The Role of a Challenge Mentor

We recommend that each team enlist the aid of a Mentor. An involved Mentor will add to the learning experience in science and computing. The team is encouraged to find such support from its community (parents, local businesses, local higher education institutions, government agencies, etc.). If a team is unable to find a Mentor, the Challenge Program will attempt to assist through its resources or to provide project support across the network. The following guidelines are offered to help all participants understand this role.

The Mentor can help define a project that is feasible. A project should be of general interest to the team, within the capabilities of the students, and achievable within the time constraints of the students and the competition.

  • The Mentor should help in directing students and teachers toward available resources and information (people, literature, network information, data, etc.).
  • The Mentor may be a source of technical information about the science and math required for the project.
  • The Mentor should monitor the progress of the team to keep them on track with the project.
  • The Mentor may help select the proper platform for computing and appropriate software for the problem.
  • Each Mentor and team will work out the details for this activity according to their own situation.
  • In past Challenges, we have had some outstanding Project Mentors. We have asked two of them to offer their comments about the role of the Mentor. The headings are mine; the words are theirs.



    In my opinion, the ultimate Mentor needs to understand the whole process and the amount of time spent on each team during evaluations.

    The ultimate Mentor needs to:

    1. Commit at least 2 hours a week to the team and meet with the team.
    2. Set goals for the team. Milestones and what should be done between meetings.
    3. Show disappointment when the team does not work; give encouragement when they achieve anything.
    4. Focus on the midterm report, the midterm judging and final project.
    5. Be willing to trim down the project to a "very" small project.
    6. Read, edit, criticize the final report.
    7. Help write some code, or at least help find some.
    8. Be able to compile code on their platforms. The ultimate Mentor needs to know how to make a program run.

    Above Average

    All items except 7 & 8


    Items 1,2, & 3

    I think a lot of people are asked to be project Mentors by their superiors and they really don't want to be one.

    When I advised, I made a point to make friends with the students. I teased them about their prospective dates and was interested in their other activities (I asked them about what they did; I did not attend other functions).

    I always expected them to learn. I made a point to understand the project. Most Mentors really don't take the time to understand the project nor do they take the time to boil it down to a simple version so that the students can finish.

    I expected them to have work done and if they didn't have enough done, I told them I would stop attending. I worked a *LOT* with their presentations, both oral and written. I made them remove personal and personnel problems from their presentations and stick to addressing the project.

    Advice I could give to new Project Mentors:

    1. Be interested in the project.
    2. Set up time to meet with the team regularly.
    3. Don't be too hard on them; they are in high school.
    4. Understand the project so you can explain it to them.
    5. Make the student explain the project to you (often).
    6. Focus on the milestones of the Challenge. Meet the deadlines.
    7. Remember that Christmas and spring breaks cause less to be done -- work with this, don't be discouraged.
    8. Simplify, Simplify, SIMPLIFY!



    The ultimate Mentor needs to be an excellent mentor. Not only is trust formed between the team members and their project Mentor, but more importantly the project Mentor guides the team towards a common goal. Along the way, the team learns how to apply bits of knowledge regarding, for example, computers.

    They learn how to appreciate the full capability of the operating system. They explore for example C-Shell, e-mail, the Web, etc. They are then guided into programming and learn basic tools to run simple programs that do something. Along the path, they are guided through compilation errors.

    Although the mentor never touches the program, never fixes the bugs, he is there to question the students and make them think about the problems they encountered. Why are they occurring? Where is the logic wrong? What are we really try to get the program to do?

    This journey is traveled by the team with the mentor close behind to advise. They take some detours, all part of learning and still as useful to them as the final goal, and they expand their knowledge in many areas because of each jaunt.

    So, what must the ultimate Mentor do:

    1. Meet weekly with the team, keep e-mail contact in between. Towards the final deadline, expect to spend more time with each team.

    2. Advise the team on setting milestones (short-term) and goals (short- and long-term), but LET THE TEAM THINK ABOUT DEADLINES AND LET THEM SET THE MILESTONES AND GOALS.

    3. Encourage positive team building skills (using "C"):

        Courage - to go as far as you can, alone and as a team.
        Creativity - discover and utilize "all that you've got".
        Comfort Zone - expand our self image, experience every aspect of ourselves. To really learn and grow, we have to get outside our comfort zone.
        Create Environment - Truth, Accountability, Support, Trust, and Energy
        Combine - combine talents and efforts toward a common goal.
        Continuous Improvement - always experimenting, taking risks, and getting out of our comfort zones; we treat mistakes as information.
        Challenge - What? Why? How? Which Way? Who?

    4. KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid (meetings, interactions, project, life....)

    5. Provide programming lessons, provide guidance, do NOT touch their code

    6. Critique presentations, mid-term and final report

    Above Average

    All items except 6


    All items except for 6 (if English is not your thing)

    All items except for 5 (if code development is not your thing)

    Note - A team is not limited to one project Mentor, so get help from others in their area of expertise. Bring them into meetings when the time is appropriate. Therefore, we show the students "teamwork" by don't have to carry the team ALONE!!!!!

    What Has Worked For Us In the Past:

    Attendance - Late to a meeting, pay 50 cents. Provides a pizza party fund for the team at the end of the Challenge. Have to miss a meeting, present reason ahead of time to team/project leader (much like having a job) - teaches students responsibility, dependability, trustworthiness.

    Attitude - If you recognize that a student is pre-occupied, behaving differently, TALK to him/her, LISTEN; being a teen is tough, life is not always sweet.

    Accomplishments - Praise, Praise, Praise!!!!!