MCB Associate Director of Finance and Research Administration Ronnie Mugimu leads a team of administrators who oversee spending and assist faculty with administering grants and funds. The group includes both the financial operations team, led by Young-Ok Shoemake, and the research administration team, led by Alison Wellman Smith.
“Ronnie is such an asset to MCB,” says Assistant Director for Research Administration Alison Wellman Smith. “His historic knowledge of both the institution and MCB in the areas of finance and research administration are extremely important. He’s always willing to share what he knows and has gone to great lengths to document MCB’s financial procedures. In fact, other departments in FAS come to MCB as a source of best practices. That is a testament to what Ronnie has created.”
MCB Executive Director Jessica Manning, who supervises Mugimu, agrees, noting that Mugimu often contributes to committees and working groups at the university. “He is competent, compassionate, and always ready and willing to go above and beyond to make sure that everyone has what they need to be successful,” says Manning. “He does this with a warm, welcoming smile and calm demeanor regardless of how many time-sensitive competing interests he is juggling.”
Born and raised in Uganda’s capital Kampala, Mugimu has always enjoyed mathematics and numbers. As an undergraduate at Makerere University Business School, he majored in business administration, thinking that he would go on to a job at a financial institution or maybe start a company. But, in 2006, Mugimu’s family moved to the United States.
“I definitely knew that I wanted to start working and go back to school,” he recalls. Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies offered flexible schedules and intensive curricula that allowed him to study while seeking jobs through a temp agency. Mugimu took seasonal jobs at Harvard, which included processing grad school applications at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and working as an accounting assistant for Harvard’s dining services. While temping in the summer of 2007, Mugimu found out about a full-time accounting assistant job in MCB, applied, and got it.
That was fourteen years ago. Initially, Mugimu wasn’t sure how long he would stay in MCB. The fact that he has stayed in a scientific research department for so long still surprises him. “Never would I have thought I’ll be in research administration and finance,” he says. “Building a career in this field has been thrilling, life-changing, and satisfying.”
One MCB colleague that made a big impression on Mugimu was Bettylou Harlow, who retired in 2015. “She was a lady that really had energy to work. She did everything,” Mugimu says. “She was an example to me of what coming to work and putting effort in means. Betty Lou was kind of like everybody’s mother…She didn’t care who you were; she would give it to you straight.” At the same time, Harlow was a very caring and “almost motherly” co-worker, Mugimu adds. He remembers that she gifted him with sets of cutlery and cooking implements when he moved into his first studio apartment in 2007.
Mugimu says Harlow’s work ethic struck a chord with him. “I’m always thinking in terms of: If you’re asked to do a job [and] you signed up to do a job, you do the best you can,” he says. “You use your strengths toward performing your job well.” Always diligent and caring, Harlow still sends Mugimu and his kids birthday cards.
In 2008, Mugimu became a Junior Portfolio Manager, joining MCB’s team of Portfolio Managers who assist faculty with managing budgets and administering funds from their grants and awards. Portfolio managers also analyze faculty “spend rates,” which can inform decisions about hiring and investing in lab equipment.
Mugimu felt he had found a productive professional niche but wanted to pursue further education in finance and management. In 2012, he began graduate school at Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School, while working full-time for MCB. He initially planned to pursue a dual master’s in finance and business administration but realized that earning an MBA, with a few finance classes woven into his course of study, would build the skill sets he needed while providing career flexibility.
In 2012, Mugimu was also preparing for the birth of his first child Isabella. Mugimu says his colleagues were very supportive of his approaching parenthood, and two colleagues, Massa Kandakai and Laurence (LJ) Connelly, even drove him home to his wife on the day the baby was due. Mugimu’s second child, a son named Bentley, was born in 2015. Mugimu says that starting a family has truly changed his life and deepened his appreciation for his wife Kim.
Mugimu completed his MBA in 2014, and, shortly thereafter was appointed Assistant Director for Faculty Financial Services. He was now managing and coordinating a team of portfolio managers.
From there, Mugimu became Associate Director of Finance in 2016 and then rose to his current position as Associate Director of Finance and Research Administration in 2019. Today, he leads two teams–the Research Administration team, which includes the Research Portfolio Managers, and the Finance team, which includes financial associates responsible for MCB’s accounts receivable, the department’s budget, MCB service centers such as MCB Graphics and the Genome Modification Facility, and procurement systems.
“Ronnie is a manager who walks the talk and sees the forest as well as the trees as the occasion demands,” says Assistant Director for Financial Operations Young-Ok Shoemake. “This is only possible because he has worked his way up from entry level. He’s like a house whose foundation has been correctly laid following all the meticulous steps with focused attention to details along the way.”
Mugimu says shifting toward managerial roles requires adapting to a constantly changing environment and a knack for working with colleagues. “I’m proud of the team that we have,” he says. “I really like the colleagues that I’m working with…We’re aiming to build a better operational structure for MCB.” Mugimu adds that he leans on the team to accomplish many things and is grateful to all the team members. “Everything they do contributes to the success of the department’s operations,” he says.
Recent years have brought major shifts to the Finance and Research Administration Group When Mugimu held the position, portfolio managers focused exclusively on the “post-award” phase of a grant’s administration, while then Assistant Director of Sponsored Research Nancy Hegarty guided faculty through grant applications. Hegarty retired in 2021. Since then, the finance administration group has restructured responsibilities such that portfolio managers now aid faculty with both the “pre-award” or “applying to grants” phase and the “post-award” phase, when they handle the disbursement of funds. “The advantage is there is one sole individual managing the faculty’s grants going out and coming in,” Mugimu explains.“In June 2020, we transitioned to a more sustainable and robust life-cycle model thanks to the efforts and commitment of our Research Administration team. Faculty and research lab members, including Postdoctoral Fellows can now rely upon their assigned Research Portfolio Manager for all their pre- and post-award needs,” says Manning. “Meanwhile, Graduate Programs Finance and Research Administration Manager Katie Scrocca is responsible for pre-award graduate student fellowships and pre-and post-award for training grants.” Mugimu coordinates efforts with this team and the rest of the department.
Outside of MCB, Mugimu is an active donor and serves as the treasurer of Ugandan Support from the Diaspora. Ugandans in the U.S.A and U.K. diaspora founded the group to stimulate growth and change in their country of origin. “What we do is fundraise money and support different NGO initiatives in Uganda,” Mugimu says. “We’re looking for ways to push Uganda forward as a way of giving back.”
Mugimu most often unwinds by spending time with his family, listening to Afrobeats or EDM, or by watching a movie. He says he’s particularly keen on The Avengers. “I am thankful for my wife and kids who remind me that life can be as simple as enjoying a meal at the 99 restaurant, my son’s favorite, going for bike rides around the neighborhood, or enjoying my daughter’s dance recital,” Mugimu says.
Professionally, he remains committed to keeping MCB moving forward, as well. Manning says, “It has been extremely rewarding to work closely with Ronnie as a reliable and trusted strategic partner; to observe both his personal and professional growth and development over the years; and I’m looking forward to his continued success.”