00:00:00 - 00:07:28 Introduction
introduction, education, background, family
This is Brad Wiles and I'm interviewing today Doctor Frank Fronczak. Could you spell your name, last name for me?
Okay, and today is May 5th and we are interviewing Dr. Fronczak for the Forest Products Lab's oral history program, 100 year centennial program. Mr. Fronczak, if you could, please talk a little bit about what, if anything, in your early years prepared you to work with the Forest Products Labs.
Well, I think certainly the formal education that I received as an engineer at the University of Illinois in mechanical or general engineering, and then in theoretical applied mechanics, as well as general engineering. Then my doctorate in engineering design at the University of Kansas, provided a formal education that enabled me to do the work as an engineer at FPL. Also, I had a fair amount of experience at woodworking before, as a kid I did a lot of woodworking projects and continued to do that as I was in college and afterwards even. But I think my formal and informal, my formal education as well as my informal experiences certainly contributed to my ability to do the work that I was doing at FPL.
Okay, could you talk a little bit about yourself, when you were born, where you were from, where you lived?
Oh sure. I'm from Chicago, I grew up, born and raised in Chicago on the south side, 1950 was when I was born. My dad owned a hardware store, my dad and my uncle were partners in the hardware store and so I lived above the hardware store, worked in the hardware store ever since I was a little kid, from the time I was five years old on I would work in the hardware store. Went to a parochial high school, or parochial grade school, then a catholic high school in Chicago. I guess that's pretty much it.
You talked a little bit about your education, could you expand on that a little bit, just in terms of what your areas of interest were, what you were studying, degrees?
Sure, well I went to high school at Brother Rice High School in Chicago and then from there I went to the University of Illinois. The University of Illinois had a general engineering program, which focused on engineering design and that's what I got my undergraduate degree in. So the program was very, very focused on design activity. It was pretty much a blend, I would say, between mechanical engineering and civil engineering, which once again I think contributed to the background that made it useful for me when I was working at the Forest Products Lab in a particular job that I had.
After my bachelor's degree, which I received in 1972 at Illinois, I stayed there for a master's degree. I actually started out in mechanical engineering for my master's, but then switched into a joint program between general engineering and theoretical and applied mechanics. If my memory is correct, I was the first graduate student in the general engineering program; they were just starting a graduate program there and it was actually an umbrella program that was coupled with another already graduate degree granting program. So, most of my graduate courses, though, at the University of Illinois were in theoretical and applied mechanics. Once again, the focus, my intent was always to do design work, mechanical design work, and the focus of my courses were courses that I thought would help me in design. For example, advanced dynamics, vibrations, fatigue, oh, experimental stress analysis, and then I took a couple advanced design courses, design theory courses, in general engineering at the same time.
Then I went to, after competing my master's degree---oh I should back up, while I was working for my undergraduate degree, I also worked at Johnson & Johnson Company in Chicago, had two terms with them, one was as a process engineer working in the baby products division and then another one was in their process, or packaging engineering, group working on designing machinery, or working on machinery that was newly installed in the plant and making modifications to get it to work better. Then after I finished, or while I working on my master's degree, I also worked as an engineer for Clark Dietz and Associates, a civil engineering design firm, doing mostly industrial wastewater treatment facilities and most of my projects had to do with design of wastewater facilities for railroads, mostly Illinois Central railroad yards. But that wasn't really directly related to work that I did Forest Products Lab, but I think the civil engineering background helped quite a bit with some of the work that I was doing at FPL.
Then I went on to the University of Kansas and there the program was quite a bit different then a typical PhD program. My degree's actually a Doctor of Engineering degree as distinct from a PhD. That was one of the main reasons why I chose the University of Kansas to continue studies, because it was one of very few schools that offered a Doctor of Engineering program. And the distinction there was that while the level of performance, the level of work the criteria were all equivalent to that of a PhD, the focus of the work was more application oriented rather than engineering science theory orientated. So it gave me an opportunity to once again pursue more design engineering at a higher level. Part of the attraction to the program at KU was that while you took your coursework at Kansas and you did some of your preliminary research or design work at campus, most of the work was done in conjunction with either a large government laboratory or an industrial research facility. In my case my research, or design work, was done at NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia and so I finished up my coursework at KU, went to NASA and worked basically at NASA for three years or thereabouts doing my thesis project.