John Fucillo: Laying foundations for MIT’s Department of Biology

The Building 68 manager’s leadership, innovation, and laid-back attitude have helped to build a strong culture of community.

When you enter John Fucillo’s office at MIT, you will likely be greeted with an amiable nose boop and wagging tail from Shadow, a 4-year-old black lab, followed by a warm welcome from the office’s human occupant. Fucillo, manager of Building 68 - home to the MIT Department of Biology - is an animal lover, and Shadow is the gentlest of roughly nine dogs and one Siamese cat he’s taken care of throughout his life. Fortunately for the department, Shadow is not the only lab Fucillo cares for.

Fucillo came to MIT Biology in 1989 and says he couldn’t be happier. A Boston-area local, Fucillo previously spent two years working at Revere Beach, then learned skills as an auto mechanic, and later completed an apprenticeship with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. As Building 68’s manager; environment, health, and safety coordinator; and chemical hygiene officer, Fucillo’s goal is to make workflows "easier, less expensive, more desirable, and more comfortable." According to Mitchell Galanek, MIT radiation protection officer and Fucillo’s colleague for over 30 years, Fucillo was key for the department’s successful move into its new home when Building 68 was completed in 1994.

Throughout his time as a building manager, Fucillo has decreased routine spending and increased sustainability. He lowered the cost of lab coats by a whopping 92 percent - from $2,600 to $200 - with just one phone call to North Star, the building’s uniform/linens provider. Auditing the building’s plastic waste generation inspired the institute-wide MIT Lab Plastics Recycling Program , which now serves over 200 labs across campus. More than 50,000 pounds of plastic have been recycled in the last four years alone.

"John is not a cog in the wheel, but an integral part of the whole system," says Anthony Fuccione, technical instructor and manager of the Biology Teaching lab.

Connecting and leading

Fucillo says one of his favorite parts of the job is chatting with researchers and helping them achieve their goals. He reportedly clocks about 10,000 steps per day on campus, responding to requests from labs, collaborating with colleagues, and connecting Biology to the Institute’s Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) office.

"John is called upon - literally and figuratively - morning, noon, and night," says Whitehead Professor of Molecular Genetics Monty Krieger. "He has had to become an expert in so very many areas to support staff, faculty, and students. His enormous success is due in part to his technical talents, in part to his genuine care for the welfare of his colleagues, and in part to his very special and caring personality."

When MIT needed to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s decree to improve safety standards across campus , Fucillo sat on the committees tasked with meeting those standards while avoiding undue burden on researchers, establishing the Environmental Health and Safety Management system in 2002.

"From a safety perspective, that was one of the most challenging things MIT had to go through - but it came out at the end a better, safer, place," says John Collins, EHS project technician and friend and colleague to Fucillo for over 20 years.

Fucillo later co-led the initiative for a 2011 overhaul of MIT’s management of regulated medical waste (RMW), such as Petri dishes, blood, and needles. Fucillo volunteered to pilot a new approach in Building 68 - despite a lukewarm response to the proposal from other biology EHS representatives, according to Galanek. This abundantly successful management system is now used by all MIT departments that generate RMW. It’s not only less expensive, but also does a better job at decontaminating waste than the previous management system.

"Anyone who has worked with John during his MIT career understands it is truly a privilege to partner with him," Galanek says. "Not only does the work get done and done well, but you also gain a friend along the way."

After consolidating a disparate group of individual lab assistants, Fucillo took on a supervisory role for the centralized staff tasked with cleaning glassware, preparing media, and ensuring consistency and sterility across Building 68 labs.

According to maintenance mechanic James (Jimmy) Carr, "you can’t find a better boss."

"He’s just an easy-going guy," says Karen O’Leary, who has worked with Fucillo for over 30 years. "My voice matters - I feel heard and respected by him."

Looking forward

Although there are still many updates Fucillo hopes to see in Building 68, which will soon celebrate its 30th birthday, he is taking steps to cut back on his workload. He recently began passing on his knowledge to Facilities Manager and EHS Coordinator Cesar Duarte, who joined the department in 2023.

"It’s been a pleasure working alongside John and learning about the substantial role and responsibility he’s had in the biology department for the last three decades," Duarte says. "Not only is John’s knowledge of Building 68 and the department’s history unparalleled, but his dedication to MIT and continued care and commitment to the health and well-being of the biology community throughout his career are truly remarkable."

As he winds down his time at MIT, Fucillo hopes to spend more time on music, one of his earliest passions, which began when he picked up an accordion in first grade. He still plays guitar and bass nearly every day. When he rocks out at home more often, he’ll be leaving behind the foundations of innovation, leadership, and respect in Building 68.