This year will be an exceptional challenge for turnover this year as we have 16 seniors this year.
Fortunately we have a strong base of students to build off of and one way we get students is they often invite their friends to join the team.
Plus we have a day when we engage the school with a recruitment drive that gets us to our 30 students we need to sustain ourselves.
I had a whole post ready to reply to this with, and then my internet got screwy… ah well.
Anyways, we deal with turnover by having our seniors delegate some of their work to sophomores and freshmen, so that people get more experience, and also encourage people to learn new skills over the off-season (programming, chains, etc.). The off-season practice also gives a redundancy, so if our lead programmer/driver were to get sick, someone would fill in. It seems to work pretty well for us.
I’m not talking about recruiting so much… but more the fact that I can assume most teams have seniors leading (clearly with the most experience). So I’m wondering if there is a void whenever those seniors leave.
I’m assuming the most important solution is just training and education for the underclassmen right?
Do most teams spread out work evenly amongst all grade levels or let the leaders/seniors do most of the work?
The stronger your mentor force is, the easier it is to overcome this problem (both engineers and others). The chief problem being brain drain, it helps to have someone around who is always capable of passing down knowledge gained over the years for a longer period of time.
I tried to implement an engineering notebook last year to pass on my design resources, but largely the project failed. It is key to have new members who are enthusiastic, or all efforts in trying to retain your performance can fail when you lose your seniors.
174 will have a massive turnover. The drivers from the past three years are graduating as well as many of the most productive students. The way 174 changes this, is to start the team early and do lots of minuature projects with the machine equipment and processes.
It also helps to have lots of mentors who take on students to learn the systems of processes with very hands-on tasks, such as tuning up the last year’s robot and tearing it apart. Some mentors like our code expert, will spend hours and hours both off season and on season with students, and make sure each student knows what they need to know like the back of their hand.
It’s all about teaching early and making sure you emerse the students in the program. It’s also a good way to make sure the students stay in the robotics team year after year, by making it part of their life. (in a good way, of couse.)
Part of addressing the problem is to understand the cycle.
Typically, students are in high school for 4 years, freshman through senior. They enter as freshmen and exist as seniors. Apply that to your team. They enter at one level and exit at another. Think of it as a paddle wheel in continual movement, creating power. Say you have a 4 year student that enters in as a freshman and then cycles up to sophomore and then to junior and then to senior. With each cycle they gain. What do they gain? With good team organization in place that has established sub-teams, apprenticing, training, team leadership - each year is an opportunity to gain more experience, training, and a deeper understanding of the area that student is interesting in and working in.
As the freshman moves on to the sophomore year, a new freshman enters and so there is gain within the cycle. Continual gain and experience. (Apply this to the parent support system. Same thing. They cycle right along with the student members that are their children. The parent support system must have continual gain and experience in their areas, as well.)
If there is no established system in place to take full opportunity of the cycle, then, oftentimes, you will see the huge impact of the seniors graduating, leaving little to nothing in their place. This creates inconsistency and instability within the team. Weakness.
Smart teams identify the makeup of the team, the cycle, and the strengths and weaknesses inherent in that cycle. They then go about building their team to take full advantage of the cycle and to keep it going, gaining strength.
Last year we took 16 Students to Atlanta. 15 of them were Seniors, One of the was a Sophomore who’s now our Captain and Driver. This distribution is true of our work as well. The robot was designed by a senior last year (me), the driver team was comprised entirely of Seniors, The Robot was built primarily by Seniors, and When things got really bad in the pits - seniors were there fixing it.
Some other members and I came back this year to help out with various things and to help fill the voids we left. It was clear this year that we weren’t at our full capacity, and our overall inexperience as a team showed.
It’s a strange situation though, and I don’t know if there’s a correct answer or a perfect solution to the problem. At one level, you have kids who’ve paid their dues for three years and now it’s their time to shine, but on the other hand you have the future of your team to think about. I’d guess it’s easier in some of the larger teams with more Adult help, I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to have the same talent surges that teams with less adult help seem to have.
If I had to do it all over again, I’d put a larger emphasis on teaching underclassmen. We (The Class of 2009) had a tendency of getting things done without including younger students, and this was due to the way we went through both robotics and schooling together.
Class structure and culture at your school has a lot to do with transfer of responsibility to younger team members. If your seniors “can’t stand” to associate with underclassmen, your team will continually have loss of skill by graduation problems. So the first step in solving this is recognition of the situation. An unknown fire can’t be fought. Sometimes the “teachers” lament the non-productive activities they see happening at meetings without realizing that friendships are being formed. On a good day, those friendships span classes and make a stronger, longer-lasting team.
Cyber Blue lost a very strong group of seniors last year and will lose another strong group this year. It would have been very easy for us to say that we needed to focus on a simple robot that our young students could build.
What did we do? We decided it was time to try building one of those “crab” drives everybody talks about. We went with two sophomore drivers who became build team leaders by their work during the fall and build season. We have a freshman and a junior-first-year student also on our mechanical pit crew. Our human player is a first year member. We have very good upperclassmen leadership on our controls team, but they focus most of their fall projects on training new members.
Don’t let their age fool you. Give the younger students the opportunity to step up. These young students have seen the dedication the upperclassmen put in and the responsibility and reward that comes from it. In more cases than not, at least in my experience, they are ready and eager to take the step.
I know a team that has 100% student turnover each year: Team 1717. Their FRC team is composed of seniors only!
Each year, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy accepts 32 students who enter as freshmen and, after three years of rigorous courses, become students of the FIRST Robotics Class (ROP). D’Penguineers deliver incredible robots and have some of the most knowledgeable and capable students you will find in FRC. Visit them at Championship: this year they won the Los Angeles Regional and Engineering Inspiration Award.
Perhaps this isn’t the right model for most FRC teams, but it shows what is possible with well-prepared students.
I’d like to hear more from some 1717 students and alumni about their FRC experience!
David is exactly right; The DP Engineering Academy is actually a part of Dos Pueblos High School (opposed to an entirely independent academy. Members are regular students at the high school who, every year, take a course or two on engineering, physics and computer science and then senior year the whole program culminates in the participation of FIRST.
We clearly have issues with senior turnover, the goal of the program is to give as many people as possible a chance at robotics. Is it hard this way? Yes. But because of this, in four years we have 128 people going through the program who have all had their own build seasons and gone to their own competitions.
We definitely try to prepare the younger classes for robotics though. The program would be lost without the amazing instruction of our director (Amir Abo-Shaeer) and the mentors. We also encourage the freshmen through junior classes to go and watch at the competitions and they are consistently being updated on how the build-season is going.
Because we have an entire new class every year we run the risk of having a really good robot one year, and then the next year lack computer programming or electrical skills, for example, and not doing as well… but so far the program has worked out great.
I personally love the setup 1717 has for FRC. As a freshman, sophomore, and junior, we take engineering or physics classes, but also watch as the seniors get to build a robot. This is inspiration in itself, as every student from every grade level finds themselves trying harder in classes in preparation for senior year. Then, when senioritis kicks in for most of the school, we find ourselves working for hours and hours on a project that we love.
The passion and intensity is upped due to the fact that each class has their one year to try and qualify for Atlanta. When 1717 looks back at its past years, we think of the class that made each robot and what they accomplished, not in terms of winning, but in terms of building the best robot they were capable of building. Each year has a sense of pride for their robot that they built.
However, I feel the best thing about the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy is the school wide excitement. The Academy is a 128 student academy at a public high school of 2400 kids. What amazes me is the culture FIRST has provided. We have school wide recognition and have fan buses and cheerleaders come to Regionals to watch robots play soccer.
The 32 student turnover each year may not be ideal for many teams. One of our teacher’s goals is to serve as many students as possible, and this is the way he chose to accomplish this.
If anyone has any questions regarding the Academy or Team 1717, feel free to ask.
Wow, this really shows the difference in teams. We have ~28 students total, freshman through seniors, and I think only ~18 of those work on the robot. The others work on animation, fundraising, outreach, etc… And our team is a club activity, no school class time is allocated to the students to work on FIRST.
In regards to turnover, losing your veterans is always an issue. I make a point that anything a senior is working on, an underclassman should be working with them. The same is true of the drive team, it’s good to have a mix of seniors and underclassmen so someone can explain next year what it’s like being on the floor during a match. You have to pass on your knowledge, and while documentation is good, it’s hard to beat hands-on experience.
This happened to us 2 years ago. We had almost 20 active students for Overdrive. For Lunacy, we had 7 (mostly due to graduation). We lost a good number of mentors around the same time. All but 3 of us were seniors, though I’ve come back as a mentor. We have a very young team this year, but thankfully (miraculously) we’re back up to around 20 students. There’s been significant loss of build and oversight experience, both in administration and fabrication, though. Fortunately, we picked up quite a few new mentors as well, a couple of whom are old hats in FIRST.
Our new model has 3 components:
Mentoring - focusing on students mentoring students, specifically seniors to underclassmen, but in reality anyone who can serve in that capacity for a given skill/task. Historically, we’ve haven’t really guided the upperclassmen to this, though some of us tended towards it anyway. [This student-to-mentor transition sure makes first-person grammar really hard.]
Recruiting - lots of it! Get in the schools (we hope specifically the CAD, tech ed, etc classes) talk to the teachers, get in the community, demo to sponsors (perspective mentors and their kids), just talk a lot.
Retention - this hasn’t really a big problem for us (other than the whole graduation thing), but it’s always good to keep in mind. Robotics isn’t for everyone, but if someone’s drifting away it can be good to (nicely) ask why, just in case there’s anything you can do. This question is usually better coming from a student (reduces chance of sounding accusatory). This can apply to mentors heading in a different direction as well. Even if they do come around less, it’s good to keep in touch with them.
On our team Next year will be a massive turn over as over half the class will graduate, before it was only about five kids a year.
To prevent this from affecting us we take in huge amounts of rookies each year and ‘crash course’ train them in a specific field, that way our numbers stay high and even with normal age groups fluctuations we’ll always have people still on them team.
We have invaluably found out that recruiting is very important.
I would not say we have member turn over issues, although we have our years where 16 seniors graduate, but then we just take on the same number of new members. Keep in mind for us 16 members is either half or way more than half of the team. On average we have 27 to 30 students on the team each year. I actually tried to run a regression analysis to see if member turnover created a variation of team success, and surprisingly, the answer is no. I was surprised at the outcome, but at the same time it made sense in that the team does not change how it operates, it just changes members.
Although your team captain may be a senior, I would doubt that all of the leaders on your team are seniors.
We always seem to have a #2 for every position on the team, and that is who will step up and lead the group.
Mentors are a great help in this because they are all seasoned verterans. After the seniors leave, the mentors work with the new leaders of the team and as the season goes on, the mentors lead less and less and the students lead more.