Student presidents

I’m wondering how people structure the leadership of their teams.

Specifically, I am interested in teams who have a student serve as captain / president / CEO / chairman, who leads the entire project but does not have any particular responsibility with design, engineering, manufacturing, etc. What does this leader do on a day-to-day basis during build season? What does he do during competition? Does he have a technical background? How involved is he with the technical work? How involved is he with administrative work (team paperwork, meeting schedules, trip planning)?

My team designates a head of each department (engineering, software, and marketing), where the president of engineering is responsible for the entire project, but spends most of his time designing and building. We’re concerned that, with our leader’s time spent mostly on technical work, our management suffers.

There are many instances where one sub-team is not aware of another sub-team’s most recent progress or delays, and the lack of communication leads to confusion and sometimes frustration. Or two sub-teams will slowly diverge without a sense of purpose, and while both are working productively, their results are not being actively integrated to move the project forward. Some of us feel that we’d work more efficiently with one manager who understands all parts of the project, and who can guide all divisions on what to do next, without getting bogged down in the details of technical work.

Anyone whose team is led by someone separate from the main technical people, could you please walk me through a typical build season, and explain how your leader manages the process? We’d find it very helpful to know how other teams organize this, as we’re not entirely sure whether this is the right change to make, and if so, how to implement it and how to choose the right person.

Our team has a two tier leadership structure, a Build Team Manager, and a President. We follow a mostly democratic structure to our team, voting on all important decisions (strategy and general design). The president and BTM are elected in May every year. Traditionally, these people are the most invested members of the team. The president has been from a machining backround in the past and the BTM from a design one. The president can usually go about their usual business and fill in where it is needed: If a project is behind schedule he/she can go and help with it. The BTM is responsible for the overall robot; a project manager. They look at what is in the critical path, what will be in the critical path and try to clear it. In general, they have to have to some backround in the engineering process if the decisions they make are to have any weight. You would think that there isn’t enough stuff for a project manager to position to do on an FRC team, but with a team my size (55+) there is more than enough. Every build night, I run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to make sure that all the subprojects are on track. People tell me I worry too much, but that’s my job.

When I was a Junior and Senior we had a similar setup. We had the President in charge of planning events, leading meetings, many other things that I can’t seem to remember, and just being a great leader and role model in general. On the side of that we had the Engineering Director (my role) who would oversee the project of the robot during build season, making sure parts were bought, each subteam got it’s jobs done on time to a prepared schedule, and that things were going smoothly. (I also was lead of electrical at the time so I balanced getting my own work done with making sure all the other things got done)
So essentially the big jobs were split between 2 people. I’d do lot’s of work in Electrical, delegate a multitude of projects to others in Electrical, then walk around and check the status of other projects and report to our Leadership group in our weekly meeting. Which would then report to the whole team later in the day.

The hardest part of build season is having motivated students show up and get work done fast and solidly so that other jobs that are dependent don’t fall behind as well (chaining and drive assembly waiting for welding, programming waiting for electrical, etc. etc.). Our team has gotten better and better at this thankfully.

Our team has a five-person student leadership structure. I have pasted the descriptions of the positions as given in our team handbook below. Management team members do a lot to help lead the team, but they usually have other roles on the team in addition to just leadership. At team meetings, they participate in the subteam activities along with everyone else. The leadership work is mostly done outside of team meetings by email, on conference calls, and at in-person meetings. This means there really isn’t a communication gap between them and other team members; they’re at the meetings doing everything along side the rest of the team.

Qualifications: Must be team member for at least two years; must possess good public speaking skills and organizational skills. Must attend Avon High School
Duties: Schedules, organizes, and presides over team meetings and leadership team meetings; represents team where singular presence is required.

Vice President–
Qualifications: Must be team member for at least one year; must have good organizational skills. Must attend Avon High School
Duties: Assists the President and assumes duties of the President in his absence, Has a good relation with the team and is in charge of taking advice from team and relaying it to president.

Public Relations –
Qualifications: Must be team member for at least one year; must possess good public speaking skills. Must attend Avon High School, and must be very organized.
Duties: To preside over and join together spirit committee, fundraising team and press team. Also responsible for sponsor relations and letters.

Qualifications: Must be team member for at least one year; must possess good financial/mathematical skills; must possess good communications skills; must have knowledge of spreadsheet or financial software. Must be a good public speaker and have great organizational skills. Must also attend Avon High School
Duties: Works with adult mentor and team president. Keeps accurate record of receipts and disbursements. Maintains team budget and reports on such at team meetings.

Qualifications: Must be team member for at least one year; must possess good organizational skills; must possess knowledge of word processing software and have Internet access. Must attend Avon High School
Duties: Takes accurate minutes of all team meetings and disseminates such to team members and parents/guardians through either mass emails, the online wiki, or the website forums. Also responsible for documentation of team procedures along with the official attendance

Our team has a Team Captain at the top of our hierarchy. Under him, We have the roles of Past Captain (if we have a former captain still on the team), Business Manager, Robot Manager, and Safety Captain (to give him some superiority). Under the Robot Manager, we have: Strategy Lead (Strategy), Field Coach (Drive Team), Build Manager, Lead Programmer, and Documentation. Under Business Manager we have: Administration (usually filled by a teacher/mentor), Team Image Coordinator, Award Submissions, Promotion, and Documentation. Almost all of these subcategories have a lead. These leads along with the Business Manager, Robot Manager, Past Captain and Team Captain are the Management Team. The management team meets with mentors and other team members and then makes team decisions based on vote. Each Lead/Manager/Coordinator is in charge of their department, but are not limited to doing just that (example: I occasionally work on the robot, even though I am Business Manager). We choose our captain in May (by a vote) when (for us) the next years season starts (in May 2012, we will start the 2013 season). The captain, along with guidance from mentors and possibly a past captain, choose the Management Team in the fall.
As for how this year’s build season went, here it is: We hold kickoff at a member’s house where, once the game is released, we immediately start brainstorming. We spend the next few days designing the robot and (by vote) we agree on various design elements (drivetrain, frame type, launcher mechanism…). Our CAD team then begins laying out the bot in Solidworks, while our build team begins to prototype the launcher. While this is all going on, on the Business side, the Chairman’s Team begins to work on essays and the presentation. About half way through build season, the CADers are ready to send off the first of the components to be laser cut. The base frame is the first to come in, which we bend and rivet. This gives our members to begin work on the electronics board (with the cRio, power distribution board, digital sidecar…). All of the CADed components are now in and have been assembled. At this point we are about two weeks until bag and tag. The chairman’s team is close to finishing their essays and their presentation is being finalized. The CAD team, with input from the builders and team management, make any modifications to the CAD and (if necessary) send new components to be laser cut. A few days later, we have a second (unfinished) robot. At this point, our competition robot (the second one) is getting a few finishing touches with the second electronics board, pneumatics, and drive train installed. Our team takes advantage of the 30lbs of replacement parts that we can bring to competition. So we kept our final shooter to be finalized and put on a (working) dummy shooter. We then bag the robot on stop build night with the final drive base, electronics and pneumatics installed, and a tower and shooter that will be replaced at competition. We then use the next four weeks (for us, we don’t compete until week four) to perfect our shooter and tower using the first drive base we constructed. While all this is going one, the Robot Manager is overseeing it all. The Business Manager (me) delegates tasks while focusing on creating our business plan, our Chronicle (200 page binder which documents our season and provides an overview of our history) and our team information packages (which we give to both teams and judges in the pits). Programming takes place throughout the season with a lead but no specific team. Team Image and Promotion are more active just before and at competition. And that’s about it.
If you’d like to review our team hierarchy structure, it is availablehere.

I was the president of my team for a while. Though it varied year to year, the main duties were mainly non-technical things.

For example, I sent emails, made sure everyone knew when/where the meetings were, made sure that everyone was getting along fine and didn’t have any issues with anyone else (and thus ensuring as few ‘bumps’ during build season/regionals/meetings as I could), and lead the ‘business’ portion of the meetings (as in, going down a list of things and asking the appropriate people to talk about that stuff when needed). I was also the person that people who were interested in robotics were told to ask any questions to and such.

For a while we didn’t really have a specific list of what the president did (we were a new team my freshman year, then when we started being not-new and organizing stuff we merged with another team so that was kind of a shakeup), so it’s kind of hard for me to tell where my duties ended and where my habit of being a ‘peacemaker’ started. Other students who have held the position of president say that they pretty much just lead meetings and little else.

We also have a ‘Vice-President’ position, but it’s mainly in case something happens with the president from what I’ve seen. Some years we hold separate elections for ‘President’ and ‘Vice-President’, other years VP is just the person who got the second most votes for President.

I would like to read an answer from a ‘powerhouse’ team, but I’ll give my .02$.

I don’t quite understand how a team can have a non-technical president who presides over the entire club, while there’s a separate leader for FRC. Unless of course, the club understands that all FRC related calls are under the purview of the FRC captain.

My team has seen both. We’ve had leaders who not so technically oriented and the line between leaders became blurred and it was not apparent who was lead what, and people feared stepping on toes.

We’ve also seen technical leaders, and while it appears that the more technical sides of the team seem to be more structured, I can’t help but think that the team struggled in aspects of FIRST.

In my opinion, you would be better off having a a leader that’s involved in FIRST and has the ability to lead a FIRST robotics team, and then delegate other areas to more dependable people.

Once again, I’m sure people will disagree, and I do not have experience in building leadership structure but that’s just my .02$.

  • Sunny G.

On the student leadership side, our team has an Engineering Director, a Communications Director and for the past couple of seasons a Human Resources Director. These students are like team captains on a sports team, they help manage what is going on. There is also a Chief Mechanic, working under the Engineering Director, because that “branch” of our organization requires the most work during the build season. Both the engineering director and the chief mechanic jump in where needed (and where they have expertise) on component teams, each which has their own student leader. The HR director is new for us, and is primarily responsible for tracking down students for projects we need to do. In practice this means finding kids to do demonstrations, organizing the set up and tear down crews for our FLL tournament and the Connect A Million Minds Invitational, and in general finding people for all of our various events. The communications director handles the Chairman’s Essay and presentation and helps with all of our marketing stuff. People tend to move between positions. This year’s Engineering Director was last year’s Communications director, for example. (Alas now she is graduating, which means I will have to do more mechanical work and math next year.)

We have a fairly democratic structure in terms of deciding on strategy and high level design. We vote on the general course for the year. As an example, this year it was mostly the newer team members who wanted a mecanum drive robot, while the veterans wanted a beefy, two speed traction wheeled design. But the mecanum side got more votes. After the season starts, we have a core group of upperclassmen and mentors, which tends to number between 6 and 10 each year. This group meets a couple of times a week to make sure we are on course, and if not to decide on what needs to change.

Team structure is something I’ve thought about extensively, especially with the structure my team used this year failing to accomplish the intended goal. In my opinion this would be a great system, which I predict my team will utilize next yeat.

Non-Technical leads:

overseas things, his main responsibility is to make meeting itineraries and make sure that everyone is getting things done on time. Also rus the meating and the head meetings.

Vice-President/Head of media and outreach:
Is there in order to take the presidents place in case something happens. Since there is not always something to do there he also is in charge of non-engineering related things like meda and outreach.

Technical leads:

Control Systems:
Team lead of Programming and Electrical. Will often deligate out responsibilty for one of the departments to a “sub” team lead and manage the other personaly; depending on personal preference.

  • Hardware: *
    In charge of the shop and all things in it, will often deligate responsability to people for things like drivetrain, thus creating “sub” team leads.

The way this is structured is that before every meeting the four team leads have a meeting in order to know what is going on in all of the divisions, as well as to discus and evaluate team progress. The main goal of these meetings is to finalize an itinerary for the main team meeting where important decisions are made.

The key to this working is not to expand the roles at the head meetings, as well as to make sure that all important decisions get made by the entire team.


We used a committee structure where most major technical (drivetrain, programing, etc) and non-technical (fundraising, media and etc) responsibilities were given a committee. Every student must be part of one technical and one non-technical committee. Often key members will be on more than two committees. Each committee issue action items so rarely there are issues with responsibilities. Each committee has a chairperson who ensures action items are carried out. Thus it is plausible for the drivetrain chair to design the shooter mechanism, with that action item being issued by the shooter chair.

As for our president, he’s probably on chief delphi somewhere, he can fill in more later, was responsible for coordinating all the team’s major resources. The main gantt chart was his responsibility. The committee chairs and the vice-presidents reported to him. So rarely he was in the dark. He was also technical oriented, so once the meeting was underway, he would jump in and work on his specific action items for the robot. He also took on a lot of non-technical and business action items and help manage struggling committees or committees who simply need more people.

He did a fantastic job. He knew how to keep busy and go where the help was needed most. He still found time to know the robot backwards and forwards.

Dcarr where are you?

Here is our entire team handbook.The leadership section starts on page 10.

If there is anything that’s missing that you would like more information on, let me know and I’ll answer more questions.

We find that student leadership is very successful for a FIRST robotics team. Not only does it teach students responsibility, but adds a sense of authority to the “leading” students.

Here is how we on 256 set up things:

-We have 1 entire team leader, the captain, leader, president, etc. (yours truly)
-Each “subgroup” has a leader. Note: The team leader can be a leader of a subgroup, but also shares the responsibilities of every other group.

The subgroup-leads report to the team leader, and everyone else reports to their respective sub-group lead.

To us, President is in charge of making sure everything is done on time and depending on their personal experience they help in the field they like when they have downtime. Everything moderately important is supposed to be ran by them before anything is decided. This is done to keep everything organized and hopefully on plan during build season. Vice President assists the President in the event they are not available or are overwhelmed in any way.

Our team has a three student leadership group: one CEO/President of the Board, and two Vice Presidents (one for Engineering and Robot Operations, the other for Public relations and Marketing). In addition, there are several department heads appointed directly by the CEO based on input from the VPs and mentors. The positions are Head of Design, Head of Electrical, Head of Programming, two Pit Captains, Head of Strategy, Safety Captain, and Scouting Captain for the current year. In addition, there is a joint student-mentor board made up of the CEO and the two VPs and several of the mentors of our team.

The CEO is a position held by a veteran senior on the team, usually with two years of experience. The CEO’s jobs are to schedule and lead team meetings, call meetings of the student-mentor board, prepare an agenda for the board meetings, and make competition schedules. The CEO maintains a strictly hands-off approach to the team. The CEO is also responsible for making sure time is used efficiently during build season, shuffling around team member duties when necessary, and making sure the main ideas for robot functions are prototyped. In addition, the CEO is responsible for preparing applications for the position the following year, and choosing the new CEO with the student mentor board. At the beginning of their term(at which point all graduating members are now no longer members of the team, occurring in May or June), the new CEO puts out applications for the two Vice Presidents and chooses the VPs with the board. As stated, the CEO also appoints the heads of the various subgroups, which while usually static throughout a season can and have changed previously.

The VP of Engineering and Robot Operations helps oversee the scouting, drive, and pit teams during competitions. Like the CEO they generally take a hands-off approach although at times will help out. He helps the CEO decide on the pit crew for both qualifications and eliminations making recommendations based on behavior he observes.

The VP of PR takes a much more hands-on approach than the other two student leaders. He actively works on our chairman’s and Woodie Flower’s essays (a mentor handles the Dean’s List essays) and also serves as one of our three presenters for the Chairman’s Award. In addition, he writes articles for the newspaper we put out at every competition and serves as one of the editors for the other articles written. He is also in charge of the layout of the newspaper.

As for technical experience, I am CEO for the team this year. Last year I served as a programmer during build season and a full-time member of the strategy team during competition season.

If there are another questions about the setup, feel free to ask.

I’m curious how smaller teams (less than 10 students) who are doing well are structuring their leadership? How big of a role does the president/captain play in decision making?

Our team is divided into subteams (known as groups), each with its own group leader. We do have a team captain, who addresses the team on a weekly basis during build season, covering very general topics about what the team has been doing. But the more unique feature for our team is the fact that at each meeting during build season we have one group give a (somewhat) formal presentation about their work over the past week or so, keeping the communication gaps bridged and also doubling as Chairman’s Award presenters’ tryouts.

One of our staples is trying to keep the students fairly close to equal in responsibility. As hard as that is to do in a de facto manner, we are at least fairly close to such a system de jure. The team captain is a senior, and his most important job is really just being a representative for the team when one is needed.

Our group, when it comes to management, has a President, VP, Treasurer, and Secretary. Since we are a rookie team, we had to spend almost a month of build time and time in December to organize ourselves. We held our elections based on a normal candidate/campaign structure with anonymous votes. Merit and popularity dictated who was chosen. We only have about 15 members, so our leaders also must work in a subteam (electrical, build, strategy/rules/fundraising/spirit/scout, Design/CAD, and programming). Many other responsibilities such as Drivers, drive coach, safety captain, and Scoutmaster have to be taken by students who already have multiple jobs. President and VP are mostly in charge of running meetings along with the head mentor. However, we make it a strict policy that mentors are only allowed to teach and help; students must do the work. In general, we are very democratically run, to the point where it takes 1.5-2 hour meetings just to discuss simple issues. As a result, the President and VP are needed to finish their normal work as well as assign jobs and tasks to the other members so that work gets done and members are just sitting there playing games on the computers. VP and President, in the end, choose how much work they can handle for themselves. They can either give responsibility to a mentor who will then give out work or the Cabinet can interact and assign jobs themselves. Our VP tends give out jobs himself because he knows a bit about every subteam and is part of the design/CAD team. However, our President, due to other commitments, cannot always attend whole meetings. Thus, he has the VP take charge or gives the mentors the OK to assign jobs to members of their subteam. Our Treasurer tends to work by himself or has mentor help. Our Secretary works the same way as well. In Retrospect, I believe we should have given them more support rather than avoid them and leave them to their own devices. In Summary, our method has pros and cons.
Cons: Slow, Issues arise in who holds what power, Dependent on only a few people, Takes time to set up, Leaders can get a lot of flak for not listening to public opinion, whether it is right or wrong, and Can be hard to keep discipline during meetings.
Pros: Very much in the spirit of FIRST, Listens to everyone’s opinion, Doesn’t leave out individuals, and prevents mentors from doing all of the work since the students act as their own police force
In the end, I suggest the rookies and even older teams pick the type of government most suited to their needs. They must look at all of the factors such as number of mentors, students, competence, enthusiasm, location, and work ethic. Just one type of government can’t work for them all, as Rookies we were lucky that our government is at least functional and has functioned enough for us to achieve the Rookie All Star Award.

103 has a detailed corporate structure. We are a 501c3 and run as close to a business as we possibly can.

We have our head mentors/team advisers as our CEO’s:
Cathy Beck (co-founder), Jack Tusman, and Chris Willman.
We also have various other mentors and parent mentors who form an executive board for our team/business.

Then we have student leaders who are elected by their peers. I, myself, am Madam President this year! We have all female officers for the first time this year. Our Vice President is a senior, as is our Secretary and our Treasurer is a junior.

We also have student leaders within our three main departments, as follows:
I have been the Head of PR/Marketing for the past few years. We have a Head of Manufacturing and a Head of animation. They are the role models for other student team members as well as the experts in their perspective areas.

As a leadership side note, something that works well for us is Peer mentor/mentees to help students transition and balance school and robotics.
Every Junior and Senior student is assigned a freshman or sophomore student. They are there for help with fundraising, if the young student needs a tutor in a specific subject, or anything else they may need. :slight_smile:

The students leaders play a role in decision making and are consulted on our mentors bigger decisions. We also run most of the team fundraisers ourselves, organizing as well as executing the tasks that need to be done. We organize community outreach and a lot of the time our mentors just show up as chaperons. Cybersonics has always been based on student-driven tasks, having a structure with student leaders helps to make sure that continues on year after year. They have authority and are looked up to; students on our team understand that their work won’t be done for them. We are a smaller team, being about 30 students, so this also helps to make sure everything gets done that needs to get done before build season starts.

The preference is for the currently non-technical president to have had a rite of passage through technical and non-technical affairs on the team, eventually working their way to the president slot. This slot being focused on maintaining the overall order and direction of the team, internally, and externally being the primary face to stakeholders and certain public affairs.

FRC design and operational issues are the responsibility of the FRC lead.

There is two much work to do to have those two hardly bumping into each other.

This is very similarly to what we do. We have 2 captains (share the load equally) They are expected to pretty much do anything and everything needed to keep our team “on track”. They are seniors. We have 2 co-captains under them. They are juniors. The 4 of them oversee minutes of meetings and financial things similar to a Pres, VP, Sec, Treas. set up, but with a shared accountability.

Under them we have area specific leaders that lead students in specific areas of the team, whether design, electronics, outreach or whatever. It works for us. We tweak it a little each year. Our captains will step in with build if needed there, or they will sweep the carpet if needed there. They try to help the team find direction, stay on task and accomplish our goals.