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Motivations and Benefits for College Students Serving as Mentors in a High School Robotics Competition

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Extending a Hand Back: Older Students Inspiring Younger Students

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1082.1 - 22.1082.22



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Paper Authors


Noah Salzman Purdue University

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Noah Salzman is a graduate student in Engineering Education and Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. He received his B.S. in Engineering from Swarthmore College, and his M.Ed. in Secondary Science Education from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has work experience as both an engineer and taught science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at the high school level.

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Johannes Strobel Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Johannes Strobel is Director of INSPIRE, Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning and Assistant Professor of Engineering Education & Educational Technology at Purdue University. After studying philosophy, religious studies and information science at three universities in Germany, he received his M.Ed. and Ph.D. (2004) in Learning Technologies from the University of Missouri-Columbia, USA. NSF, SSHRC, FQRSC, and several private foundations fund his research. His research and teaching focuses on the intersection between learning, engineering, the social sciences, and technology, particularly sustainability, designing open-ended problem/project-based learning environments, social computing/gaming applications for education, and problem solving in ill-structured/complex domains.

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Motivations and Benefits for College Students Serving as Mentors in a High School Robotics CompetitionMany universities provide space for student organizations in which undergraduate students arelearning leadership skills, mentor other students and bring their engineering skills to practice.Purdue FIRST Programs (PFP) is a service-learning program where university students mentorpredominantly high school student teams participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition(FRC). Whereas most FRC teams are mentored by professional engineers, PFP is unique in boththe extent which it relies on student mentors and the overall scope of the organization. Existingmodels of mentorship do not adequately describe the specific relationship between the collegeand high schools students: (1) Due to the proximity in both age and experience, the collegestudents 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 studentscannot be considered peer mentors. To help understand this alternative mentoring relationship,this study was conducted to investigate the mentorship experience of the college students, theirperceptions of the challenges, their motivations for participating in the program and theirperceived benefits. A survey of all participants (n=37 returned) and semi-structured interviewswith a purposefully selected sample (n=10) build the basis for this multiple case study. Theinterview data were transcribed and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. Results indicatethat college students' primary motivations for mentoring included wanting to continue workingwith FIRST after high school, wanting to contribute to the community in appreciation of theirpositive experiences with FIRST in high school, and enjoying doing the technical workassociated with robotics competitions. The primary benefits described by the college studentswere the development of their leadership ability, learning how to work on a team, improvingtheir ability to communicate, and other process skills. The college students also believed thatthere were significant benefits for the high school students from being mentored by collegestudents, including developing close relationships because of the minimal age difference, helpingthe high school students to learn about college life and be more motivated to pursue highereducation, and greater collaboration and student input compared to teams mentored byexperienced engineers coming from industry. While the students were able to give examples ofapplying their technical knowledge and skills as mentors, they did not perceive significantlearning in this area. The main challenges that the mentors faced included conflict resolution onthe team, and making sure that mentors understood their role and did not take over and do workon the robot that should be done by the high school students. Despite these challenges, theparticipants appreciated being able to stay connected to the FIRST Robotics Competition afterhigh school, the ability to develop communication and leadership skills, the close relationshipsthat they developed with the high school students, and the opportunity to contribute positively toboth the local and FIRST Robotics communities. Implications and further research needs will bediscussed in the paper.

Salzman, N., & Strobel, J. (2011, June), Motivations and Benefits for College Students Serving as Mentors in a High School Robotics Competition Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18798

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