First off we are a very rural team. We are looking to recruit good mentors from all backgrounds. What strategies do you use to get good people willing to assist with the team.
Use your local resources as much as possible. It says you’re in MN so I would definitely check out the work that these folks are doing http://www.mngofirst.org and ask them if they can provide you with some guidance and help find people in your area. I had a lovely chat a couple years ago with one of them in St Louis and it’s a tremendous organization.
I don’t have a comprehensive plan to share, but a few things to consider…
What kind of mentors are you looking for? Even if the answer is “anything and everything” make an effort to identify specific skills that are critical to your success and that you are currently lacking. Once you’ve identified say, two or three, key critical skills that you need you can better target where you might find such an individual with those skills that may be interested in mentoring. You can also get the kids to think of people in their network (parents/neighbors/family friends/parents of their friends/friends of their parents/etc.) that have those skills, as a personal appeal from a student may be more successful than recruiting unaffiliated adults.
What are the expectations of mentors on your team? When are meetings and how often are they? How often are mentors expected to attend meetings? How many students should they expect to be working with? Which other mentors will they be working with/reporting to (if you have a hierarchy)? You will have better luck attracting and retaining adults if the expectations are clear. You don’t want them to feel as if they are jumping into chaos land (nevermind I’m pretty sure that’s what all FRC teams actually are). Clear expectations are the start of a happy relationship Be prepared to answer such questions, and if they don’t ask be prepared to supply such information.
Consider the process your team has for introducing new mentors. My team’s process is three-ish steps. A potential new mentor first meets with our key adult mentors where we discuss the answers to questions I listed in point 2, and where we ask what the mentor would like from their mentoring experience. The next step generally involves a tour of our space, an overview of how we operate, and the opportunity to observe a meeting and meet the students. Finally, we devise a project (targeting the skills that we identified in step 1) and assign a small group of students to work with our potential new mentor. The project is something that’s valuable to the team and appeals to the mentor (hence why we asked what they were hoping to get from their experience). Also, SMALL group of students is key. You are less likely to hold the interest of your new mentor if they are overwhelmed with too many students. The lead engineer also plays a part in the initial project as the adults learning how to work together is just as important as the adults learning how to work with the students.
If you look and act professional you are probably more likely to attract and retain professionals. Is your build space a disaster zone? What are the behavior expectations of the students, and are they enforced? How do the students interact with new adults that attend meetings (do they ignore them and do their own thing, or do they eagerly try to show off what they are doing)? Do you have clear goals for your team performance (so potential new mentors can see how they fit into a vision)? Do you have calendars and schedules published (key for adults that are mentoring around work schedules and need to take time off for events)?
TBA tells me you live in Cass Lake, which is quite close to Bemidji. 857 (also pretty rural) draws most of its mentors from students at Michigan Tech, so it might be worth reaching out to Bemidji State.
- Talk to parents, friends of parents, coworkers of parents and current mentors, and other similar people. Get them interested and invite them to the shop.
- Once they’re in the shop, ask them if they can help you with one quick little project in their area of expertise. (Make sure to have some students working with them, learning.)
2a) If they’re there around meal time, make sure they get fed.
- Make sure they know the shop schedule and competition schedule, and thank them. If #2 went according to plan, they’ll be back again soon.
And by “back again soon” I really mean “they’re now mentors”. I’ve seen that sort of thing happen before, too many times.
I always thought it would be interesting to have a psychologist work up a profile of the most common personality traits of long time mentors. Then, armed with this list of traits you could seek out people with those traits. (This may be a bit unethical, knowing ahead of time that you may be causing someone to become addicted to FIRST.)
Most of the people who fit the profile of long tenured FIRST mentor are either already on a team or locked up in an institution where they belong but I like the idea here.
I think we all know what some of them are. Willing to admit to them is a completely different story.
Whenever you go out looking for money, material, or fabrication sponsors, also ask about mentors. You’re already there, and many companies actually link mentorship and sponsorship. (Likewise, when you get a mentor, after he or she is settled in, ask about sponsorship from the mentor’s employer.)
A majority of the mentoring on our team comes from parents of members or former members. Most of the others just showed up, possibly spurred by their employer (e.g. NASA, Naval Research, NDEP) to do outreach. About the only thing you can do here is to advertise the existence of the team. If you’re doing outreach events and put up some banners or wear uniform shirts when you do them, that’s a great start.
Only one of our mentors was targeted individually. Larry and I attend the same church, and my son recruited him as the team was forming; he had earned a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in then-recent months.
Wherever you’re recruiting, never take “but I don’t know anything about robotics” for an answer. Counter with something like "but you do know about [electrical systems/building things/organizing a business/managing a project/whatever skills the prospect has], and we need those skills on the team. If you know the person at all, tailor your pitch to their motivators, whether it’s competition, teaching, making the world a better place, or building neat stuff. I suspect this is why all of our successful mentor recruitments have been done by someone who already knows the prospect.
I think some of us are involved as mentors “because we wish we had something like this available to us when we were teenagers” and a time machine is not available. Perhaps some of us are trying to relive our childhood
Many of the skills needed for FRC can be found in other fields. The OP may be in a rural area so there might not be many “technology companies” that are accessible but FRC is about more than just the technology. One has to learn skills in the areas of leadership, risk analysis/management, project management, creating sound business plans, salesmanship, presentation, etc. These skills can be found in many businesses and organizations that can be found in rural areas. Granted, one may have to drive some distance to find them.
And technology doesn’t necessarily mean high-tech. The skills and experience of (for example) maintaining a tractor and adapting its tools to different needs have plenty of overlap with those needed to build a robot. It’s like music or cooking - a good musician can quickly learn to play a new song, and a good cook can learn a new recipe, because the skills are there, you just need to learn the variations and practice. Taking it to a different style of music or ethnicity of cooking takes another level of effort, but someone with the basic understanding of how things come together can (with a bit of motivation) broaden that knowledge. In my experience, the vast majority of FRC mentors come to FRC with no robotics experience, but with building or design or programming or business skills and are applying them according to a “new style.”
As a (very) rural team one of our biggest strengths is the practical skills many of our students have already mastered when they show up (mostly from working in agricultural settings). Many of them also have a “farmers” work ethic, which can overcome many shortcomings.
One of the best thought out robots I have seen was from a team like Tim’s in the Rio Grande Valley. They had only enough money to pay for the registration for one Regional and had to cannibalize the previous year’s robot. Their teacher/coach said that they filled notebooks with sketches before cutting any metal because they could not afford to waste any.
One of the best thought out robots I have seen was from a team like Tim’s in the Rio Grande Valley. They had only enough money to pay for the registration for one Regional and had to cannibalize the previous year’s robot.
Yeah we do this every year too for each team. All very good advice and we are trying some this year. Thank you.
Experience in a rural setting could also be advantageous because of all the heavy equipment and the mechanisms in use on that equipment. I saw a story about one team from a rural area whose Recycle Rush robot was inspired by a hay baler.