Mentors Work

We were wondering what role mentors play and how they involve themselves with your team. For us, they stay away from building and only do stuff like make a parts run and let us know of any pros or cons to a design that we miss. Mentors not on the specific “build” team are more involved with the students and look over their shoulder more.

-crosses fingers that this thread doesn’t descend into a dead horse abuse fest-

In our history it has changed quite a bit. Before 2009, we had a head mentor that handled logistics, administrative operations, and facilities, but this mentor also knew a lot about robots and robot building. He would insist upon using certain concepts, and be a voice in the design. He would often direct the design process himself. Since 2009, the organization went to a student-led approach. Our head mentor from 2003 left after the 08 season. The students took up the efforts. In my experience in this student done model, it’s been way too much work on the students, and as a result, the performance and sustainability of the team is falling apart. Now the mentors only stand back and are consulted as aides, instead of directing the design process or handling funds and logistics. Students head each department, and the mentors only aid if asked to.

I personally would like to see a collaboration of students and mentors, where both work together. Mentors and students would go through the design process together, create business plans together, and work together on the robot.

(puts on his asbestos underwear, because these threads always get heated)

On 2815, it’s a partnership. Anyone can pitch an idea*, anyone with the skills can pick up a tool and work. (We generally yield the “cheap labor” to the kids once they know what we’re doing…but as much as we get pulled away for other things, that’s fine with us.)

*Case in point: This year, Incocknito’s dual-direction shooter was something I pitched to the team. But it took a group of our best students and mentors to make it actually happen.

Our drive coach has always been an adult, the kids can’t go get items from the store, and there are some tools they’re not allowed to use for safety. Otherwise, we just concern ourselves with having the best robot/pit/team. :slight_smile:

I would advise directing all discussion to This thread started by Andy Baker in 2005.

I have been part of two and have served three different roles total.

While a student I was on 836 and we pushed to be student led and run. As student team leaders we would be very hesitant on taking input from mentors and running with it. We continually questioned every decision or idea that was brought up. And guess what, the mentors did the same thing to us. While this often times made processes very long, it allowed for better exploration of problems and their solutions. Time spent on any one task was the drawback. However, lessons learned and knowledge gained through this method were amazing. Almost everybody was on the same page when a decision was made (everyone knew the why we chose ‘A’ over ‘B’ and ‘C’). I graduated in '07 and went to VT.

While at VT I have had the luxury of helping another team 401. This team runs very differently than my high school team. The team is predominantly student led and built with little help from ‘mentors’/‘teachers and volunteers’. I am distinguishing between mentors and teacher and volunteers deliberately. The ‘mentors’ for the team are senior mechanical engineering students from VT (and new this year senior education students). Over the past two years I have been involved, I am the only mentor that has returned, and the ONLY one of the 18 (combined) with FIRST experience. The learning curve is just as steep for mentors as it is for students. The teachers and volunteers are just that, teachers and parents. The teachers stay constant from year to year, but the parents often time change from year to year, and there is not a high retention rate of parents whose children graduate. Therefore, it is important that the students are in charge of most things. The role of the mentors from VT is to guide the students through an educated process to make decisions, the Engineering Design Process. The teachers are there for moral support and often times provide some guidance, but it is really up to the students. This has been an eye opening experience.

So my third role, was/is a long distance mentor of 836 for the past 5 years. Boy hasn’t the team changed in the past years. The main thing that has changed is that mentors and students are now working along side each other to better understand the problem and develop solutions. The students and mentors are building off of each other. There is no longer the divide between the students and mentors. We are also fortunate enough to have a large portion of our mentors return each year; and enough to have 2:1 ratio of students to mentors which definitely helps the students.

The main thing to remember is that we all learn from each other. Working together makes the seemingly impossible a reality.

Feel free to ask for any specifics, or if you need more clarification.


Let’s just PLEASE avoid the “mentor vs student” debate. All teams do what is best for them, everything from mentor built to student built. No further comments please.

On 1676, the mentors are primarily advisors and facilitators. We also make sure everything is safe and kids know how to use tools properly.

Facilitation is when we lead and focus a discussion without contributing to it, mostly reflecting and rephrasing student comments. We provide the structure, not the content.

As advisors, we spend a lot of time looking over shoulders, as students make decisions and fabricate items. I’ll throw in my 2 cents just as any student might, and my kids know that my opinion doesn’t carry any more weight than a freshman’s - unless I say that “I insist”. I use that phrase sparingly, but I (and other mentors) will step in when something is definitely unsafe, unproductive or unworkable.
We let students fail, so they learn.** But not to the point of not being able to compete. For example, last year the Digital Sidecar was put in a location that I said was not optimal, but they did it anyway, and I let them. During competition, when they had to fool with connections, they learned the hard way why you don’t bury it under other hardware and obstruct sight lines. They didn’t make that error this year, and passed along this tribal knowledge to the next generation.

The mentors all agree that our job is to make ourselves unnecessary. It’s not as much fun, but we get to sit down a lot.:smiley:

I personally hate the debate… It’s the teams decision after all. Anyway, I like to think of FIRST as a learning process and as a tool for interested students to use to see if it’s what they are interested in and to gain experience in the process.

It’s a tough role to play as mentor. Especially, when you have previous work experience with other FIRST teams. I agree with Dan, every team is every team. While I don’t agree that any team should have their robot built by a mentor. The amount of involvement I understand varies from team to team.

But at the end of the day, the only way students will learn and develop skills is by doing things. They can build WITH a mentor, and that means mentors can assist, but ultimately the robot and the team are the accomplishments or the failures of the students, and the skills students develop and things they learn, are the accomplishments or failures of the mentors.

So in my experience on 4096. There are mentors that step back completely in building, there are some mentors that work on theory with students then step back while they design, and there are mentors that are work with the students through theory and through the design. All our mentors typically do help when it comes to building, as in physically bolting and what not but I’ve seen that a lot of the mentors actually are instructed by students, they’re really more of a pair of extra hands.

Like this year, the team wanted to be innovative, and I personally didn’t think we would be able to do so great with the design we came up. The team went ahead and designed it the way they wanted to, thinking it was going to be awesome AND innovative. It was innovative, but not as awesome. There are two parts to the result of that. The team, and those behind the design realized that they need to definitely consider other designs and that they need to do a better job of being more precise than just building. The other lesson learned, is that I didn’t think we’d do good at all, but we were able to score on the low goal occasionally, and ended up getting into eliminations.

So now the students have learned a lesson, and so have I. That’s what FIRST teams are truly made of. Learning everywhere and everyone and everything. It’s what makes it so cool.

Is it just me, or does it seem like this sort of thread is becoming almost a weekly happening?