Spread The Wealth - A Conversation about Mentor Allocation

I want to split off from this thread because I think the conversation about mentor allocation is an interesting one that we can all benefit from.

For this to go smoothly we need to have the same assumptions:

  • Mentors have priorities and FRC is likely not on top
  • Mentors priorities change over time
  • What team a mentor joins is the result of their individual situation and wants.
  • Mentors are mentoring because they believe in the program.

Factors that go into picking a team vary from things like “how far away are they” to “do I know anyone” to “how much time/effort will this team require of me.”

Please assume good faith with other posters - assuming malcontent will not do anyone any favors.

Some thoughts:

  • How can teams better advocate for themselves to get mentors?
  • What are important factors that led to mentors choosing your team?
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It’s a hard one to accomplish, especially when you feel like you’re already at a disadvantage for lack of mentors. But one thing that helps with recruitment in all aspects is winning. Put in effort to improve competitively and you’ll see more students, mentors, and sponsors want to be involved with the team.

Everyone loves a winner.

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Have a very strong team structure. The ad-hoc “group of friends” structure seems fun until it isn’t. Don’t let alumni come back to mentor for a minimum of two years after they graduate. Winning doesn’t really matter if it’s constantly stressful.

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I’ve found that in some places, such as here in the Bay Area, there are tons of teams who need mentors, but very few teams that provide an environment and culture that is welcoming to mentors who are looking to join new teams. As a result, most mentors go to the few teams with the right environment and culture, most of which already have a positive mentor culture.

It’s definitely been getting better here in the Bay Area, but for a while the mentor environment used to not be so welcoming to those who didn’t “fit the mold”.

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I enjoy spreading the wealth. It was a factor in why I chose 1296 and 253 over other teams in those areas.

I have a friend who joined a Power House and explained its because they didn’t want to be needed for the team to function. I get that. That’s fine.

I will say there are major differences in the team’s I’ve been on:
253 and 3928 required more admin work, which I enjoy sometimes, but also fundraising… which is not my favorite. I would love to never have to worry about fundraising ever again.

3928 didn’t have any real holes for me to fill (because I didn’t know anything, I was in college) and I didn’t like just being a warm body.

1296 had all the admin covered and obvious gaps that I could fill. It was awesome to be “needed”. I gave a lot of time to 1296, for better or for worse, because I was needed and it was all spent on the robot, not fundraising or calculating attendance.

I joined 253 because they were a mile away from my house and their history suggested they needed it. The team was very welcoming to having mentors for the first time and I have had a blast so far.

Conclusion? At this point in time for me, what I want from a team is (in rough order):

  • the team wants me to mentor
  • the team needs help where I have skills
  • the team is not too far away
  • The team and I have similar goals
  • I don’t have to fund-raise
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Don’t lie to prospective mentors about how sustainable your program is, how much support the school gives, or about other aspects of the team that affect sustainability.

Be realistic, but obviously without scaring them off.

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As a team that boasts 20-25 dedicated mentors (non-parents, non-teachers) each season I’ll tell you why we continuously recruit folks to make our mentor base larger.

By far the most important reason is sustainability. The old adage “Many hands make light work” could not ring more true for an FRC team. Simply, by having more mentors we can distribute the work in a way that takes less of a crushing burden off a few.

On top of that, because ‘the work’ is already split up, it makes absorbing the loss of a mentor easier to handle. Additionally, it allows for ample recruitment opportunities as we have nice bite sized pieces of team for people to jump in on.

Beyond the sustainability aspect, there is a competitive advantage if you can make the system work. Students get deeper experiences, closer and closer to one on one (we have ~70 students). We can focus intensely on many more aspects of the team, because again, we have more hands.

This focus in particular allows our outreach and team support arm to be very extensive. We are able to take on resource intensive outreach projects and support a number of teams through that work. This allows mentors to help teams that may ‘need it more’ but not necessarily commit to that intense workload it may bring.

Overall - we’ll always recruit for more mentors. It makes our team more sustainable, broadens our reach and our network and just makes our team better.

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When i moved back to Wisconsin I chose 2826 because of my connection to several of the mentors who started the team, having gone to high school and college with them, even though there is a team in the city i live in i still drove the 30 miles to mentor 2826( i now work in the city 2826 is based in so the drive doesn’t matter any more).

I did help out the local team in my city one year, while also mentoring 2826, but the culture just wasn’t what I wanted to be apart of so that partnership ended fast.

Now that I am pretty important to the operation and function of 2826, where i ever to move out of Wisconsin, the next team i would look to join would be one that has a similar culture and drive to what Wave has but one in which I would not need to fill the role that i currently hold.

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+1

The team structure needs to be able to support mentors who can’t physically make it to every meeting still contribute (and having the contributions recognized).

The team structure needs to be able to teach and support [technical] mentors who don’t know FRC yet.

To be vulnerable and honest our team structure doesn’t really do either right now and it makes recruiting and retaining technical and non-technical mentors super difficult.

It’s like a second workplace, but you don’t have salary and bonus to make everyone show up - it needs to be fulfilling and fun to put in the work instead.
Sometimes that means winning, sometimes that means other things.

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Parents have been our largest source of new mentors. We make every effort to get every student’s parents involved with the team and excited about our team. We try to get our parents engaged with the team rather than just observe it from afar. When those parents’ students graduate we’ve found that in many cases we’ve hooked them on the program and they stay on as a mentor for the team. This has been built into our team’s culture since the beginning and we’ve organically grown our mentor pool to 17+ mentors.

Similarly we’re very open to alumni mentors and have a solid support structure for helping alumni transition into being mentors. Alumni make great mentors and are an easy source of mentors for programs that have trouble attracting “outside mentors”. It’s very important to have a support structure or plan of some kind to make sure alumni are mentoring, and not just trying to continue their high school careers.

Even going back to high school, I’ve always been on a team that was both relatively nearby and I had friends. FRC is tough if you’re always losing tons of hours to transit time or you don’t feel like you and your teammates are on the same page.

Most of our mentors have been parents of kids, with some remote alumni chipping in.

Existing mentors and teams with strong mentor groups need to recognize the needs of other teams around them and help steer new mentors towards those lesser known groups that need help. I know I’ve helped steer a number of new mentors (including some alumnae from my own team) towards teams that didn’t have the resources my team has, and it’s helped those teams tremendously.

It can also be difficult to find contact info for local teams. Lets say I was someone new to first, looking for a team to mentor. I put in my zip code in FIRST’s website and get back 32 teams within 10 miles. That’s great… but then what? There’s no link out to those team’s website or social media, no email contact info. The best I can do is look at their sponsor list, go to google and find a phone number to call, hoping someone on the other end knows what I’m talking about. Hopefully their school is listed (if it’s a school-based team), as that would be the surest way to get in touch with them.

But lets say instead that I know someone that encouraged me to start mentoring. Great… I ask them to help me find a team near me… Odds are, they’ll point me to 2052, a powerhouse team with plenty of mentors. Maybe 2846, not as much of a powerhouse, but well known as they host an off-season event each fall. I highly doubt they would point me to 2825, the team I could get to quickest and easiest from my house (and could probably use the help more than the others I mentioned)… and even if they did, could they find contact info for me? I know the lead mentor for the team, have breakfast with him and a number of others from other teams every Saturday during build… but I don’t know his e-mail or phone number. I would have to reach out to others in order to get contact info for him, and I’m one of the better connected people in the area!

Fixing that communication gap and having better resourced teams spread the wealth around a bit would really help.

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I dont think it’s the point you’re trying to make, but it just sounds like you need a lot of mentors to get more mentors. Work cant be split up if nobody joins cause the workload will be high, which makes a vicious cycle…

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I’ve seen some people make that point that they joined a great team, and that team still needs them more than they have time for (e.g. @Nick_Coussens in the other thread). Is the “smaller time commitment” aspect of joining a good team a red herring?

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I realized it might be helpful to highlight a few reasons why I joined specific teams I have mentored.

3553 - @staplemonxx was posting crazy ideas on Chief Delphi for their rookie robot. It seemed really ambitious for a rookie in a incredible low resource area of Philly. JJ seemed to be a mentor who “got it” so I messaged him in the middle of the season as a freshman in college to help out. This was a team I could take a bus to.

3929 - JJ and some of our friends (all FRC alumni mentors) started this team. We had a bond from 3553 and honestly I loved to just hang out with them. The teachers involved were incredible and super supportive. We raised a ton of money, and had a great team structure. JJ was nuts and did a lot to gain the team resources. It was a short walk from my dorm building.

2495 - I had played with this team in the past and it showed a lot of potential. Brandon Liatys was posting cool things to CD and Facebook and we started chatting about his team’s issues and how they could improve. When I was able, I remote mentored them purely because Brandon asked for help and because we were friends.

228 - I moved to CT and Chris Picone was on the team. The Dutras were also there and I had become friends with them via VEX World’s.

2170 - they were closer to my apartment and I convinced @AcesJames to join with me. It was a dope time with friends

5686 - another chance for me to lead mentor and be paid for it. I also wanted to lead an all girls team as this was important to me. Downside - 40 minute drive after work, and 40 minutes home after.

177 - awesome friends on the team, great team culture, amazing parent support network. Alumni mentors who love their team and have a strong history. 7 minutes from my new apartment which helps when you have a new job which requires continues education, and your SO also mentors with you while she is planning to attend grad school.

To me these all have a few themes:

  1. positive public presence of the team (either on CD, or the mentors try to make friends with other mentors)
  2. welcoming attitude
  3. good team structure
  4. the desire to improve
  5. open to criticism
  6. desire to win
  7. awesome mentors and parents who are fun to hang out with OUTSIDE of robotics
  8. ask specific mentors in your area to join

Do these things and you will attract mentors.

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I think every team can always do more to be better, which generally correlates to always could use more time from mentors. Most of this is just me having no self control like others have said.

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I honestly don’t know if that’s a yes or a no to my question. Sounds like yes, you’re gonna put the time you literally can put in, no matter the team, because of a lack of self-control?

Pretty much, yeah. Even on 177 I volunteer to do things I don’t have time for. It’s a problem.

In my particular case that’s probably generally true (for now? Hopefully I grow up eventually).

I think it’s more a responsibility thing. I do put in as much time as possible but I personally feel like enough things in my life can be volatile that in my current situation I wouldn’t want the responsibility of being the lead mentor on a team (or lead technical mentor as that is a lot more likely what would happen).

At the end of the day, I am really happy in my current mentor situation, and I still feel like a have a major impact on a lot of our students, and that is good enough for me. If it’s not good enough for others who want to judge my choice to mentor an existing “elite” team, then that’s their problem.

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Is it common or even a possibility for a mentor to come in to a team and assume the Head Coach/Lead Engineering Mentor position? I feel like there would need to be some adjustment period to learn the resources available to the team and strategize what you can do and what you needed to upgrade. I just assumed all relocating mentors assumed satellite/support roles to the incumbent mentors of whatever team they joined.

Both of my mentor stops started as non-pivotal positions. The first never went anywhere (which for me was frustrating). The second has.