Many universities provide space for student organizations in which undergraduate students are learning leadership skills, mentor other students and bring their engineering skills to practice.Purdue FIRST Programs (PFP) is a service-learning program where university students mentor predominantly high school student teams participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). Whereas most FRC teams are mentored by professional engineers, PFP is unique in both the extent which it relies on student mentors and the overall scope of the organization. Existing models of mentorship do not adequately describe the specific relationship between the college and high schools students: (1) Due to the proximity in both age and experience, the college students cannot be considered more experienced (traditional model of mentorship) and (2) Dueto the fact that both student populations are in different educational systems, the college students cannot be considered peer mentors. To help understand this alternative mentoring relationship,this study was conducted to investigate the mentorship experience of the college students, their perceptions of the challenges, their motivations for participating in the program and their perceived benefits. A survey of all participants (n=37 returned) and semi-structured interviews with a purposefully selected sample (n=10) build the basis for this multiple case study. The interview data were transcribed and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Results indicate that college students' primary motivations for mentoring included wanting to continue working with FIRST after high school, wanting to contribute to the community in appreciation of their positive experiences with FIRST in high school, and enjoying doing the technical work associated with robotics competitions. The primary benefits described by the college students were the development of their leadership ability, learning how to work on a team, improving their ability to communicate, and other process skills. The college students also believed that there were significant benefits for the high school students from being mentored by college students, including developing close relationships because of the minimal age difference, helping the high school students to learn about college life and be more motivated to pursue higher education, and greater collaboration and student input compared to teams mentored by experienced engineers coming from industry. While the students were able to give examples of applying their technical knowledge and skills as mentors, they did not perceive significant learning in this area. The main challenges that the mentors faced included conflict resolution on the team, and making sure that mentors understood their role and did not take over and do work on the robot that should be done by the high school students. Despite these challenges, the participants appreciated being able to stay connected to the FIRST Robotics Competition after high school, the ability to develop communication and leadership skills, the close relationships that they developed with the high school students, and the opportunity to contribute positively to both the local and FIRST Robotics communities. Implications and further research needs will be discussed in the paper.
2011, ASEE, mentors, robotics, competition
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