Merritt Helfferich was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1935, and came to Fairbanks, Alaska in 1958. He holds a bachelor degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Early in his career he worked as a ballistic meteorologist and flight safety officer at the Poker Flat Research Rocket Range, and in 1969 as an ice technician on the SS Manhattan's transit of the Northwest Passage. He has a Masters Degree in Public Administration focused on science policy and organizational design from the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. His thirty year career with the University of Alaska Fairbanks included a variety of research, education and policy positions including: head of Technical Support Services and Associate Director at the Geophysical Institute, Assistant to the Fairbanks Campus Chancellor, and Interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources for the University of Alaska statewide administration. He also has worked to improve Native educational opportunities and achievement in Alaska, and has served as coordinator of the Consortium for Alaska Native Higher Education. Since 1997, Merritt has operated his own consulting business, Innovative Consulting, Inc. As an avid outdoorsman and boating enthusiast, in 1968, Merritt helped create the Great Tanana River Raft Race between Fairbanks and Nenana, Alaska.