The Roles of a Mentor - A contest

No, this is NOT another thread on students vs. mentors (phew). I’m interested in finding out some of the many and varied things that mentors do in addition to engineering (although some permutations/combinations of engineering roles may be included). Mentors and students are both welcome to enter submissions, and you may add as many as you like.

I will start with a few of my own:

  1. K squared (key keeper) and Alarm Clock
    – Last year in Atlanta, a couple students sheepishly asked if I would keep their room key overnight “just in case we’re hard to wake up.” The following morning, I heard the phone next door ring with the hotel wake-up call, followed by 10 minutes of silence. I pounded on the door with calls of, “Anyone alive here?” followed by groans, then more silence. Entering the room, I found 3 comatose life forms that literally had to be rolled out of bed. With the clock ticking, important choices had to be made – go hungry or smelly? Guess which one won.
  2. Health Regulator
    – Over the years, I have made many entreaties to increase consumption options beyond caffeine and sugar. I’m proud to say they took my suggestion to “Eat more greenery” to heart with the moldy bologna sandwich.
  3. BUB/BUS (Bring Up Bottomer/Bring Upto Speeder)
  • Better, higher, faster may be the motto of the veterans, but my goals are somewhat more modest. As new students continue to join the team, I no longer have the honor being the least knowledgeable member. It’s my job to empathize with the newbies and make sure they don’t get left behind in the dust.
  1. Creative Grammarian
  • See #3 above.

After a reasonable time, our TOTALLY unbiased committee will determine the winner(s) and send a suitable prize (most likely green food, in keeping with # 2).

As lead programming mentor, one of my responsibilities is to make the robot break itself autonomously. Then I get to sit back and relax with a can of Dr Pepper while other team members 1) fix what broke, and 2) make it better so I have to work that much harder to break it the next time.

(I first succeeded at this task about ten minutes before the open house on the weekend before ship date the first year I was with the team. Something I did – I think it was along the lines of touching a joystick – stripped a bunch of teeth from a heavy steel worm gear, and the robot slammed its arm into its drivebase at high speed. The mechanical team figured out a quick fix, determined that the quick fix could be repeated once more if necessary before having to replace the gear, and worked out a reasonable plan for replacing the gear later.)

Truck Driver - I had the privilege of driving our pit stuff to competition this year.

Spare parts distributer - our mentor Tim spent as much time as possible giving away all the spare parts I transported.

During the finals at St. Louis I saw Andy Baker be battery boy.

a couple of the mentors have a master’s in Food Technology

Food Technitians and Nutrition Specialists: well…robotics kids get hungry…really hungry.

Some of my extramentorial roles in 2008:

– orderer of online parts; e.g., 1000 denier green Cordura, AndyMark SuperShifters, various shapes of aluminum, SparkFun gyro, fasteners, etc.

– supervisor of Jabba the Hutt, whose pre-season fabrication jollies have sometimes led to actual robot parts,

– laundry vehicle driver, when the team stayed in a hotel without washer/dryer access,

– Dad. This year my 11 year old daughter travelled with the team for the first time. :slight_smile:

I have the unofficial title of the Capital Robotics Safety Program. I’m not the coordinator, I’m the program–I wind up getting hurt over build and in the pits so the kids don’t.

I help the kids with scouting (meaning I create a schedule for them to follow) and then freak out if every team has 8 matches recorded and one has 7 but they know I mean no harm

and I help with alliance selection (if we get to pick) and strategy for the matches

but I am also known as the “spirit man” because I never stop dancing and clowning around in the stands

I relate to Alan’s role as “lead breaker of stuff at inconvenient times” and the “Health Regulator” role. My job in that capacity is to remind the juniors that just because the some of the seniors suck back double espressos in the morning that it doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea. Not that they listen… it just makes it that much more funny when they are sitting in the stands going “Ohhhhh… I don’t feel so good…” Here’s a couple more:

Tour Guide: When attending the GTR we always try to find time to head down to Niagara Falls. One time, after dropping the kids off at the American Falls, they spent about two minutes going “Coool… that’s a big waterfall.” and then headed up into the tacky tourist trap of a town that is Niagara Falls. When we picked them up later in the day we asked what they had seen. Well, they found the arcade, McDonalds, etc. “But did you see the BIG falls?” we asked… “Yeah, when you dropped us off.” was the reply.

So we had to drive them down to the Canadian Falls, and THEN they understood why Niagara Falls is worth the trip.

Legal Advisor: Always, always, always mention that students should not plan on crossing the border if they have a criminal conviction. I was extremely suprised one year when I mentioned it and a student quietly came up to ask me if I was serious about that, because he had done something really stupid the previous year (and been caught). This required a fair bit of research to determine if a non-violent young offender in Canada would be turned back at the border. Turns out that “probably not” is the answer… but if they are, their criminal record can be retained in the American Customs and Border Protection database even after it is removed from the Canadian database. This could cause a lifetime of problems crossing the border.

Censor: “SuperBAD!!! I thought you said SuperMAN.” Couldn’t figure out why they wanted to watch Superman on the drive to Portland… but apparently there is a difference in the two movies. (Don’t get on my case, Superbad fans… a reasonable compromise was reached and everyone came away happy.)

Music Historian: Apparently when cranking ZZ Top on a Friday morning drive to the tournament, I was playing “cool, old stuff”. Turns out that all of the music I like fits into the “old stuff” category, but some of it might not be in the “cool” category.


Unofficial roles? There are official roles?

Let’s see:

  • Job and College recommendation generator
  • Seems I do at least a few of these per year. - Photographer
  • Theater Owner
  • Prior to one off season the team invaded my house for a movie night. Surprisingly they even left it clean. - GeorgeStar Navigation System
  • I had an alumni who was trying to visit a friend at Rutgers. Except she and her friend who was driving got lost. Somehow they decided the appropriate action was to text me and ask for help getting there. So I loaded up google maps and started texting her each step. - Surrogate Family Member
  • I went to a seniors graduation party last year and was introduced to her parents and grandparents as “Uncle George”. To which, with them looking confused, I had to ask “They know I’m not really part of the family?” It seems in our district that some kids just don’t have very good home lives and they find comfort in a adult who is willing to listen to them, try to understand them, and help them mature. - Friend
  • My favorite by far. I’ve been doing this almost a decade and some of my original kids have graduated college and started making their way into the working world. I’m proud to say that some of them are no longer my kids by adults who I am proud to call my friends. - Scholarship Pain in the butt
  • This is a self elected position I take each year to hound the juniors and seniors to look at the FIRST scholarships and consider applying for some.

Our organization this year had 20 rookies, one experienced student, 1-1/2 experienced mentors, and four rookie mentors. My only job:

Plate-Spinner-in-Chief: My job is to be like the performer on The Ed Sullivan Show who spun plates on top of poles. Order parts, register for events, ask for money, arrange for places to meet, educate parents, educate students, ask for more money, educate school administrators, keep our sponsors engaged, coordinate with other FIRSTers in Washington through FIRSTWA, ask for even more money, arrange travel, coordinate permission/release forms (need to get that done for Atlanta…), do some engineering mentoring, arrange for food, do some software mentoring, make sure our test field got assembled, train other people to do some of this so I don’t have to keep doing it all, gently place the Hoovermatic on parents suck them into taking over non-robot support tasks, convert our Honda Odyssey into the RobotVan so that we can work anywhere with walls although no one has ridden in the back-back seat since last October (it’s folded flat and covered with robot parts), and ask for money. Not much, really!

When I get asked what my role on the team is my standard reply is “whatever everybody doesn’t want to or have time to do.” Moral of the story is I end up with quite a varied role…

Pack Mule - I used to just carry one backpack to competition. And then I was put in charge of some of the team stuff as well, so I added one to my collection. At some point in the last three years I’ve also become responsible for the team laptop, printer, and scouting backpack in addition to my own stuff. Even our engineer’s four year old has figured out that I end up carrying everything and has started asking if he can put his button collection in my backpack(s). Fortunately I have 50 or so kids to help me.

Router, Database, and Messenger - Pretty self explanatory.

Ride Coordinator - Always fun making sure we have at least as many seatbelts as we do students.

Strategy/Scouting Czar - Perhaps related to my database qualities. I just enjoy compiling information.

Hydration - I detest being dehydrated and it’s particularly bad at competitions. I’m somewhat psychotic about making sure the students drink enough during the day. For myself I carry a camelback.

Finder and adoptor of our robot mascot, Paws – at VCU I found this stuffed kitten looking like it was ready to pounce. Of all places, it was at the VA science museum. The next day I zip-tied some safety goggles to it and Paws was born. It’s fitting because this year the one thing that works better than anything else is the set of “paws” that are meant to “pounce” over the ball. We haven’t been able to figure out if the mascot is good or bad luck yet because the rest of the bot has had a lot of problems…but Philly saw a lot of changes on Sat. and Atlanta will see major improvements…

Inventor of new words for the English language – I once convinced a couple of young students that “brothe” is a real word and is past-tense for the verb “breathe”. I also started a ban on dihydrogenated monoxide right before the VA FTC competition last December.

Believer in the insane, impossible, and otherwise impractical ideas our team comes up with – because every idea we brainstorm each year is successfully done by some team somewhere. It’s prohibitively difficult to explain how some ideas work when we think of them though, so most of the other non-mechanical-type engineers wind up shooting ideas down since they’re “too complicated”, “too quirky”, or “I just don’t understand it”. Even so, I’m able to convince many of the students of the merits of some of the ideas and get them interested in at least prototyping before they say “no”.

Interpreter - I aid the ‘black & white logic’ people in communication with the ‘shades of gray logic’ people and vice versa.

What’chaDo’n - During activities I rotate through the membership asking each, “What’chaDo’n?”. I then find tasks for people whose answers translate to, “Nuthin.”

Chief of Tactics (190) - My official title. In charge of strategy meetings, driver training and tryouts, scouting.

Mr. Numbers (190 and 971) - Need to know which teams we played with in qualifying match 15 at BAE 2007? What about a team’s awards from the past 3 years, where they’re from and what regionals they’re attending this year? Or just what the team number is of that one at the Lone Star Regional in 2004 that had the 14 foot arm? Can’t keep teams 1266, 1622, 1626, 1676 and 1126 straight? Just ask.

Team Historian (971) - What fund raising techniques did the team use in 2006? What was the team makeup? Which alumni are where? Just ask.

Science Fair Project Helper (190) - So you need 5 violin bridges made on the CNC for your science fair project? Just ask.

Listener (190) - Got something on your mind that you need to rant about? Talk away.

Sayer of ‘Yes’ For the first two weeks

Sayer of ‘Do we have enough time’ For the next three weeks

Sayer of ‘No’ The last week

I love this thread :slight_smile: haha… here’s my input…

**Ambulance Destroyer: ** I don’t get to drive the robot much, as many of our demos are short, but every year at the Harris year end demo, we often have a few robots, and a few drivers, so they let me drive. With our Aim high robot, I did a super fancy pirouette, and sped full force backwards stopping an inch from the nearby ambulance. I then thought I would be funny and gun it as if the robot was running away from the ambulance… except I pulled the sticks in the wrong direction! The kids still point out un-dented ambulances to me!

**Waterfetcher: **at competition our chaperones usually fill water bottles for our kids, but when its been a while since they have been around, I usually run off and get it for them.

**Mohawk-maker: **One of our seniors (4th year of FIRST & 4th year as our driver!) decided to go with a red & black Mohawk this year, every morning of competition he walks up and hands me a bottle of hair glue, holds out his hands for my wedding/engagement rings (so I don’t get glue on them), and sits in front of me showing everyone his new rings! I also started this tradition our first year with one of our seniors by helping cut his Mohawk and stand it up at a few of our competitions.

EMT: two years ago one of our kids chest bumped a table at 2am when we finally got the robot working the night before Rally, and tripped over the table leg slicing open his ankle. I ran and got all the medical supplies (a shower curtain from the locker room and a handful of paper towels), and held his ankle for half an hour before we got to drive him to the hospital. Im also constantly removing splinters and providing bandaids

Most Needy of Safety Glasses Away from the Robot: I once tried to open a box of sodas with a boxcutter and punctured a can getting soda all in my eyes and all over the wall behind me. Three days later, I got salad dressing in my eye… a year later I got starbucks coffee in my eye…

**Chauffer: **I cant count the number of rides I’ve given to our kids (with their parents approval of course!)

Hex-bug Trafficker – I initiated the hexbug sales for our team, and soon found out that EVERYONE at Harris wanted one… I must have sold a thousand of them myself!! Its certainly a funny site to come home to see three GIANT cases of hexbugs on your apartment doorstep!

Receiving Department – we order a lot of stuff for our team, and since I go to every meeting, all the parts get delivered to my house. I once came home to find 12 boxes on my doorstep in the middle of January – what must our neighbors think??

Artist – I often end up painting things, from our crate to our control box to our students!

**Hippo-Hat-Wearer-In-Chief **although the students did their best to try to destroy it before BMR.
Head Cheerleader it got to be a bit strange when our robot was being introduced, and every pair of eyes was trained on me.
**Finder of Lost Tools **it’s amazing how much stuff turns up if you move your feet.
Delegator of Delegations This being the first year we’ve tried student-led subteams, I was often telling students what to tell other students to do.
Team Identity Explainer it’s hard telling people why your robotics shirts say, “HIPPOS ROCK” - I think a couple people thought it was especially mean that my wife, who is due this summer with our first, was wearing one.

Cattle-Prod-Wielder: Keeping everything moving along at a pace that makes it possible to be done by its due date. It consists of asking, reminding, and somtimes down right doing it myself. It does not apply to the robot itself! (I’m a NEM.)****

person with ideas/suggestions that no one gets - this could be a book.

water balloon mischief maker - I stayed up all night one night filling water balloons and putting them in tubs in my SUV til I didn’t have room for any more. I told the team I couldn’t come for build on Saturday a.m. ahead of time but showed up just as they were coming out of the shop and started lobbing water balloons at them. They all joined in, had a great time, and we went out to lunch. (It was awesome going over bumps in the road and hearing some of the balloons burst as I was driving. That was so cool.)

tree-climbing expert - one year the graduating seniors donated trees to create a green space behind our shop. I kept the trees in my back yard until it was time to plant. The team leader had never climbed a tree before and wanted to know what the rope was in our tree in our front yard - so he got a lesson on how to swing on a rope and how to climb a tree. I have a photo of him perched at the very top of our tree, smiling.

person who always gets lost yet always arrives on time - I always get lost which can be bad when I’m lead driver, hauling the trailer with a caravan of cars behind me. But we always arrive on time, somehow.

saver of stuff - sometimes the students make primitive mock-ups or prototypes of ideas they have and then they discard them, throw them away. Or they make a cool template and it finds its way to the trash. Or they make something out of wood or metal or whatever they’re messing with, zipties… I rescue all of these from the trash and take them home for ‘safe keeping’. My family never knows what is going to be on the kitchen table.

**Example:**When writing code with the students, I am usually an example of how not to program the robot when the engineer cames and shows us what’s wrong!