Need Help Finding My Place

I live in a small town in Michigan called Houghton. I have a really small HS, with a graduating class of around ~400 students, and there happens to be a robotics team here. You would think that it would be one of those small, low budget teams struggling to build a working gearbox every year.

However, also in the town is a large and highly concentrated engineering university called Michigan Tech. Students come from all over the country to attend this school, and, as a result, my team has almost unlimited amounts of mentors.

I joined in 2006, and sort of drifted through the first “Aim High” competition without much knowledge about what I was supposed to do. However, after I went to the competition, I realized what FIRST was about, prepared for the next build season, and found my place in the team.

Or did I?

This is currently my second year. I have suddenly run into a serious conflict between how the team is run and how I believe the team should be run. Essentially, Team 857 is a college class, for college credit, and the mentors treat it as a class. Unfortunately, the amount of skilled and knowledgeable mentors contrasts largely with the amount of HS students who barely know how to use an Allen wrench. As a result, despite stresses from the leaders of the team that this is a student run team, the mentors do everything. Many of the students just kind of stand around and wait for something to file or bolt together.

I am an engineer. I have been working with electronics, gears, mechanisms, taking things apart, etc. since I was 5 years old. I want to make a difference on my team. But I can only do a limited role most of the time. I get to CAD something here, file something there, and have no understanding of how to actually design a robot because the mentors did that themselves. The most I can do is ask questions, but being told what is happening is not the same as making it happen. And most of the students on my team seem like they like the idea of robotics, but they don’t want to design and build anything themselves, and don’t really get incredibly involved.

I feel so alone. I really like FIRST, and want a strong and supportive team bond with people who care as much as I do. I want to feel the satisfaction of known that I was a part of the machine that is actually running and doing amazing things. But I feel suppressed, and, despite many talks with my parents and the head mentor, I still that feel part of me is pushing against an unrelenting wall.


I’ll say this to you, as I would to anyone else: airing your team’s dirty laundry in a public forum is not going to help the situation at all. In fact, it might make it worse.

Speaking on behalf of all of the mentors - especially the team leaders:

Remember, though we do get college credit for our time with the team, the amount of time we volunteer relative to that class time is enormous. Hundreds of hours are spent trying to teach you and your teammates as much as we can. Also, many of us were high schoolers in FIRST once too, and understand your want to do more than is possible with the time we are given. Keep in mind the mentors are human too, and love being involved as much as you do. Be active, get involved, and when you start a project stick to it.

We all want to students to do as much as possible, but also realize we are limited in our resources. Houghton is a smaller town and while we have a few hardware stores, we have to order most of the parts we need. It takes a day or two for an order to be shipped, three or four days to get here and an extra day or two to go through university mail. The reason a lot of students (and mentors) are standing around “doing nothing” is because we are waiting on these parts and cannot go on until they come in.

Another limitation is our machining resources. Since it is against University rules for non-MTU (university trained) students to use the shops, and since we can’t use the high school metal shop, we are limited to one or two mentors who can use a mill, lathe, chop saw, etc. So when our machinists are swamped with parts, we have to wait.

As far as the mentors “doing everything” and designing the whole robot, keep in mind we have a much larger pool experience to pull from as far as design is concerned. Though it may be possible for the whole team to get far in robot design, even the most seasoned members of the team did not get to the point of complete, overall design until they were in the program 3 or 4 years. And even then, they don’t get everything right. We sit down as a team for the first few days as a build and decide what we want the robot to do, and get a general idea of how we want to do it. From there, mentors work with students (and usually, this is in the form of students watching mentors design - again, the experience thing) and come up with a “final” design that will probably be changed some along the way.

On this team - and in life, in general - patience is key, as well as bringing concerns as an adult to the leaders, and in doing so, being a leader yourself.

Try to get invovled by leaning in on their design disussions and sometimes add your ideas just to get involved and they may or may not like them but at least they know that you care enough to know what they are doing.

You may also want to have a “students only” meeting (lock mentors in another room) and talk to the other team memebers to see what they think. If you come to the conclusion that this may be an issue take one of the mentors to the side and question them about it. If that does not work at the end of the day call a meeting to order before you guys go home and tell them that this is a serious issue. (Speak your mind). If you get your point across they will listen. If the same problem occurs let them know again so they don’t forget.

I hope you end up finding your place. GOOD LUCK!:smiley:

P.S we are from Michigan as well. I remember you guys from one of the competitions. We are team 1718, The Fighting Pi, we may see each other at another regional. GOOD LUCK!! (I also had the same type of problem ast year which was our rookie year, but the advice above did help me, thank goodness for moms.)

I wish I got college credit for the amount of time I have been on my team and in FIRST. I think I would have a Masters degree by now. lol

Bring intra-team issues to Chief Delphi rarely solves anything, especially when regarding disputes between parties within the team. Remember that every team is different and unique, and that everyone has a different philosophy on how a team should be run.

I’m sorry. I was getting overly emotional this morning, and I really wasn’t thinking well. I should have solved this within my team instead of spreading it around.

I think I would have a phd