National Mentoring Month celebrates and highlights the importance of mentoring within our communities, schools, and organizations. At FIRST®, our coaches and mentors are vital to the success of our students and our programs. The FIRST® Mentor Network, sponsored by NI, provides our teams access to passionate, engaged mentors, while giving mentors the opportunity to use their unique skill sets and have meaningful involvement with one or more teams.
In recognition of National Mentoring Month, we talked with NI R&D Test Systems Engineer and four-year FIRST® Robotics Competition mentor, Luke Kindelin, about his experience mentoring with FIRST and how he brings both his technical skills and commitment to helping students learn and problem-solve to teams in Texas and beyond through the FIRST Mentor Network.
FIRST Staff: How did you get involved with FIRST?
Kindelin: There was a lunch and learn event at NI where we saw short presentations on several organizations including FIRST of Texas. I learned that FIRST had a strong need for event judges at an upcoming local FIRST® LEGO® League event, so I volunteered to be a robot judge for a single Saturday. After that, I was hooked and got in contact with my state’s FIRST Robotics Competition representative to ask if any local teams would be interested in having me as a mentor. I got placed with Team 2789 “TeXplosion” in Manor, Texas and have been there since!
FIRST Staff: How has your employer, NI, supported your volunteerism with FIRST?
Kindelin: Mostly by allowing me to schedule earlier workdays for myself during the build season, so I can arrive at the school at a reasonable time to help with whatever the team needs after I’ve already completed a full workday in the office. I’m on a smaller team with only a few mentors, so each mentor attempts to lead a day or two during the week alongside the coaches, then add on Saturdays when more of us can help with the longer parts of the build.
FIRST Staff: Why do you mentor with FIRST?
Kindelin: It’s really rewarding to see the hands-on skills progression that most of the students go through during a season. Working outside of the typical classroom environment has a demonstrable immediate impact on what the students retain and how they approach problem solving. The FIRST Core Values and Gracious Professionalism help our team members balance the competitive aspects of events with the deeply cooperative elements that result in some powerful interactions in the local STEM community.
FIRST Staff: What do you think is the most rewarding part of being a volunteer with FIRST?
Kindelin: For me, it’s like magic when I can observe a slightly more experienced student teaching another peer how to do some tasks and pass along critical knowledge without needing any “adult” involvement. It’s such an important soft skill to learn how to fail gracefully and ask for help, and FIRST offers a nicely structured environment for students to make significant progress in building the growth mindset that’ll be so beneficial to have as adults.
FIRST Staff: What advice would you give someone who would like to start mentoring with FIRST?
Kindelin: Have a look through a few of the videos at Volunteer | FIRST (firstinspires.org) , and attend a local event if you can! Ask as many questions as you have and ask any of the event staff if they can link you up with an available coach or mentor to walk you through any questions you might not have thought of asking. Having an experienced mentor network to learn from was extremely helpful for me when I was getting started. Additionally, I’d highly recommend connecting with your local FIRST Senior Mentor Program | FIRST (firstinspires.org) representative if you’d like to get placed on a team that might not be on the FIRST Mentor Network yet.
How to use the FIRST Mentor Network Sponsored by NI
A team’s lead coach/mentor 1 or 2 may log into the FIRST dashboard and create a 5-minute FIRST Mentor Network profile on behalf of their team, then perform searches for mentors their team might like to contact for more help. The FIRST Mentor Network sponsored by NI is not meant for student-student or team-team connection, but for adult (18+) mentors to connect with a team’s existing coaches/mentors, or vice versa. Mentors may also perform targeted searches for teams in need of a mentor (either in-person or virtual) and send messages to the coaches/mentors of teams that requested assistance. It is helpful if searching as a team or mentor to message 2-3 mentors or teams, as some might go to spam or otherwise be filtered from the recipient’s view.
To learn more about the FIRST Mentor Network, visit https://info.firstinspires.org/mentor-network.