What to do about a mentor who completely controls the team?



I was worried as I read because this could have very easily been one of my students, until I got to the part about running laps and insulting students ideas. We repeatedly told our team “No design discussion until we have a strategy. 'What the robot does, no ‘How’ .” This is a reasonable approach since you need a plan before any parts are machined. But insulting students is never okay. I’m finding as a mentor that line of guiding and letting students make the ultimate decision is sometimes tricky to balance. If you were my student, I would beg you to ask to talk to me aside and express your frustrations. This competition is for the students, I’ve already played my games.


I feel that day 1 should be dedicated to “what” the robot does rather than “how”. But at the same time, the “how” should still be in the back of your head. But either way, any mentor should never have complete control over a team. When ideas are given, they should be discussed with constructive criticism rather than just being told “Bad idea, mine is better, you should drop yours”. As a student, I have been told this from mentors and students in the past. The main goal a team should have isn’t to win. The goal should be to learn as much as you can from the opportunities that being on a team offers. I feel behavior like that can hinder learning, and needs to be stopped, whether that means keeping this mentor in check, or removing them from the team entirely.


We have procedures to prevent this. And I’ve written them down in a powerpoint and went over our them before kick-off so everyone knew what to expect.

In this google folder called “How we design 2018”


Everyone’s input on rules and strategy is listened to.

Then we divide the robot into ‘systems’ and brainstorm. Individual systems might include–ball pickup, ball placement, hatch pickup, hatch placement, elevation, Mentors present their brainstorm ideas at the front of the class the same way students do. As many ideas per person as you want. Mentors have seen many ball pickups before, so we probably have more ideas than students.

Then we’re a one-vote-one-person democracy. We vote on what to prototype and then a week from now after watching prototypes, we’ll vote on what to build into the “real” robot.

Now, I believe completely in honest open communication even after the fact, so anyone in this situation, I don’t think you should be afraid to voice your opinions in person (probably in private) to anyone–mentor or student–that seems to be exceeding the boundaries.

But the students coming on here saying ‘you should put that mentor in his place’ are totally wrong too.

We mentors are mostly doing this for free. It actually Costs me thousands of dollars a year. If a student leaves the team, I’m sad and we’re lessened, but if one of the main build mentors leaves the team, I don’t know how we can build a robot.

On my team, mentors and students work as peers. I encourage use of
first names. If my company hired them and they worked on my project, we’d be peers. I don’t ‘put students in their place’ either. But I know how to build a robot and most of the students don’t.

In 1108, I’m also always afraid I’m the one someone will write this post about. Everyone of us has a preferred design for the robot after a few hours.

I do sometimes force focus on rules first, force focus on strategy next, force focus on dividing the robot into systems. I work to prevent leap frogging to the actual robot design in the meetings–even though like everyone, I have a preferred design. I’ve already started CAD on my preferred design. But there’s no reason everyone in the club can’t start Cadding --it makes it far easier to present ideas to brainstorm.

And if my ideas win, we build “our” robot with them. If they don’t we don’t. In ten years, we’ve built ‘our robot’ with my ideas once.


As mentors we tread a fine line between pushing our design, and suggesting assemblies or products that a 17 year old student might not be aware of. I’ve been taking apart and building machines for over 40 years (if I count my mom’s vacuum cleaner retractor cord assembly when I was 10). When I see a problem, I can often pinpoint in my head a $30 off the shelf item that will do what we need that a 17 year old student didn’t know existed. Some people might be tempted to think that if I mention that $30 item, then I am pushing my design. No, I am just saying “this thing exists and can probably pick up a hatch panel and will cost us $30 and save us 20 hours of engineering time”.


You uh… got a link to said item? Lol


We all get tired then say and do things we we’d like to take back - been there. Your willingness to self-correct is huge and speaks highly of your character. Sticking to a viable design process is a great lesson for students otherwise it colors your strategy-based design decisions. All the rest is easily reversed!

Good luck to you and your team!


You uh… got a link to said item? Lol


What I might suggest would be a mentor contract. Most teams have a 501c3 for fundraising, etc. That would require a board so our board has the ability to vote and remove mentors from the team based on the contract.


I just want to say that this is how a team should work.

Far too often the students see mentors as another adult figure that gets to boss them around. They feel powerless and just complain to their friends about it. Far too often I overhear a student say that another student doesn’t like a mentor because of something said mentor said / didn’t say / did / didn’t do… When I ask if the student said something about how they feel to the mentor, the answer is almost always no. Most of the time the mentor isn’t even aware that something went wrong with the situation, and often simply saying something to the mentor will yield VERY different results.

My father was a teacher, and my daughter is a teacher. But, I am NOT a teacher. They both had training on how to work with students. Us non-teachers have not, and we’re not always sure what we should be doing. It is diffrent from working with a coworker. Especially since the students (with less knowledge and experience) are kind of the ones “in charge”. That doesn’t really happen in the job world. (Unless you include management :wink:

So, I guess I’m just trying to put out a PSA to students. Please, TALK to your mentors. And if they don’t seem to listen, talk to another, and another. Sometimes you need to help them see that your not a coworker because we actually do forget that your not an adult working at this company with us.

I’m so happy to see a good example of how a potentially bad situation can be resolved with good communication. I understand how uncomfortable it can be to “air your teams dirty laundry”, but I’m happy this was posted in order to show everyone how issues should be resolved.

Thank you Wooden_Rock for posting the follow up. I wish you’re team the best of luck.


+1. The mentors are here to inspire and teach.


Man I jumped the gun on saying you should be canned… Lemme go erase my original post and bookmark this for future reference.


+2 on that, impressive.


http://www.raisedfloortools.com/products/double_3___cup_raised_floor_panel_lifters/502.php?page_id=134 It’s $33 though.


That is not always how it works. I am the past president of my teams 501c3. The board controls the finances, but it is a school team and the school has total control of the team and mentors. The board is only advisory in this respect. While other teams have other arrangements I suspect that most school teams are set up like ours.


We are a combination of different High Schools in our district. They allow us to recruit from the schools but the only thing they provide is a room for us to meet. Everything else is controlled via our 501c3 so we have a little more say I guess.