Seeking advice / opinions

I figure this is as good a place as any to post this. (please be sure to vote up top!)

As stated in my title, I am the lead mentor for Helix Charter’s robotics team. We are primarily an after-school based team and, including the two faculty advisers and myself, have a total of 3 mentors for the team.

My dilemma here is that I am starting to struggle financially. I am paid through a grant the school gets, however it is barely enough to get from my house to the school twice a week for one month (a 30-minute drive each way). This is why I have taken into consideration joining the military, but this is where the plot thickens… I am an 8-year FIRST veteran, and the most knowledgeable mentor on our team. The two faculty advisers only have one year (barely) under their belt. :frowning:

On the one hand, I need a better financial backbone to help support my parents during this tough economic time; and on the other hand, I do not want to let my students down by leaving them mid-way through the season… I am stressing out quite a bit with this decision and would like to see what others think of my predicament. If you have any questions please feel free to ask and I will reply with the answer, as well as update the main posting with the question/answer for others to see.

-----answers to previous questions------

  • I haven’t held an official job since Feb. MANY job openings and interviews, but have not gotten the job (ironic… isn’t it?), and my money is running out faster than BP’s spending on the gulf cleanup…

  • I have no idea how busy my schedule would be in the military as a systems/network engineer or cyber security analyst. I have a few friends in the Marines and Air Force, but they barely get enough time to chat once a week…

  • Unfortunately both instructors have after-school tutoring classes for science / physics, but allow us to utilize the classroom. The students would not get the same attention that I have given them in the past.

  • Team 812 is close by and might be able to help, although I’m unsure about how efficient or convenient it would be for them. I will have to look into that.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts and input,

Jason McMahon
Lead Mentor / Volunteer instructor
Helix Charter High School
Team 3195 - The RoboNinjas

Do you have another job?

Could you mentor via distance (Skype, AIM, videoconference, email, etc)?

Could you take a less lead position in the mentor corps? What I mean is have one of the other mentors take the “head mentor” position, but remain as a mentor (and mentor the mentors as needed).

Are there local veteran teams that could help take up the slack by taking your team under their wing?

No I haven’t held an official job since Feb. MANY job offers and interviews, but no luck, and my money is running out faster than BP’s spending on the gulf cleanup…

I have no idea how busy my schedule would be in the military as a systems/network engineer or cyber security analyst. I have a few friends in the Marines and Air Force, but they barely get enough time to chat once a week…

Unfortunately both instructors have after-school tutoring classes for science / physics, but allow us to utilize the classroom. The students would not get the same attention that I have given them in the past.

Hmm… Team 812 might be able to, although I’m unsure about how efficient or convenient it would be for them. I will have to look into that.

While its tough to say, it sounds like you need to take care of yourself and your family first in this situation. It’s better to take the plunge now than it would be in January - it will give the team some time to adjust to the new reality and figure out what to do. That said, there are a few things you can do now to help get the team through the next year without you:

  • Help them try to find new mentors. Yes, the new mentors won’t have the experience you do, but if they have the time and technical knowledge, it will be a huge help to the team.

  • Pass on your knowledge. Meet with the other mentors and the student leaders on the team and make sure they know as much as you can teach them in whatever time you have. Taking notes/making a binder with faqs and info could greatly help them.

  • Help them develop a plan for the build season. As sad as it may sound, losing a single member or mentor can (as in this case) severely affect what a team is capable of. If you can’t be around, then the team’s goals need to change. Instead of building the best robot in FIRST next year, they need to focus on getting something out there. A successful season wouldn’t be measured by overall ranking or medals at competition, but by getting through the season together and having a robot that works. Set up a timeline for the build season, and make sure its clear who has the responsibility for keeping the team on it.

  • Make sure they have your contact information. Yes, you may not have time to be very involved, but you can probably find the time to respond to a few e-mailed questions and point them in the right direction.

  • Make sure they know of the outside resources they can depend on. Chief Delphi (obviously). Other local teams. Other teams who are willing to mentor them remotely. The FIRST community is amazing when it comes to that.

Your team was incredibly fortunate to have a seasoned FIRST mentor working with them - not very many get that as rookies (I know our team didn’t). Yet, those teams manage to make it - and with passion and drive, I’m sure your team will too.

In closing, I’ll just remind you (and all the other impassioned people here) that we all have lives outside of FIRST. The time we spend with our teams is amazing (both for us and for them), but real life situations come up that require us to sometimes sacrifice that time. Mentoring won’t pay your bills or put food on the table (unless your students bring in cookies… hint hint if any Robettes are reading this!). As mentors, we’re roll models to these kids, and making decisions that hurt our careers or families sends them the wrong message. I think more than anything we can teach them, it’s how to make the right decision when the choices are difficult. How to sacrifice in order to keep going. We do it all the time when working on the robot (giving up on one bit of functionality in order to ensure the rest works like it should, for example) - we need to do it in “real life” as well.

Thanks for the response,

Yes, it is a very difficult decision for me. I see the team as more of a family than I do as a club, which makes the decision ever more difficult. However, as you said, hopefully I can get another mentor to take my place soon enough before the kickoff and be able to leave with at least somewhat of a clear conscience about it. :slight_smile:

  1. Get another mentor or two. Talk to sponsors and parents about wanting/needing more mentors.

This takes some load off all the mentors by giving more people to spread it around to. It also increases team knowledge.

  1. If you’re going to make a move, tell the team now. See above; it’s easier to deal with it earlier. It wouldn’t hurt to give them a heads-up that your status may be changing, either.

  2. 812 is not the only “local” team… Team San Diego should be able to find someone or some way to help. (For those that aren’t familiar with Team San Diego, it has the same function as WRRF, SCRRF, IndianaFIRST, and other local robotics groups–help the teams in the area around it.) 1266 is a little closer than 812, for example.

  3. What is the level of parental involvement? If you have no parents at all involved in any way, shape, or form (other than transportation), you may need to change that. Well, take out the “may” from that. It doesn’t matter if they’re simply bringing meals once a week or so, or are helping prototype major parts of the robot. Having those parents around can help make or break the team.

  4. What about looking into the Reserves or the National Guard? Those are military, but can be closer to home than, say, the Navy.

Your life is far, far more important than a high school robotics team. Do whatever you can to ease the transition for them and do whatever you have to do to feel secure about your future.

The kids will understand.

While there is a lot to consider before going into the military, the team should not be one of them. You are a volunteer. Your responsibility, imo, is to help them with getting through the next few seasons without you. Great advice above should help that, especially the get more mentors advice. I think your team has been lucky to have a mentor with your experience and who cares so much about the team but this seems like yet another example of FIRST mirroring the work environment where sometimes key employees move on and others need to take over.

3 Years ago, our primary mentor’s company was facing tough times. The company was losing money, and the mentor was devoting more time than ever to robotics.

But he did what he had to do to support his family, and left the team to work harder at the company, and today, while he’s not with the team anymore, he’s more financially stable.

Today, we have 4 awesome mentors who have stepped in to fill the void that was left by the previous mentor. I think that if you leave something you love and cherish to support your family, then people will ultimately respect you more, and your team will have nothing but respect for you.

  • Sunny

For a decision like this, I don’t think a FIRST team should have any bearing on your choice. It is absolutely awesome that you care so greatly about the team your working with. However, your own life and situation is far more important than a FIRST team.

I think you need to do your best and help the team make a transition, but definitely take care of your family and yourself first.

I think we sometimes get caught up in the “magic” of FIRST and it becomes almost larger than life to us. Every now and then we need to step back though and realize that despite how great FIRST can be, it is not everything.

Good luck.


I’m confused, if you’ve had many interviews and offers why haven’t you taken any? :confused:

That aside, taking care of you and yours is far more important than mentoring an FRC team. My experience tells me that they will survive your absence, and you can always stay involved through email/skype/homing pigeon or however you want to.

I’m fairly sure he meant job openings, not offers.

As many have said before, family always comes first.

Yes, Thank you, that is what I meant. :o

I understand your desire to stay involved with the team, but you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.

Perhaps another established team in your area would “lend” you an experienced mentor for a year or two. Many teams have good 2nd string leadership that might like to try a turn at the helm. Perhaps the teams could collaborate to some extent. You wouldn’t need to share build space or make the same hardware, but it would ease the learning curve for the “new” chief mentor and improve the experience for all involved.

Your eventual choice and how you go about handling your difficult situation will set an example for the students, no less than your engineering mentoring.

Much of our mentoring results from our actions that the students pick up on. Whether it’s our enthusiasm for engineering and design, our dedication to a cause, or where we place our priorities in life. It all sets an example to the students who look up to us as they are establishing their own footing in life.

Difficult choices face us all along, and having our priorities in place give us and those around us a solid foundation on which to base our decisions.

There’s a third option here.

Before I get into that, just understand that the comments about FIRST not being a part of your decision are spot on.This is not the middle of the season, and the team WILL survive without you.

OK, when you were born, did you know how to make aluminum into robot parts? Did you know about chains, motors, circuit breakers, etc? No, of course not. You LEARNED about these things, very probably because these topics interested you.

Finding a JOB is no different. You must LEARN how to do this, even if you think you know how already. You should spend 8+ hours a day - every day - on this specific task. If you’re not doing that, you’re not putting in enough effort.

An offer: WE, then other mentors of Chief Delphi, are a treasure trove of expertise (=experience + knowledge), and we are willing to help you learn (and succeed!) in this new task of finding a job. PM Ken Leung and ask if we helped him land a job or not.

And we can help you, too.

Getting started: What kind of work are you qualified for? What kind of work do you prefer? Experience? Education? Got a Resume? Post it. With some info, we’ll move forward.

(BTW, I have nothing against the military. I just think you’ve set yourself up with a false dilemma)


I understand your dedication to your team–and it must be amazing for this to be bothering you so much–but in my mind, family and financial stability always have to come first. Given how you describe your team, I’m virtually certain that though they’ll miss you, they’ll understand your situation.

If it’s any help, many, many teams have been in this situation before. A lot of them faced it as rookies without a seasoned FIRST/etc mentor on board. Others (like mine) faced it when that mentor had to leave. We didn’t begrudge him at all, and we’ve had another absolutely excellent mentor step up to take his place. We’ve also had several other fantastic mentors step in as well, and in some ways the team is better for overcoming the difficulty. Were we lucky? Yes, absolutely. And audaces fortuna iuvat. Your team can make it too.

As to the military, I’m not one to encourage joining for the money. Do some people do it? Yes, and a few take to it very well. Many others don’t, unfortunately. I’d highly encourage you to think this through well past the financial considerations. In the end, though, it’s your choice. I think Don’s got a great start on another alternative.

Absolutely. In fact, I’d argue it’s more the former. If a prior student’s perspective helps cement this at all, I have literally lost track of then number of times I’ve been at a loss/in over my head and wondered, “what would Clem/Foster do?” (other than undoubtedly tease me for asking the question) I’m surprised how often it works. :wink:
Note: I’m not saying FIRST should be a deciding factor here. Trying to live your life such that you’d be proud to serve as a role model? Doesn’t strike me as a bad philosophy.

I have been an FRC mentor for 5 years and a Head Mentor for 2½. I take my role as mentor very seriously, but I also enjoy it and find it extremely satisfying.

But I have a family which depends upon me. Work is not an option; it is a necessity (for almost everyone). I am not specifically advising you to join the military, but I believe gainful employment (either military or other) needs to be a first priority.

For me, being employed enables me to participate in FIRST. It is not possible to choose one or the other; mentoring could not happen if I were not employed.