Frankly Frank: FRC Director Interview

Photo Credit: Colleen Shaver and WPI

The Blue Alliance Blog is expanding on People Profiles, a section of the blog brings to the light the people in FIRST who are well known and respected in the community.

One person in the FIRST community that is well respected is Frank Merrick. Since Frank came onto the FIRST scene during some tough times in FIRST. Since he started, he has completely changed the relationship between FIRST and its teams. The Blue Alliance Blog had the pleasure of interviewing Frank recently before the 2017 Build Season starts.

What were you interested in high school and what was your favorite subject?

I liked the sciences, like Chemistry and Physics.  I went to a smallish school, only about 90 in our graduating class, but I felt I was well prepared for college science later.  College math – not so much!

What college did you go to and what was your major?

I attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, graduating in 1987 with a degree in Electrical Engineering (Those were the days.  Transistors were the size of Chevy short blocks).  In 1998 I got my MBA from the University of New Hampshire.

Did you work anywhere before FIRST? What did you positions did you hold and with what companies?

Upon graduating from Rensselaer, I served as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer in the Air Force at an Air Force base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The base has since closed.  I then went to a small company in New Hampshire that manufactured parts for the auto industry, then to Rockwell Automation, in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  After Rockwell Automation, and just before FIRST,  I worked for a few months for a small engineering consulting firm.  I’ve worked in procurement, production, quality and engineering.

What drew you to a position in FIRST? What positions did you hold before Director of FRC?

A local team, FIRST Robotics Competition Team 131 CHAOS, asked me to provide them build space in 2002, after they had lost the space they had been using for some time.  I had heard of FIRST before then, but knew very little about it.  After that first taste, I got the bug, and started a few FIRST LEGO League and FIRST LEGO League Junior teams near where I lived.  I mentored CHAOS for four years. In 2008, after I had left Rockwell Automation and while I was working for the engineering consulting firm, I saw an opening with FIRST for FIRST LEGO League Junior Program Manager.  I applied, and FIRST said they already had settled on a candidate for that FLL Jr position, but they had an opening for FRC Deputy Director.  I understood they had an opening for FRC Deputy Director shortly before I applied for the FLL Jr position, and it had ostensibly been filled, but that person changed her mind before the start date, and so they had the opening again.  It truly was a ‘right place, right time’ situation.  That’s the only job I’ve held in FIRST prior to my current position.  I can’t imagine a better job for me.  I can’t even imagine imagining a better job for me.

What is your favorite FIRST moment?

Oooh – so many to pick from!  Most recently when Eric Stokely was named Woodie Flowers Award Winner at the 2016 Championship.  I’ve known Eric since nearly my start with FIRST, he’s a great person, really gets FIRST, and the award was clearly deserved.  The process of picking WFA winners is handled fully by the prior WFA winners, so I didn’t know who it would be before it was announced from the stage.

On a personal level, a fun moment that stands out for me was when I was on GameSense during a post-season show (See videos below).  I think it was in 2015, but may have been 2014.  Anyway, I was on the show for about an hour, then EJ from the Poofs was on for another hour, then I came back on, just in chat, and chatted for three hours with FRC community members, until it was 1AM and well past my old man bedtime.  It was after the season, so the pressure was off, and I had an absolute blast going back and forth with folks.  We had such fun, it was ridiculous, definitely a ‘magic’ moment.  Well, more than a moment, I guess, but it was great.

What do your day-to-day activity at FIRST include?

Just what one would probably expect – meetings, emails, phone calls, planning, etc.  Occasionally, there are some very different days – like doing filming, or attending competitions or special events like kickoffs, but those exceptions are occasional and season-driven.

What advice would you give to FIRST students and mentors?

My core advice would be to give advice sparingly  🙂

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