Why mentor?

Our team is student-run, meaning that our adult mentors provide guidance and advice, but let the students make decisions and do the work themselves. Nevertheless, our team would not be the accomplished group it is today without the help of our mentors. Their support is indispensable to our success, and they enjoy both teaching us and learning from us.

Mentoring is fun!

Several of our mentors agree that guiding and encouraging the kids on this team is a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Mr. Bruce George, our lead mentor, has been associated with the team for six years and has been mentoring for almost as long.  “[I like] encouraging kids to find something that excites them and pushes them to show up regularly,” he says. He emphasizes that the team does not “hold kids here–they’re only here if they want to be.” For Mr. George, one of the best things about mentoring is seeing kids be enthusiastic. “Kickoff weekend is my favorite, seeing the kids motivated and ready to go,” he says.

Mr. Jeff Brockway, one of our mentors on the electrical engineering subteam, also appreciates the experience of aiding students in their projects. “I enjoy teaching,” he says, and “seeing the light bulbs go off.” He enjoys “plant[ing] the seeds” and watching students grow over the course of each season. “[Sometimes] I’ll suggest an idea at the beginning of the season, and the kids are reluctant, [and] they reject it … later in the season, they suggest the idea as if it were their own.” He likes to watch the process as students’ minds develop and sort through concepts and ideas.

Another mentor with a passion for teaching is Mr. Steve Christensen, who is entering his fourth year of encouraging students on our team. His favorite part about mentoring is “seeing the lights go on” when students understand something new, whether it be “technical knowledge” or about “learning how to use resources.” Enthusiastic about helping students “get out of their comfort zone” and “find something they love,” he is glad to teach young people about robotics, an area that will continue to grow in “importance in the future.” He is especially proud to encourage students to build appreciation for the other fields within the team–he wants them to learn to “connect the fields,” from mechanical and electrical engineering to programming and business. Mr. Christensen stresses that the various aspects of participating in a robotics team are “all so important; all sides” of it.

Our student mentor Nick Zumbo spent several years on the mechanical engineering subteam before graduating high school and returning to mentor on the same subteam. His motivation? “I love teaching,” he explains, adding that his favorite part about mentoring is “watching the expressions on students’ faces” when they understand something new, and then seeing them “use” the concept and “teach it” to other students. Whether through building friendships on the team, taking pleasure in seeing students’ enthusiasm, or sharing a passion for teaching, mentoring on team 2342 can be a genuinely enjoyable experience that draws many people back for more each year.

Mentors can learn just as much as students.

Our multi-talented Mr. Peter Bewley has helped out on various subteams during his time on the team, and enjoys being able to “help everybody.” He emphasizes that although he is a mentor, he learns just as much from the kids as they do from him. For example, over time, he and his students have adopted the mantra “it’s okay if it doesn’t work.” Being a mentor has given him the chance to “try new things [and] learn new things, from the kids, too.”

A mentor on our mechanical engineering subteam, Mr. Alec Muller, agrees that both students and mentors engage in the process of teaching and learning. “I like learning, [and] learning from students as well,” he says, explaining that mentoring contributes to the overall process of “sharing learning” between everyone. Together, he and his students are tackling “the team’s first year [of] using robot modules,” a new construction strategy that he describes as “challenging,” but with “a lot of potential.”

Mr. Johan Kruger, a new mentor on the software team, is also looking forward to learning from both mentors and students. He finds it interesting to watch students’ techniques for “approaching and solving” different types of problems.

In addition to what he learned as a student, Nick Zumbo has a long list of the things he’s learned as a mentor: “how to work better with people, how to better present concepts, [how to] make [something confusing] into an enjoyable learning experience, how to adapt to different learners …” “I had to learn much more [about the material] when mentoring, because you have to really know material to teach it,” he explains. He emphasizes that he has learned the power of “patience” and “being kind,” and that maintaining a healthy working relationship with light “banter” between students and mentors is a huge part of making robotics fun. Although mentors are the ones who officially provide guidance and advice, being a mentor is an educational experience just as much as being a student is.

Mentoring isn’t about doing work for students–it’s about helping them become efficient on their own.

Mentor Mr. Christensen is enthusiastic about seeing students become independent and able to solve problems on their own. His goal is to encourage student autonomy. He gives an example: in the situation that a robot breaks down during competition and needs maintenance, mostly “students,” not mentors, “surround [the] broken robot.” If mentors are needed, they will be there, “asking questions” to stimulate thought, but will never “do [the work] for” the students. He notes that during a conversation at a past competition, judges noted that he was “very relaxed” about not “constantly watching” his students. “I don’t have to worry about them doing their job,” he explains.

As a student mentor, Mr. Zumbo remembers that some of his favorite mentors were not the ones who were overly involved in helping with projects, but the ones who simply provided companionship and ample constructive criticism. One of his mechanical engineering mentors left a particularly profound mark on him; Mr. Zumbo explains that “he let me make mistakes, forced me to take chances” and helped “me become confident with [mechanical engineering] tools, because I didn’t have too much help.” The mentor supported the students he mentored just by “show[ing] up” and keeping a friendly, “open relationship” between them.

Likewise, Mr. Kruger admires the fact that his coding students are “self-sufficient” and depend primarily on each other when working on projects. Above all, mentoring is being a friend to students and motivating them to approach challenges independently.

Mentors get to watch students grow and accomplish their goals.

Business team mentor Debi Gebhardt’s favorite part of mentoring is watching students “go from shy to confident,” and “encouraging” them as they “grow.” She says that consistently seeing the “kids having fun” and staying “enthusiastic” at challenging and sometimes unsuccessful competitions made her feel very proud about their progress.

Mr. Muller also enjoys observing the process as “students absorb” concepts over time. An idea that he “suggests one year” often resurfaces a few years later as students “suggest it themselves” and apply themselves to it. In addition, he notes the pride he felt when “the team did very well at FRC Worlds 2015.”

Mrs. Christensen, who is serving her first year as a mentor for the business subteam, says that “at the end of [her] oldest son’s first year, [she] was amazed at how much his self confidence had increased and how good he suddenly became at fixing things around the house. After observing the improvement, Mrs. Christensen remarked that “seeing that change in kids is exciting, [and] being a part of that change is even better.”

Lead mentor Mr. George agrees that “seeing shy, quiet kids become outgoing” and “watching them develop and learn” is one of the best parts of mentoring. Every mentor gets a first-row view as students progress in leaps and bounds each season.