Karen Meinert

When I was a young girl growing up in Milan, Ohio my father took me to NASA’s Plum Brook Station Open House in the early 1970’s to see a moon rock. I never imagined on my tour that day that I would grow up to have a NASA career that has now spanned 29 years.

I always loved school, particularly math and science classes. Although I graduated third in my high school class my parents didn’t encourage me to go to college. Neither of my parents had gone to college, in fact my mother dropped out of school in the tenth grade. My parents didn’t take me to visit colleges so I applied to Miami University because that is where my cousin had gone. One of my hobbies was sewing so I thought I would major in home economics. My parents even bought me a sewing machine to take to college. Following orientation at Miami my father told me that that he would only pay for one year there. So I decided to go to the local branch of Bowling Green State University where I could live at home for two years and continue to work at The May Company Department Store saving my money to complete a four year degree. While I took a couple of sewing classes I also continued to take the classes I enjoyed in high school; math, chemistry and physics—a class in which I was the only female. Like many college students I was conflicted with my choice of a major. I had befriended some computer science students who told me that I should try computer science as it was a growing field especially for girls. I took my first programming class and was hooked. After two years I went to the main campus where I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and a minor in mathematics in 1983.

My first job was at Goodyear Aerospace in Akron, Ohio where I was a COBOL programmer maintaining an application for the quality assurance department. I was the youngest and only female non-clerical employee in the department. After a couple of years I was ready for a more challenging position. A co-worker’s father, the Human Resources Manager for Analex Corporation, was looking to hire software engineers to support the Shuttle Centaur Program at NASA Lewis Research Center and so I was hired and began my NASA journey. A year later in 1987 I was hired as a GS 11 civil servant in the Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate where I developed database applications to support hazards analysis. I was one of two female non clerical employees located on the third floor of a building that didn’t even have a women’s restroom. I took courses in software development, management and assurance and began performing software assurance tasks in support of the Space Station Freedom Program (SSFP). Working in the SSFP Directorate seemed like it would be exciting so when the opportunity arose I transferred into the role of the Flight Software Independent Verification and Validation Manager. Working in the Program Office provided me with several new experiences including writing plans, defining requirements, milestone reviews, contract negotiations, acceptance of deliverables, and working with other Centers on Agency and Program working groups. During this time I continued to develop my knowledge and skills by taking courses in software management and development, project management and through quite a bit of on-the-job training. During this time I also enrolled and completed the MBA program at Cleveland State University. I chose an MBA because I was really enjoying the project management work and I felt it would broaden my educational background and prepare me for future leadership roles. I was disappointed when the SSFP reorganized, which eliminated my position. However a new door opened for me as the Lewis Technical Lead of the NASA Financial Management and Accounting System (NAFIS) in the Office of the CFO. I was a project manager for the development of a software system for the business side of NASA—a great fit for my educational background and my work experience. When NAFIS came to an end, my next position was in the Aeronautics Directorate where I was the Production Software Manager for the Numerical Propulsion System Simulation (NPSS) Project. In this role I was able to lead the implementation of software engineering and assurance practices to add rigor to simulation software development. I was also assigned as the Directorate representative for the Center’s ISO 9000 certification effort. Soon I was reassigned to the ISO Project Office where I was promoted to the role of the Center’s Business Management System/ISO 9000 Technical Lead. This was a great experience for me as I had the opportunity to work with all of the Directorates and Center Leadership in defining, documenting and assessing key processes. Having been a project manager and technical lead for several years, I desired to become a supervisor and was promoted to the Branch Chief of the Enterprise Applications Branch in the Office of the CIO. I continued to take training –- primarily supervisory and leadership courses. In 2007 I returned to the safety and mission assurance field when I joined the NASA Safety Center (NSC). The NSC had just been established and I was excited about the opportunity to now work at the Agency level and to help establish this new organization. At the NSC I have held the positions of Software Assurance Technical Discipline Team Lead, Chief of the Knowledge Management Systems Office and for nearly 2 years now Deputy Director.

My career advice is to challenge yourself – don’t be afraid to move around in an organization and gain new experiences. Always do your best and don’t just meet others’ expectations of you –- exceed them. Demonstrate to others that you are reliable, truthful, competent, accountable and caring. Be assertive particularly in situations where you may be the minority. Make professional development of technical, leadership and interpersonal skills a priority throughout your career.

Early in my career my mom gave me a framed quote and told me when she saw it she thought instantly of me. It reads, “A career woman has to: look like a lady, act like a man and work like a dog.” I have to say that has certainly proven to be true for me.

Photo of Karen Meinert


Karen Meinert is Deputy Director of the NASA Safety Center (NSC), located at NASA’s Glenn Research Center (GRC). In this position, she works with the Director to enable more effective and efficient Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) support for NASA’s portfolio of programs and projects by managing the NSC’s activities in knowledge management, technical excellence, mishap investigation support, and audits and assessments. She started her NASA career 28 years ago as a database programmer in the Systems Safety Office at NASA’s Lewis Research Center. As a result of her commitment to individual development and pursuit of personal challenge she has held a variety of positions as Manager for the WP-04 flight software independent verification and validation effort for the Space Station Freedom Program, Center Technical Lead for the NASA Accounting and Financial Information System project, Production Software Manager for the Numerical Propulsion System Simulation project and Center Lead for developing and implementing the GRC Business Management System. Additionally, Karen served as Chief of the Enterprise Applications Office in the Office of the GRC Chief Information Officer and Chief of the Knowledge Management Systems Office at the NSC.