Mentor Organization

Hi all!
Our team is putting together our Team Handbook this summer (we just finished our 2nd season), and so I’ve been looking around CD a lot for inspiration and advice ::rtm:: .

One topic that seems to be discussed a lot is team leadership - how does the student leadership function, etc. I was wondering what other teams had for mentor organization, as I’ve seen far less information on that (beyond “Mentors inspire, teach, and encourage growth”, which is important, but less than helpful for my purposes).

  • What do mentors do on your team?
  • Do you differentiate between build and non-build/NEMO mentors?
  • How do you structure your group of mentors?

Our team right now has 7 mentors registered, with 4 (counting me, as a ‘part-time’ mentor while I’m in college) who are very active in the team. Incidentally, we also have 7 students, so we’re trying as well to find the balance of having the students feel ownership of the team, and not burning out the handful of kids we have.

Mostly, before our next meeting when we discuss the Handbook, I’d love to have some ideas of what other team’s mentors do, and what are specific tasks or groups of tasks that we could divvy up between us.


Generally speaking our team is divided into the following subteams:

  • design/fabrication (CAD, prototyping, machining, etc)
  • electrical/controls (wiring, electronics)
  • software
  • business (marketing, social media, communications, fundraising, sponsorship, awards, outreach)

Mentors generally align themselves with one of these areas. Some of us do a little more - there is a group of us who are also responsible for core administration of the team and the legal stuff (non profit organization, board of directors, policies).

We do not make a distinction between engineering mentors and non-engineers.

Structure - there is technically a flowchart that depicts a hierarchy but we’ve been pretty informal about it. We have regular mentor meetings where we discuss anything that needs to be talked about or done. These meetings are open to anybody but in practice only about 1/3 of our total mentor base is actively participating in the day to day running of the team, so these people naturally have earned their way to getting assigned more tasks and responsibility.

May also want to check out this thread:

I strongly believed there is no one right way to run a team. There are things that I think do work well and don’t work well, but those good practices can be combined effectively in lots of different ways. We are a school based team, as the only one of the founding mentors left, I view my job as pretty much the same as a coach. We have two other teachers who are also mentors. We also have five (currently) working adult mentors and somewhere between four and ten college student mentors at any one time. We split things up based on need. Two of our adult mentors work largely with the programming team. Which is fine because it lets me be more big picture in my orientation. One of the others works with the electrical systems. The other two jump in on projects as needed. Our college students generally are part of one of the component teams. All of the mentors work on the “mentor as coach” model. We are trying to help the students become better engineers, better problem solvers and better teammates. The important thing for mentors, in my view, is that all of the mentors have an understanding of the team culture. Making sure they do is one of my most important jobs.

For us, probably the most important thing about the mentor role is that every kid on the team has at least one mentor they really connect with. Someone they respect and feel safe talking to. Someone whose opinion they respect. The mentors are there to guide and inspire. That means making connections. Not every mentor is going to click with every kid. But every kid should click with some adult on the team.

We have three mentors who are the leaders of the team in all decisions. A lot of this authority is delegated to our Core Leadership Team (mix of parents and students, but small 6-8 at most). CLT does most of the planning and decision making.

For team meetings, again the mentors share responsibility for leading the areas they are experts in. We have no student leadership positions, instead we expect the most mature students to naturally become leaders of the areas they work in.

During competition, we designate students as pit lead, scouting lead, drive team members, and awards/judge team.

We’ve found this loose confederation of students works pretty good with our small team (15-20 students 3-5 mentors). YMMV

Strongly agree with this! Well said. We all want to build successful robots that we can show off on Einstein, but only a few of us will get to do so. But every single team can make an impact on every single student that passes through. In my eyes that is a much more valuable prize.

Although nominally my role was “robot systems integration”, I spent a lot of time visiting other subteams and making intentional connections with students. Saying hi, having casual chats, occasionally joking around or surprising people with cookies and cupcakes. My actual role did require me to have knowledge of the progress of each group so I could keep everyone synchronized, but I tried to turn it into an opportunity to connect with everyone.