On being an effective mentor

First of all, thank you for everyone that have commented on my recent thread.
(As mentors, do you explicitly express to your students your thoughts on certain things?)
its been very reassuring to hear that my approach to mentoring seems to be pretty much the consensus here.

if i can summarize what was said, it seems most of us mentors agree that:

-a mentor should generally be able to voice their opinions to the students in important decisions and in team reflection meetings, but only after there was enough time to let every student the chance to speak their minds and have a full dialogue. also the mentor should never point a finger on anyone when expressing their opinion on something that went wrong.

a mentor should very much have the ability to teach students important skills in a class setting, making a presentation on “the better approach to do X, based on what’s being done by other teams and my own personal experience as a mentor” is not only okay but should be encouraged, since information sharing is integral to having a solid foundation in STEM.

and the important note for me- learning from trial and error is very important to do and is a big part of FIRST, but it is also only a single part of mentoring, not everything should be a trial and error experience, some things (like effective prototypes, good code architecture, etc…) can and should be learnt by gaining information on how they are being done in other teams and in the industry, and a mentor should be able to provide this exact information as someone with experience.

(if anyone thinks this is not a good general representation of what was said in the previous thread, please say it right away)

now i have 2 questions for you,
1. how do you do “effective mentoring” on your team?
by effecting mentoring, i mean where do you enter the scene to make the biggest impact on your students? where are you the most involved? and what you would recommend other mentors to do?

2. how should i approach the lead mentor?
the problem is that he does not see any legitimacy in any form of mentoring that is not exactly the way he does things. i need him to accept that i will do stuff differently , especially when he is about 60 years old and i am 19, he should understand that my style of teaching is acceptable, and that because of my young age i can form very unique mentor-student dynamics that should not be thrown away.

feel free to comment on one or both of these topics, also anything else you may think could contribute to the conversation. thanks alot!!!


I’m impressed by the maturity of this approach to effect change by a 19-year-old. Taking the time to gather best practices and build a case for your preferred style is more than might be expected. However, the quotable line from Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach.”, might apply to this situation. It is an unfortunate fact of society that there are some people in power who subscribe wholeheartedly to the philosophy, “It’s my way or the highway.” No amount of evidence or case analysis or experiment results or anything else will convince them that there is some other way that is not only acceptable, but possibly better.

In case there is some hope for your situation, you might want to learn more about successful influence strategies. An analytical approach, which it sounds like you are attempting, can be supplemented with other strategies that might help. I suggest reading the book Influencer, by Grenny et.al. It may help you in this situation as well as many more situations you’ll likely encounter in the future.

Remain open to the possibility that some environments are not the right fit for you. If the one you are in is not working out, cut your losses and find a better environment that brings you joy and lets you thrive.


i appreciate the compliment.
the reality is that you are right, this mentor will surely not change his view on teaching, and it is very unlikely that he will change his view that my way of mentoring has an overall positive benefit.

i will probably still try to mentor the team but under his limitations, if i find out it can’t work out ill try to either cut my losses completely or take a less involved position in the team.

either way it is very unpleasant to say the least that i feel that i am being pushed off the team that i have been an integral part of for 4 years, with students that i already know and have connections with, all because of a mentor that re-joined the team only this year and just cannot let anyone else have the freedom to give different approaches to teaching.

This is a learning experience for you as well as for the students. The situation you are in is quite similar to the situation that many of us find ourselves in after entering the working world and, often, the solutions are the same. I have worked at companies where anyone with creativity and initiative left the company because the man at the top of the org-chart felt that he “always had to be the smartest man in the room”.

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I think you need to focus on getting an engineering degree the next 4 years so you can credibly come back to the team with some credentials to actually mentor the team.

Once we had a student come back as a “mentor” the year after graduating from high school. I say once, because he didn’t mentor as expected, and the students did not see him as a mentor. We never did that again. He had no credibility with them as a mentor because he didn’t have any industry experience. They saw him only as another student. His only experience he brought to the team was some knowledge of how frc works, which was already available on the team with the other mentors.

It’s fine you are passionate about FIRST, but that passion combined with at least an engineering degree would make you much more valuable to that team or any team. Focus on making that happen since that is something you can control.


hey, i feel like the effectiveness of a mentor with no degree/industrial experience heavily depends on the team’s ability and reasources.

i can say for certain that my team lacks alot of knowledge on pretty much every aspect of robot making, we have certainly never got the whole thing down. i know that i could contribute to my team a ton without any degree or anything, simply because the team has yet to break out of the “beginner” stage, and i personally gotten to the point that i now understand what stopped us all this years, and how i can help them improve from here.

Please make whatever decision you feel is right. One input: be careful about mentoring the first year out of high school. Focus on yourself and the future you will build for you.

Our team has a rule that you cannot mentor u til at least one year after you have left the team. Some students have chafed at that initially, but then come back a few years later and say that they needed that break to get settled into their new life.

I came back as a mentor for my team after i graduated and took several steps back with the policy “I will not program the robot for you” and didn’t touch the code at all but taught how to program, even made my own programs and showed them to the students but didn’t allow them to take photos or copy them.

I think the failure here is more on what they learned as a student here that was never corrected or even corrected when they attempted to mentor. All that’s needed is someone willing to learn and change what they do with a little advice and they can help, even if it’s just a proxy for you to rehash information that needs to be drilled in.

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good input, i can definitely understand why you have this rule.

As someone who mentored after graduating high school, both my old team and a separate team in my college town, and found it a very fulfilling and educational experience, I will not say you should completely avoid mentoring for a few years as some do. I will say, however, that you should step away from the team you were on for a few years. It is incredibly difficult to make the transition from student to mentor when you are mentoring students that you already know and have a relationship with. It also makes interpersonal issues much more likely due to the conflict between the “peer-to-peer” status that you previously shared with the students a year or two younger than you, and the new “mentor-to-student” relationship that you are supposed to be exhibiting. Gaining some perspective through separation is, in my experience, extremely important in developing as a new mentor.


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