Meet Little Frank, The Muppet Who Is Marian University’s New Student Guide

Little Frank is a guide for students created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop and the first Muppet to be used as a fluent device in higher education.
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Updated on October 4, 2023
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Photo courtesy of Brad Wucher, Marian University

  • Little Frank is a “fluent device,” a character that provides all the communication and drama of a brand.
  • Marian found that being a faith-based institution can be impactful in marketing, and Little Frank helps the university wear its faith on its sleeve.
  • Marian is focused on producing evergreen content around admissions and campus life with Little Frank and will have more in-person events in the future.

Students at Marian University in Indianapolis, Indiana, will be welcomed to campus this fall by a new staff member: Saint Francis of Assisi.

A Muppet version of the revered Catholic saint, that is.

Marian University's newest student guide is Little Frank, a Jim Henson's Creature Shop Muppet of Saint Francis that will appear in digital resources and live appearances to help students get acclimated to campus life, educate them about university values, and answer any admissions questions students may have.

Brad Wucher, vice president of Enrollment Marketing and Communications at Marian, is the man behind Little Frank. He told BestColleges that the idea was born out of Marian's desire to improve its unaided brand awareness — the number of folks who express knowledge of the university without prompting.

The question was, How do we make ourselves more distinct than any other university? Wucher said.

Marian leadership found that being a faith-based institution is impactful and can improve awareness. But to convey that faith, the university turned to a fluent device, a character that provides all the communication and drama associated with an organization, like the gecko from Geico.

There certainly have been many others throughout history, but there's not a single university that's using a fluent device in this regard, Wucher said. And so that's why we knew there was a lot of data and a lot of strategy that supported us to be able to do this because it's not a new mascot; it's something else.

He said fluent devices reduce price sensitivity and improve brand recall, something all higher education institutions struggle with. Little Frank lets Marian wear its faith and mission on its sleeve.

That idea was put into action at Little Frank's first live appearance last month at Marian's Community Day. He was interviewed by Sister Mary Beth, one of the last nuns from the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, in front of the entire faculty and staff.

Sister Mary Beth (pictured above with Little Frank) was among the leadership team that approved the creation of Little Frank, and she had previously appeared in videos with him.

At Community Day, Little Frank said, she really embraced the Muppet as a live person.

I've known Sister Mary Beth in my heart for her whole life; meeting here in person was like reconnecting with an old friend, Little Frank told BestColleges. She really gets me, you know?

Meet Little Frank

Little Frank is a Muppet version of Saint Francis of Assisi, a historical Catholic faith figure from Italy who founded the Franciscan order to which the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg belongs.

But he was born out of a tagline Marian was considering: “Let's be Frank,” a two-edged call to action to live like St. Francis and strive for truth and transparency, Wucher said.

After the idea of a Muppet-guide cleared university leadership, Marian had to make the pitch to New York City-based Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

The legendary puppeteers embraced the concept of Little Frank from the start, Wucher said. The Creature shop put one of their master puppet builders on the project and members of the Henson family also provided feedback, he said, because Francis was their favorite saint.

Spencer Lott, the actor and puppeteer for Little Frank, said students should think of the Muppet as a Jiminy Cricket figure — a guide that is not judgmental.

Every conversation and appearance Little Frank has is a dance between the storied past of Saint Francis and modern-day college life, he said.

He has a long memory, which is a fun character trait to explore as an actor, but I wanted to make sure he was somewhat hip and tuned in to what modern students are going through, Lott said.

Little Frank told BestColleges he loves his work at Marian University because of all the hobbies and studies he can pursue. His closet is full of outfits for every occasion: a construction hard hat, a lab coat and stethoscope for clinical work, and glasses and a cell phone on his nightstand.

He even has a football helmet gifted to him by the Marian University Knights.

I have been trying to convince the coach to put me in for a ‘hail Mary’ play, but he has yet to respond, Little Frank said.

The flexibility to deploy Little Frank to address what's going on in and around campus is key to his success as a fluent device, Wucher said.

We wanted to make sure we had that kind of flexibility, he said. And the Henson Shop constructed all that for us as well.

Little Frank's Future

Marian's current goal is to produce as much evergreen content as possible around admissions and welcoming students to the university.

Puppeteer Lott is a SAG-AFTRA member, and right now, SAG-AFTRA is on strike, so he is obligated not to act. But he may be able to play Little Frank through waivers since Marian is a small Midwestern nonprofit college, not a big Hollywood studio, according to Wucher.

Wucher hopes to have more live Little Frank performances and make more content that people want. Wucher said he would like to have Little Frank involved with Marian University Preparatory School, the university's K-12 hybrid learning school.

For his part, Little Frank said he's excited to be a resource for Marian University's incoming students.

It's hard to ask for help, especially when you are trying to become a grown-up and figuring it all out on your own, but you don't have to do it alone, Little Frank said. We are all part of a community here that is unlike any other university.