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What is this mentoring thing all about?

The thought of “mentoring” a robotics team can be a scary thing for some people. After all not many of us are blessed with an intimate working knowledge of how to build robots. I have been doing it for four years and I learn more every year. (This information will apply mainly to the high school level teams, known as FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC.) Let’s start with the basics:

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What is a mentor?

A mentor is an adult “assistant” to the team. They work alongside the coach (teacher) to guide the team, make suggestions, help to keep them safe, and help to plan the work, basically to be another set of adult eyes, ears, and hands.

http://www.firstinspires.org/ways-to-help/volunteer/mentors-and-coaches

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“I’m not an engineer.”

Most mentors aren’t. You don’t need to be an engineer. Most of the teams in Horry and Georgetown counties are less than three years old, still very much in their “growth and learning” phase. The most useful adult for them will be one that enjoys working with their hands and maybe has just a little experience working on the car, or around the house, or on a hobby. Someone that enjoys “figuring out” how to do things. Someone that knows from personal experience to “measure twice and cut once”. Someone that knows what “righty tighty, lefty loosy” means. Basic stuff, not rocket science. Many mentors are completely NON-technical! They are invaluable in areas like team marketing or publicity, game strategy, project planning, fundraising, team history, and more.

Local help Is available.

One of the good things about this area is that we have a community of folks with a lot of experience and a very helpful attitude. We call it Mentor Central. We’re not aware of this concept being used anywhere else. If you run into a sticky problem and need some ideas or parts? One phone call and someone will be there to help you through it. Seriously.

Competitive teams help each other?

One of the core values of the FIRST Robotics Competition is called “coopertition”. That means that we all want the best experience for everyone involved, even those we end up competing against. You will see it at the regional competitions. A team lets their need for a certain part or tool be known, and other teams will fall over themselves to help out.

http://www.firstinspires.org/about/vision-and-mission

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The schedule?

The official FRC build season will begin Saturday Jan. 9, when the FIRST Corporation will conduct a worldwide broadcast to announce this year’s “game“ . No one knows what the game will be. Teams are given a kit of parts at that time. The kit includes basic frame pieces, a few motors and drive components, and the necessary electronics for the robot move under remote control. Teams have until midnight Feb 23 (basically six weeks) to come up with their design approach, procure whatever other parts they might need, build and debug the robot, and seal it in a special plastic bag. Competitions begin that weekend.

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How much time will it take?

That really is up to you. Binding commitments aren’t necessary or expected. The teams will be working every day after school. Some teams work later than others. Some parents coordinate bringing dinners to the school so the teams can continue their work. Most mentors will manage to spend some time with their teams 2-3 nights a week. Some are there every night, some once a week. It really is up to you. Whatever you can do, it’s a good thing.

What do I get out of it?

More than you would ever expect. The whole experience truly is fascinating. The best thing for me is this story I have personally seen repeated several times: A non-committal young person drops by just to “hang out” with a friend. They know they’re not interested, and have no real skills. But they come back. By the end of the season they’re an avid team member wearing the T-shirt and screaming for their team at the competition. They decide to go into engineering or programming or some other technical field because they know they can do it. Their life is changed forever.

Bottom line: I don’t know of any ex- mentors.

For More Information:

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For more information on volunteering and the various roles volunteers play:

http://www.firstinspires.org/node/2111


All volunteers must be registered and pass a background check.  To apply as a volunteer:

https://my.usfirst.org/FIRSTPortal/Login/VIMS_Login.aspx

Here is an absolutely fascinating documentary that explains the concept and follows four VERY different teams all the way through to championships.  One of the best I have ever seen:

http://www.usfirst.org/roboticsprograms/frc/roboleague2015

 

Now What?

Email [email protected] or call Joe Boggs at (502) 415-5195. We will set up a visit with a team near you and help you every step of the way.

 

Why wait?

Good question. I have no answer for that. Call or email. You’ll be glad you did. But more importantly, you could be a major factor in improving a young student’s future. What could be better than that?