Mentors: How does your company support you?


My company is having a discussions on ways to encourage and support employee volunteer efforts like FIRST mentoring. I was interested in asking this forum what are some of the ways your companies support you in mentoring FIRST teams?

Do they have an allowance of time off to go to team meetings?
Do they offer incentives to those who volunteer?
Are you assigned to the task as part of your job? If they do, how does that work? Do you get time off? Extra pay?
Does your company help you with travel expenses for regionals or the championship?
Do they off other incentives like a volunteer lunch or dinner or some kind of appreciation celebration?

It will help me to benchmark other companies and I thought it would be valuable to document some of the various ways companies support their volunteers.

If there is a similar thread already, please point me to it, I tried to search but didn’t come up with anything.

Right now, my company doesn’t do anything, but they are talking about it, which is appreciated.

Any experiences shared would be very helpful.

Thank you,

The company I work for graciously lets me spend my vacation time to support FIRST. In other words, no support… but I’m working on changing that

Boieng team mentors can clock volunteer hours to have extra money donated to the team.(don’t know what how if they get paid or not but If they want to support first its an added bonus)

Are you assigned to the task as part of your job? If they do, how does that work? Do you get time off? Extra pay?

one of our main sponsors, sort of does this. they ask for employees to volunteer and if they are still on schedule with their normal projects they are are allowed as much of their normal work time as they can spare, without falling behind, helping FIRST and still get there normal pay.

My former employer, UTC Power, would give us days off to go to competitions and pay for hotels and planes when we travelled.

My current employeer, different division of the same corporation, doesn’t give me anything.

The owner of the company that I work for is extremely supportive of our robotics program. In addition to corporate sponsorship and machine shop support, I don’t have to use my vacation and sick time to go to any competition that we compete at.

I’m in a slightly different situation. My company is the major sponsor for one of the local teams. The mentors get some time off, and the company is picking up the travel and lodging expenses for the whole team.

My kids, however, go to a neighboring school district, so I mentor that team. My company is not interested in sponsoring two teams. I don’t get any time off for meetings or events, but my supervisor is flexible about my work schedule so it’s easier for me to attend meetings. That has become less of an issues this year because my team has moved its build sessions to evenings. It would be great if I could get time off just for the regional competitions, instead of using my vacation time.

Do they off other incentives like a volunteer lunch or dinner or some kind of appreciation celebration?

That would not be an incentive to me. I understand that recognition is a positive thing for most people, but I just want to quietly go do what I believe is helpful to my kids and the community. (The money they would have spent on the appreciation dinner could offset some vacation time, and that would make me feel more appreciated. Just sayin’.)

It is good to work at a company that supports FIRST and allows me the flexibility to mentor. I’ve spoken to many people who would like to be a mentor, but they have so much pressure to work well over 40 hrs, and/or take work home with them, that they can’t help in even small ways. I’m blessed to be able to work with my team, and the team’s success is very rewarding.

My employer is also the main sponsor of the team. They make a cash donation to the team and they cover my hotel expenses only. Frankly sometimes they treat me as if the sponsorship donation is a personal benefit, so I don’t generally get the same rewards/recognition as coworkers who volunteer for one or two day things like science fairs. My solution has been to dissociate my personal support from the team from my employer’s support, with limited success. I’m still generally known as “the mentor that [insert company name] provides”. YMMV (hopefully).

Edit: Except for 2007, I have used my vacation time to attend regionals.

The company that I used to work for didn’t provide any support to the team besides individual mentors who choose to work with them. The reseason is that larger corporation supported FIRST as a whole and was not willing to support individual teams.

The company I work for now sponsors FIRST as well as many teams local to the different buisness units. They have stated that they are interested in sponsoring a team I work with, but having just started my job two weeks ago, I plan to wait till next season to look into it more.

I’m self employed (when I feel like working)…yeah, I donate time, materials, and tools to the team.

My company has a program that allows employees to request up to 1 hour per week off for volunteer activities. Of course it requires manager approval and is not always allowed, but several employees do use this option to do all variety of school or community volunteering. During the per-season I found it came in really handy getting to one meeting a week by the time the students were getting off school. If we had more than one meeting a week I came latter to the others. During build season it is just a drop in the bucket, but everything helps.

The company also allows you to keep track of volunteer hours and will donate some money at the end of the year to the organization based on employee volunteer hours up to some limit. At one time they were a larger supporter in donations, but times being what they are, we are lucky to get what we do.

Other than that, there are no other official sponsorship such as awards, meals, etc. However, my manager is particularly supportive and was willing to allow the volunteers on our team to take the two days off we need for travel to regionals as a combination of comp time and attendance of a technical conference. This was very generous and not typical.

My last company allowed me to work on FIRST related work during office hours if the workload permitted and would allow me to take time off without pay to attend competitions etc. They also did a great deal of machining and waterjetting for the team. I would say they were a great support to the team and supported me with the project.

My current employer is a much larger company and so it is much harder to get them to contribute resources as there is a great deal of red tape. Supporting a team with resources and shop time is out of the question due to security concerns and regulations so the only way this company could offer support would be monetary or employee time. I am not officially allowed to work on anything related to FIRST during work hours, and this includes posting on chief delphi… looks over shoulder and shrinks window even more But I’m working on that. They put out a call for volunteers on the company intraweb when initially approached by one of the local teams and I have since managed to get their public affairs commitee to donate $500 to two local teams but there is much room for improvement. Given their position within the community and size, I won’t be happy until they are offering 10 times that amount to each team.

I have always found that smaller local companies are much more open to helping out with FIRST activities. They are at a disadvantage compared to the larger companies when it comes to finding good skilled employees and are much more likely to offer support knowing that these students will remember their contribution and hopefully will supply them with a skilled workforce later in life. I have never had good luck convincing large corporations to donate funds and find that most teams encounter the same thing unless they have parents in high places.

My experience has run the gamut of support and lack thereof.

My first 8 years in FIRST were with team 308. I worked for the team sponsor, which allowed paid days off for the competitions. However, most direct managers really disliked their employees taking the time off.

My most recent 8 years have been with team 65 then 51. During that time I worked for the sponsor for 8 months. During that 8 months, I was a contract employee without vacation so I had to take unpaid leave to attend events.

The other 7 years and 4 months with 65/51 was complicated. 4 of those years I was piloting airplanes for a living. Due to the whacky schedule associated with that job I was either able to get the days off by bidding my schedule to have the time off or else I just had to miss the competitions.

The remaining 3+ years I’ve had to use my vacation time to attend competitions. Last year that amounted to me spending 2.5 weeks of vacation on FIRST. That’s not going to happen again this year - I need a real vacation.

I work for a large state university. The support I get is 3 days of community service leave per year and enough flexibility in my schedule to allow me to get to most meetings. I usually only have to spend 2 or 3 days of vacation per year to go to a second regional.

My company will do a “matching time grant” where if you donate 40 hours of your time to a non profit they will donate money given enough paperwork. With 4 people mentoring the team from the same company, this adds up to a good bit of money.

Past that, hope your boss lets you flex hours to leave early for build days (and doesn’t mind that sleep deprived look for 6 weeks), and you have enough vacation time saved up for regionals. I try and bring back candy and other fun things from regionals and championship as bribes so they keep letting me go. So far I’ve pulled it off for 3 years without a fight.

We have been able to swing some of the items going to surplus/scrap to be able to go to the team as well.

The DOT just started an initiative called YES mentoring, it stands for Youth Employee STEM mentoring . DOT employees can get 2 hours a week or up to 104 hours a year of paid leave to mentor youths in STEM fields.

I’ve gone and gave presentations a couple of times to DOT employees to talk about how they can get involved with FIRST teams.

Mine has varied more by Managers, but usually I have been able to take the Fridays off for competitions without and issue and just work harder during the day to leave an hour earlier than normal. Although my company supports a lot of teams and I have heard of a lot of variation between other mentors on teams. Between only working half days and working on the robot the other half, to anything you want to do is your time and forced to use vacations.

Kudos to companies that are understanding and let employes take time off to support first. My boss is flexible as long as I get my work done, but no benefits. Especially not paying for hotels or travel expenses. Seeing the students work together and having a good time at competitions was something that money can’t buy.

My company was kind enough to give me full time off just in time for build season.


sigh. Me Too.

Long time ago, they were a lot more supportive - time off, travel expenses, and a donation to the team.

These days, I am grateful they let me work a shifted schedule so I can leave at 4. Even that may go away, I am hearing some grumbling.

I got a small bonus once for performing well at work while also volunteering 700 hours over the course of a year. I’ve done that for 4 years in a row, but only 1 ‘bonus’. Interestingly my company gives an award to those who reach 3,500 lifetime volunteer hours, yet last year most of the people who had reached that in recent years were laid off. One year I got 8 hours of paid vacation for my efforts, but that was after the season. We get a breakfast once a year, but we have to stay late to make up the time for the breakfast. Ironic, heh.

So as to support – other than a “thanks” and a logging system that allows the company to take credit for my hard work, support has never existed for employees.

There once was a corporate initiative to grow STEM education through FIRST, but it fizzled because the corporate guys put guys in charge of it who have absolutely no passion about STEM education in general. Did my one corporate contact listen to me? Hardly. His son graduated from my team and I haven’t heard from him since. Corporate gave some money to some teams one year.

I’m sure I sound disenfranchised about it. To be honest, I am. But life goes on and I still do great work.

So I’m head of CAD. Yea, the guy who programs and helps hold together a 17 million line system doesn’t program a single word on the robot. But at least I don’t have to be at the school to do it; the projects I’m on are less flexible with the FLEX scheduling we get.