The Role of the Mentor on an Imagine Cup Team

OK, so you have been approached by some of your students to be a mentor for an Imagine Cup team, and you have most graciously agreed.  Good for you! 

Your students have a great idea and they are very excited about this year’s competition.  For an educator, that kind of excitement is infectious.  I would even say for many of you, it is why you chose this job in the first place.

However, as your students leave your office, a new feeling starts to take over…and it’s not a good feeling.   The feeling that is now taking over is panic as you think to yourself “What did I just get myself into?  I have NO idea how to be a mentor!!”

Well fear not, brave soul!  This post is dedicated to you. 

To get you started in your role as mentor, it would be really good if you knew some more about the Imagine Cup and the competition.  Here are some links that I have found to be very useful:

I can hear you now.  “All this is well and good, but what exactly do I DO as a mentor?”  The simple fact of the matter is that being a mentor to an Imagine Cup team should be second nature to many of you.  In fact, is not unlike what you do in the classroom on a daily basis.  I think that the U.S. Imagine Cup site’s description is pretty good, so I am going to rip it off (and add some commentary, of course).

As a mentor, you’ll help your student team work better together, answer questions, remind them of upcoming deadlines and suggest resources or community member that can help their progress.

Let’s look at each of these, in turn:

  • Working better together – Being team mentor is a lot like being a project manager.  You have to help to guide the team towards their objectives by providing them with resources, keeping them motivated, and smoothing over the occasional disagreement.
  • Answer questions – There will be a lot of questions.  However, you don’t need to be the authoritative expert on everything.  You just have to be able to point the team in the right direction.  You are on a college campus…odds are there are a lot of smart people there.  Enlist fellow faculty members to help you answer questions.   I bet they will be happy to help!
  • Remind them of deadlines – Did I say that being a mentor is like project management?  Good mentors (like good project managers) have to stay on top of their team and keep them on track.  Why is this so important?  Two reasons: a.) I heard a rumor that students like to procrastinate, and b.) missing a deadline is not an option in the Imagine Cup. 
  • Resources or community members – Did I say you didn’t need to know everything?  There are smart people out in your community as well.  These folks will help to provide some excellent subject matter knowledge and make suggestions for improving your project in ways that you may not have recognized.  Your role as mentor really helps here.  Let’s face it, people out in the business community will be a lot more likely to answer a phone call from a faculty member of a university than they will a student team member.  Leverage your connections and you may just realize that, by doing so, you can expand them as well!

Well that is about it for this post.  I have found the mentoring experience to be very rewarding and I believe that you will too.  If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post and I will be happy to answer.  Now, however, I have to get going and check on my teams progress.  The first deadline is just a little over two weeks away!!


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