during ~first 2 weeks of season, which is when we’re all back home during Winter break. After that, the mentoring largely dissipates.
During that 2 weeks, the Alumni kinda just spread throughout the groups and offer input here and there based on previous experience (Or, in my case, what I happen to read on here.)

As a college freshman mentor for two FRC teams (2791 in person and 1257 long-distance), I don’t agree with this as a hard-and-fast rule. I finished my first semester at RPI with a 3.8 and am slated to get straight As this semester. My goal isn’t to brag, it’s to establish that many college freshmen can pull off the balance of being a mentor. I am one of three college freshmen mentoring 2791. To my knowledge, we are all doing fine in our classes, because we realize that school always comes first and that it’s okay to take time off from FIRST.

I think the key advice here is to urge freshmen to seriously consider whether or not they have the time management skills to balance the work. Rising college students, I urge you to seriously consider your decision. I happen to have a lot of maturity when it comes to time management. It can be hard to pull back from FRC when you need to, but if you have any doubt in your ability to do so, do not mentor your freshman year.

A much more manageable, lower-commitment way to stay involved in FIRST is to volunteer at your local competition(s). College students make some of the most passionate volunteers; it’s a great way to stay involved and still make a major impact for FIRST participants.

Oh I totally can see where the concept of “junior” mentors can get derailed extremely quickly. However, I’ve been in situations though where I had young (18-19 year old) mentors on a team who one year earlier were 12th Graders in high school and as an older mentor its like having an extra student on the team at times. Maybe its a bad title, but there is a transition period between a student and a mentor and a team’s leadership should be aware of that.

On a slightly related topic, I’ve had numerous instances with a rookie teams where a younger high school student is put into a leadership role and they really flourish with it.

Long story short, age is a bad metric for measuring anything.

Totally agree. I mean, I’d love to have all college freshmen and sophomores just volunteer instead, but that’s just me :slight_smile:

Speaking to this, 910 actually has a policy that alumni can’t come back and mentor their freshman year of college. This is for many of the reasons discussed by other posters above me.

In my case, I decided to help my team my freshman year by being one of our two required volunteers at our district events. On a whim I signed up to referee, and was surprised to actually be assigned as one. 6 years and over 50 events later, I’m so glad that I wasn’t able to mentor and decided to volunteer instead. Refereeing has become one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done, and even after I became a mentor I’ve kept doing it.

This is how it is for out of town alumni (primarily me) and alumni who are one year out of FRC. Once you are two years out and if you are in town you can be a junior mentor (which for us is basically the same as a regular mentor with some very slight differences).

I actually help throughout the season even though I’m out of town because my mom is also a mentor for the team so she’ll call me with technical/troubleshooting questions and keep me updated on how the season is going.

Likewise, I finished off my first semester at Tech with a 3.8. However, this semester made me realize that I over-committed at Tech. I was doing Formula Electric, Club Roller Hockey, and mentoring 1648, in addition to trying to do well in class and finding a co-op. With that in mind, I have a few thoughts on it.

I agree with the fundamental idea of taking time off from FIRST; there are a lot of things out there that are awesome and new. Every student should explore things outside of FIRST before coming back to the program. FRC (and other robotics programs) aren’t going anywhere, they’ll still be here in four, five, six plus years. But I think the most important thing is learning how much you can do in college and still do everything well/at a high level. If FRC is part of figuring that out, then by all means, allow it to be so. FRC can be a passion

These fundamentals are always true:

  1. School comes first, in every situation
  2. Explore things other than FRC before deciding to mentor
  3. Understand what you can and cannot do with your time

I’ve participated and been involved with teams that span the spectrum on this issue, from almost no young mentor involvement, to a middle ground, to entirely run by college students.

Currently, we employ a “Mentor Lite” system for young alumni that would like to return and mentor because they are attending college locally. If you are Mentor Lite, you may not drive or solely chaperone students, or act as a lead mentor for a sub-group. They work under the lead mentors for any given sub-group and act in a supporting role while they learn how to bridge the gap between student and mentor, which is hard to do. We generally discourage alumni from coming back their freshman year as FRC mentors, but utilize them heavily in the FLL and FTC programs that we run. We also encourage them to explore other teams and volunteer roles within FIRST.

Mentor Lite is promoted to regular mentor status when they’ve graduated from their program of choice (not necessarily a 4-year degree), have transitioned to adult life, and all the the students that they went to school with have graduated.

Something I’ve given 1405 a lot of credit for since I joined is it’s ability to build it’s own mentors. As a small team, about 1/4 of our total mentorship is made up of alumni, if you count myself and Alex Cormier, who are FIRST alumni, but not one of 1405. As far as college mentors go (of which Alex is not one), most of our college-alumni are full-time during breaks or when available, but part-time whenever they are non-essential, especially during down-time like now, while we’re waiting for Champs.

1405’s alumni generally have taken fairly prominent roles on the team, comprising two of our mechanical mentors, our lead software mentor, and most of our strategy/scouting effort, as well as our team’s primary photo/videographer.

In my opinion, if a student is inspired by the program enough to want to remain involved, far be it from a team to deny them. It’s kind of a beautiful cycle, isn’t it? Inspired kids come back to inspire more kids. Who will hopefully in turn inspire more. Seems like it’s within the realm of FIRST’s goal to me.

This is an interesting topic, especially currently being a college student mentor.

5254’s success in the past three seasons would not have been possible without the mentorship of FIRST alumni. 5254’s drive coach for the past three years has been a 1676 alumni, and I joined them this past year as well.

It’s hard for a young team to know how to actually compete in FRC, no matter how smart the students and mentors involved are, and alumni can provide that knowledge.

Not just robot design, but also picklisting, scouting, and connections within FIRST to help you get places can be daunting for a young team, while these are commonplace for me and other alumni.

That being said- as a college student, school has to come first, and especially being in a curriculum like Mechanical Engineering at RIT, I have to prioritize well and manage my time effectively.

Trevor - I would totally recommend volunteering over mentoring given the position were in. You stay involved with FIRST and give back, plus you have plenty of time to focus on school.

Likewise goes for all of you recently graduated, now pursuing the dream High School alums.