Merchan’s Passion for Family and Sports Carries Over to Workplace

May 14, 2024

Walk into Fernando Merchan’s office in the Iribe Center and you immediately get a sense of his priorities and passions. Photos of his three children are prominent, adjacent to an array of sports figurines and photos that include the iconic jump shot image of Maryland’s Len Bias towering over North Carolina’s Michael Jordan.

Merchan also regularly shows up to work wearing garb representing one of New York’s basketball or football franchises. Whether it's the Knicks, Giants—or on rare occasion the Washington Wizards—as business manager for the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), Merchan often greets visitors with a broad smile, can-do attitude, and sports cap or jersey from a team he follows.

Merchan’s fervor for sports—Big Apple teams in particular—came from growing up in Harlem, New York. He carried that passion through his undergraduate studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey before relocating to Maryland after graduation in 2011 to be closer to his girlfriend and eventual wife.

It was around this time that Merchan committed to pursuing a career in accounting, deciding to attend the Robert H. Smith School of Business. “In order to break through, I felt I had to go back to school and get my master’s, so that's what I did,” he says.

Not long after graduating with his master’s in accounting from the Smith School, Merchan took a position at Grant Thornton, a Top 10 public accounting firm with offices nationwide, including one in Washington, D.C., that involved a 30-minute commute from his home in College Park.

After making the daily commute for more than a year, Merchan wanted to make a change.

With a newborn at home and the demands of the firm mounting—especially during tax season—Merchan decided to place family first. “When I would get up, the baby was asleep, and then when I get home late, he was asleep,” he says. “I didn’t really get a chance to spend that much time with him. So, while I enjoyed working at a prestigious firm, I began to look for a job closer to home.”

That job ended up being business manager for The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, a role that Merchan excelled in for five years before relocating to UMIACS in Fall of 2023.

“It’s been a really good transition, there’s a lot of [business] experience on the UMIACS team,” Merchan says.

While his title of business manager has remained the same, his day-to-day activities have changed from working for an organization focused on the performing arts to one that involves cutting-edge technology and innovation.

“It’s mind-blowing the different research that happens here at UMIACS that I wasn’t previously familiar with,” Merchan says. “I didn’t know what details go into the different accounts that I reconcile and the sheer volume of it, too. It’s a good thing there’s always different grants and money coming in where I can gain new skills.”

For the past several years, UMIACS has brought in an average of $30 million annually in sponsored research funding. Merchan is responsible for reconciling much of the spending on the 160-plus accounts tied to that figure, making sure there are no errors and providing UMIACS researchers with monetary updates and financial forecasts as needed.

Any time he has struggled with new tasks, he’s had the safety net of an experienced UMIACS business staff member beside him to help.

“Fernando works hard to get up to speed on anything he may not be familiar with,” says Carolyn Flowers, UMIACS’ associate director for research administration. “He recognizes this is an area with a lot of complexities—federal versus state grants versus private financial support—but he is always ready to ask questions or take notes to improve his knowledge.”

Outside of the office, Merchan still enjoys the work-life balance that drew him to UMD employment in the first place. He spends considerable time with his three sons—ages 2, 5, and 7—practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and coaches his eldest son’s basketball and soccer teams.

And he remains an avid New York sports fan, regularly attending games when his teams come to town or watching the games at home with friends and family.

“My home life is an important reason why coming back to the university [for employment] has been good,” Merchan says. “We do work hard, but it’s very flexible in the fact that we are able to have a productive life outside of work.”

Story by Shaun Chornobroff, UMIACS communications group