Your Ideal Mentor

Let’s assume, for a minute, that your team is looking for a mentor. With even some of the best teams out there looking for mentors, I think that’s a pretty reasonable assumption. Setting aside the specific area of the team that you want to be mentored for a minute…

–What qualities and/or characteristics are you looking for?
–How involved do you want the mentor to be: doing for you, doing with you, or watching you do the work, or somewhere in the middle?
–How would you deal with schedule limitations of both the team and the mentor?

Please note: This is about you and your team and your team’s method of operations. This is not about X powerhouse is doing it wrong–that’s because they simply do it in a way that is not your way.

Well im speaking on behalf of myself not my team. I would love a mentor who is smart, witty, and funny. He has to have experience with engineering and if he has been on an FRC team that would be even better. He has to know all the answer to all our question but out of his sheer awesomeness he has to make us figure it out as he guides us on the way. He has to be very safe with powertools and remind all of us to take off our safety glasses before we leave. This would be an ideal mentor. Then his schedule is something that if he has free-time he can drop by to see what were doing and if we have a question we can text him or facetime him.
Now let me give the answer everyone is thinking in their heads If we could have any mentor we’d pick Dean Kamen, Woody Flowers, and Tony Stark.

^ I’m going to be saying the same.

In my opinion, there are two different types of mentors. There are mentors who are there to provide guidance and advice but do work on their own, and there are teachers who educate students in the processes of accomplishing tasks.

It was 2 weeks into build season and our electrical team was sitting doing nothing. So our lead electrical teacher told us to go make parts in the shop. However, since we went through electrical training (not machine and safety training), we had no idea what to do. So a few different mentors showed us how to use different machines. One of our electrical students worked on Chairman’s, another learned the rubber wheel, disk sander, bandsaws and drill press, while I was taught the mill and lathe. My first task was to build our axles. So the teacher in charge of me made one while walking me through the process. He then proceeded to cut the one he made in half, saying “I want you to make them. I’m just here to teach you how to do it”. He then left. So, I remembered what he told me and proceeded to make 6 perfect axles. Next year when it comes time to make our axles, I will definitely volunteer to make them because I remember how to do it. If that mentor wouldn’t have taught me, he would have to make them next year.

That’s another plus to having teachers instead of mentors; we learn new skills. We can do things they can do. Not only does that make us viable to teach others, but we free up that teacher’s time so he/she can do more important things, such as teaching others or doing things that only they know how to do. For example, our lead programming teacher teaches the programming students how to do certain things in code. Our lead programming teacher is also the only one on our team who knows how to sew our bumpers and iron on our numbers, etc. Since he taught the programming students how to write code, they can do that while he works on our bumpers. When the bumpers are done, he goes back to the students and checks their work, shows them mistakes they made and coaches them on how to fix them.

Not only are our mentors teachers, but they are also role models. They teach us manners. They teach us courteous things to do. The mentors taught me patience this year. Things weren’t going to plan by the end of build season. We were at least a week behind. I was getting flustered over it. Most of the students were getting flustered over it. However, the mentors stayed patient and calm and didn’t panic. It definitely calmed the mood around our shop.

All of that being said, my ideal mentor isn’t just a mentor. He/she is a teacher and a role model. Another thing I didn’t say: he/she is a best friend. He/she is your parent. He/she is that coach you looked up to when you played a sport. That’s what a mentor is.

Most importantly, I want a committed mentor, one who is willing to put in as many hours as we do during the season. One who is enthusiastic about building robots and building competitive robots.
A mentor should be able to participate on all levels based on the experience level of each team member and the team as a whole. If the team is inexperienced, the mentor should be able to take over the process more, but if they are experienced, they should be able to oversee the process.

The biggest and most important thing I want from a mentor is time. Anytime the students want to work on the robot, that mentor should be there. Experience in engineering or the mentor’s field is good to have, but I’d prefer a mentor with as few time constraints as possible.

On Team 20, in order to use our school’s machine shop and technology classrooms, we need to have a staff member from the school present, so that becomes a 20-specific preference on a mentor- that they work at the school(and I’m sure many teams have the same or similar type of constraints on space).

All of this is my opinion, what would work best for me, but other people could use different types of mentors as well. When I was a freshman, I could have seriously used a mentor who knew what they were doing and pushed me to get more involved in our build process.

And in 2012 our team could have used a mentor who toned down our expectations of our robot (no we were NOT going to shoot from EVERYWHERE).

Next year, we’re going to have a very experienced senior class, and therefore we need a more “hands-off” mentor who can help over see the process instead of closely guide it.
I think different teams and students need different types and styles of mentors.

On a personal level (not necessarily what the rest of my teammates would be looking for), I prefer mentors that are relatable and easy to approach, but who are also hands-off when it comes to student projects.

If I were more heavily involved in the robot’s construction, my preference would probably be a bit different… But as a student leader and Chairman’s Award presenter, I like it when our mentors trust me enough to give me an assignment and let me do it my own way. I seek mentors who are patient and willing to compromise, though I also appreciate those who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’m overstepping my authority as a leader, or who give me the criticism I sometimes need to see the greater good of the team. I highly value a mentor who listens to my ideas and treats me as an equal, and gives me the encouragement I need to carry through with a large project. If I become completely overwhelmed, (s)he is willing to step in and help only when absolutely needed, or will assign other students to aid me.
Scheduling really wouldn’t be too much of an issue with my ideal mentor, as his/her primary role would simply be to oversee us and give feedback or suggestions, or to teach relevant concepts. Most of that could even be done through email or phone calls.

I’ve had the honor of working with several of such mentors over the last three years. Especially our coaches, and our Chairman’s mentor – those three have taught me so much, and have built me up into the person I am today. I am eternally grateful for my experiences with them, and I hope that I can provide that kind of support/guidance to another team as I enter the role of mentor in the coming years. :slight_smile:

I think there is a little lack of clarity in the question. They are different types of mentors that teams could be looking for: a lead mentor, an engineer, a devoted parent, a person who opens up the shop doors and makes sure students aren’t trying to cut their nails with the bandsaw, etc. Most teams have a mix of these different types of mentors. And what type of mentor your looking for is going to affect the qualities that you want him/her to have.

As you can see from my signature (all the way down there, this post went on for much longer than I expected it to), my team is looking for a lead mentor. So I’m going to talk about what I personally (not necessarily my team) would like to see in the person who fills this position.

[Disclaimer]I am going to assume this person will be male, just because I don’t want to have to type he/she or him/her every single time I reference him/her. I’m not in any way suggesting that I would prefer a male mentor over a female mentor.[/Disclaimer]

My first and foremost hope is that this mentor fully understands what he is getting into when he decides to mentor our team, and is willing to take the challenge head on. He needs to be just as driven and motivated to succeed as the students are. As soon as mentoring the team becomes more of a chore than something he wants to do, there is a huge problem.

I definitely want our new lead mentor to have a fairly open schedule, especially on weekdays. Right now, we have one other mentor who has permission to oversee us as we work, but he has a day job and can’t get to the shop until later on weekdays.

As for prior experience, I would really, really, really like it if the mentor has previously been involved in an FRC team. If he hasn’t, then it’s OK, mentors can learn, but by having experience not only does he already know how to run a team, but it is also pretty much a guarantee that he fulfills my first and foremost hope:

He’s done FRC before, so he understands what he is getting into. And he’s coming back for more, so I’m sure he is ready for the challenge. As for any sort of engineering experience, he is our lead mentor, not one of our engineers, so I really couldn’t care less.

Our lead mentor has to be somebody who is very open and willing to take input, but at the same time knows when he needs to put his foot down and make a make a decision. It really is a balancing act. If you lean to much in the area of making sure that everybody has a say in everything and that you should never make decisions yourself, the team is going to waste a lot of time getting things accomplished and the right choices won’t always be made. On the other hand, if you lean too much in the area of your the leader, you call the shots, then your going to make mistakes, and everybody is simply going to be frustrated because they want to have say in how the team is run, but they can’t. It’s tough to find the right balance, but its the key to becoming a good leader.

Finally, I want someone who is organized and on top of things. He knows that this x thing opens today at noon (i.e. event registration, FIRST choice), so he needs to be at his computer by 11:55AM spamming the refresh button. He is going to make sure that everybody knows the schedule. He is going to keep the team updated on what’s happening, or make sure other people do so. He is going to come into every meeting prepared. And he is going to keep the rest of the team focused and motivated.

So, I guess that my ideal lead mentor would be the quintessence of all these things: he decides that his appointment for sleep can be postponed until after bag and tag day, he doesn’t have another job or other major commitment, he’s been mentoring FRC teams for a long time, he knows how to find the perfect balance as a leader to satisfy everybody, and he is knows what needs to be done and makes sure it happens. But, we live in a world of compromise. Our team’s new lead mentor is not going to perfectly fulfill all of these characteristics, and I don’t expect him to. In the end, what matters most is that he tries.

My ideal mentor…

works with students. The way I see it, we are all in this together. We’re going to fail as a team; we’re going to win as a team. So the ideal mentor is working with students to come up with the best solution. This can include everything from solving potential problems before students hit them to spending hours in the shop next to students. It increases morale, respect, and overall performance.

is competitive. I want the students to learn and have fun as much as possible but at a certain point we have to accept the fact that we’re in a competition. As such, a quality mentor should have the same competitive drive as some of the most involved team members.

can see reason. I pride myself in the ability to think rationally under stress, and I expect my (fellow) mentors to do so as well. Often times, this ability can make the difference between a good repair and a bad repair or even a good match and a bad match.

does not necessarily have FIRST experience. Remember that all good mentors were, at one point, not involved with FRC. I’ve worked with quite a few mentors in my years who had zero FRC experience, but they were just nice people who wanted to play some robots.

treats robotics as a pseudo-job. The responsibility of a valuable mentor are so intense that it’s really impossible to have “casual” involvement. As such, a good mentor is good about answering emails, maintaining reasonable attendance, and willing to go out of his way for the team.

knows how to be a part of the team. This is my final criteria because I’ve seen a few mentors who hold themselves in higher regards than students/members. This creates an atmosphere that can be awkward or way too formal. So, sometimes, throw around the occasional joke, laugh at the occasional pun, and go to the occasional team dinner. You’ll have fun, but, more importantly, it will help to build a rapport with the other mentors/students.

  • Sunny G.

You might find this whitepaper helpful:

The four functional types that make innovation happen:

Let us consider the issue with ‘the perfect fit’. It is the equivalent of the ‘overnight success’.

Ask Dean about overnight success:,-2010/Conversation-with-Dean-Kamen,-entrepreneur,-invent.aspx

I’ve been doing this on and off for 17+ years. The sort of perseverance to prove you can make this work and that was required early on, has now given way to dogged determination to do the best you can as the challenge to bypass the critics gives way. Critics have it easy: it’s an easy job and there’s hardly a shortage.

Diversity, which brings so many strange fits and effort to absorb those differences, brings with it greater opportunity for ideas from angles that others simply are not considering.

Time matters: be it time to communicate, time to work, time to joke.

Ultimately, however, commitment is commitment.
Show me commitment and I will find opportunity.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

For me, (not speaking for my team) the ideal mentor would be someone who has a decent amount of FIRST knowledge on how to compete and be successful. Also who is capable and assisting the design and manufacturing process. It also would not hurt if this mentor is fun and caring of his students and team members on their well being. I am looking at this from the eyes of a four year veteran on my team and after seeing different kinds of mentors and also how I would like to be as I move forward into becoming a mentor whether it would be the team I started out with FIRST or it be another team that needs my assistance more.

Mark McLeod is my mentor.

Don’t forget - there are some really great mentors out there who have nothing to do with building the robot, but are integral to building the team.