Mentoring Question

If a mentor came to your team with no technical skills and wanted to help in a technical position (i.e. electrical systems), would your team be willing to teach them the skills needed to build a robot? Not asking for myself, rather I am talking to a group about helping with FIRST Robotics.

Short answer: yep. Never turn down help.

Long answer: many of our technical mentors don’t really have any background in the area that they’re in charge of. Some don’t even STEM experience whatsoever. They’re still able to do their job, but they do have to learn the ropes. If it’s a rookie team or a team with no significant knowledge base, they may have a harder time teaching the mentor, but the best way to learn how to build an FRC robot is to go through a build season with a team, observing and learning. Many engineers and people in the field have to do a little bit of this anyway when they first start mentoring because FRC is different from industry in a lot of ways.

A FIRST Robotics team is diverse enough that everyone can bring something to the table, regardless of background. It is important to note, however, that FRC has a different approach to the technical aspects of the program than some of the more common engineering approaches in industry, and many new to the program like to apply the approaches they’re familiar with to FRC without knowing that FRC doesn’t follow the norm.

For example, as a student the team I was on had mentors from engineering industry and from other industry who didn’t see how what applied to FRC wasn’t the same as what applied in the real world. We were often encouraged to use steel parts over aluminum ones because of the thinking that weight wasn’t as important, we followed the idea that completing a task quickly wasn’t a priority, and we designed with the conservative intention of thousands of hours of continuous runtime instead of a typical FRC season’s worth of wear and tear. This wasn’t the mentors making bad decisions, just the product of them not understanding how the successful approach to FRC wasn’t the same as the successful approaches in their industries.

tl;dr: Bring on new mentors from all walks of life, because they all have experiences that can be valuable to the team. Just make sure that they take the time to learn the ins and outs of the beast that is the FIRST Robotics Competition, and that they don’t try pushing their approaches when they don’t fully understand why they may not be the best methods at the time. New mentors need mentoring too.

We’ve had great technical mentors with a wide range of backgrounds. We’ve had some great engineers work with the team. We’ve also had a handyman, a variety of parents who build things in their garage for fun, and even a parent with no technical background who hung around the build team so much she accidentally learned to build robots.

With that said, I absolutely welcome mentors who want to come in and help on the technical side without prior experience. Personally, my expectation would be that I (and other mentors) would help them, but they’d have to be responsible for taking the initiative to learn new things.

Yes, absolutely, provided that mentor recognized their need to learn more, and was willing to do so. At first I might assign an advanced student to show them the ropes, then another adult to sharpen it up.

Unlike typical high school, FIRST teaches using adult methods. Some children may not learn as effectively this way. but high school and older adults certainly would.

And you never have enough help.