Valerie Zellmer

As I look back on my life and career all I can say is “not bad for a farm girl from Wisconsin. ” I can’t say I ever dreamed of working for NASA; however, I am extremely thankful that my journeys led me here. My career choices didn’t seem to be suitable for the highly technical science and engineer-oriented agency. Yet, I was never so wrong. NASA encompasses all types of disciplines including education and accounting. What a break for me!

Since I married my college sweetheart who became an Army officer, my path to working for NASA was far from a straight line. One of the greatest barriers throughout my career was the fact I was a military dependent spouse. This meant moving every two to three years and essentially either putting my career on hold or taking a step backwards for the good of the family.

I felt my calling and job was to make the most of wherever we ended up as long as the family was together. Little did I know that the numerous opportunities I was fortunate to experience increased my career marketability. One of the lessons I learned during my travels is that no matter what job, position or situation one finds oneself give 110 percent and recognition and appreciation will be gained. It has, at times, been akin to Disneyland’s Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but I wouldn’t change a moment.

Until my husband was transferred to Fort Irwin, Calif., I wasn’t aware of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave Desert. Lucky for me they needed an accountant. A telephone interview was held and 45 days later we packed up the family and moved from Freehold, N.J., to Palmdale, Calif.

Even as a NASA “bean” counter, I have been fortunate to support many amazing projects and participate in some remarkable financial management initiatives, some successful and unfortunately some not so successful. However, even the unsuccessful initiatives provided a wealth of information and lessons learned. My time at NASA has been extraordinary and one of the most important lessons that I would like to pass along is that every job has a purpose and value to the organization.

Without everyone pulling together, the job cannot be accomplished. So treat everyone with respect from the lowest paid civil servant or contractor to the highest paid employee. Also never assume you know the concerns or issues associated to someone else’s job unless you have actual experience in accomplishing that particular position.

One of the aspects of my job that combines my two diverse backgrounds, education and accounting, is mentoring or training employees and seeing them succeed in their current position, including moving up the ranks and successfully taking on new endeavors. When I was an elementary educator, I always had a sense of pride to see the light bulb come on for a student or team member.

I have been fortunate to work for NASA for almost 19 years and cannot imagine working for another agency. The people I work with make it easy to get up in the morning and face the daily challenges of the job. I would never want to disappoint or let down my teammates, center or agency. I realize everyone is dispensable but I would like to be remembered as leaving the organization in better shape then when I arrived.

If I had to wrap up my life lessons in a few sentences, I would say never forget your core values, always have an open mind to new opportunities, remember you don’t know everything, don’t be afraid to work hard and finally have patience, everything in its own time.

photo of Valerie Zellmer


Valerie J. Zellmer is chief financial officer at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. She was appointed to this position in December 2009 after having served as deputy chief financial officer since January 2003. Zellmer joined NASA in 1994 as an operating accountant in Dryden’s Financial Management Office. Before joining NASA, she was an accountant for Defense Finance and Accounting Services at Fort Monmouth, N. J., and the Troop Support Agency in Munich, Germany. Prior to her career as an accountant she was an elementary school teacher and day care center program manager.Zellmer became a member of the agency and center Integrated Financial Management Project team in 1996, and served as the lead systems accountant on Armstrong’s transition process team. She also was the agency lead for the administer accounts receivable sub-process team, a member of the NASA’s configuration team, and liaison for the agency’s data conversion team. Zellmer was accepted into the Chief Financial Officers Council Fellowship Program in 2000. She served rotational positions for one year in the Department of Education, Washington, D.C. She returned to Armstrong in 2001 and was appointed deputy program manager for the Integrated Financial Management Project. In 2002, she was selected as the center’s assistant deputy chief financial officer. Zellmer holds bachelors’ degrees in elementary education from the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse and in business administration with a concentration in accounting from Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Mich. In 2006, she earned a master’s in business administration with a concentration in leadership and management from the University of LaVerne, LaVerne, Calif. She is a Certified Public Accountant in Virginia and a Certified Government Financial Manager. Zellmer was a 1999 and 2000 recipient of NASA’s Chief Financial Officer Award and a 2003 recipient of NASA’s Integrated Financial Management Project award for contributions to the agency’s efforts to implement Travel Manager and Core Financial modules. Her peers recognized her with an Armstrong Honor Award for excellence in the category of administration in 1998 and supervisor/manager in 2003.