Marissa Zara

Jeanne Jackson DeVoe

April 19, 2024

“Having the opportunity to work with physicists and engineers has brought me to a different space. I always tell my friends I am connected to a laboratory that discovered the sun as the ultimate source of energy. Isn’t that cool?”

– Marissa Zara


Title & Department: Procurement Specialist, Business Operations 

Year started at PPPL: 2012

Marissa Zara has two key attributes that are essential to being a good professional procurement professional: She loves to shop, and she loves hunting for bargains. Zara has brought those skills and many others to a career in procurement and has devoted the past decade to helping buy the necessary services and goods to support the science mission of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). 

Zara grew up in Manila in the Philippines, the seventh of 10 children of father Arsenio Reyes, Sr., a government accountant, and Estela Reyes, a homemaker. Zara was still in high school when she got a part-time job with Meralco, the Manila electric company. She continued working there while she attended the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. After graduating with a degree in business management, Zara worked her way up at the company from a secretary to her first job in purchasing at the company. 

Zara credits her father, who passed away 32 years ago, with her positive outlook on life. She recalls that when her father would see her worrying when she was a child, he would tell her, “Think of the day ahead. Don’t focus on today. Whatever you’re worrying about right now will be solved tomorrow,” Zara said. “That’s a big influence on me because it makes me live happier,” she said.

Marissa Zara at Liberty State Park.

Zara at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Marissa Zara.) 

A move to the U.S. for a job opportunity

Zara married her husband Nelson in the Philippines, and the two started their family there. When a friend who had migrated to the U.S. offered her a job, Zara, her husband, and their two small children relocated to New York. Zara began managing the procurement department for Atlantic Express Corp., a large transportation company in Staten Island.  

After working there for 18 years, the job abruptly ended in 2012 when the company went bankrupt after Hurricane Sandy destroyed three-quarters of its buses. Finding herself unemployed for the first time, Zara briefly took a job with a supply company before coming to PPPL as a temporary secretary. She was soon hired as a full-time staff member in the PPPL’s Procurement Department and worked her way up to her current position.

Working with small and disadvantaged businesses

Today, Zara specializes in blanket purchase agreements — a contract that allows a government agency to purchase from qualified vendors. Zara mostly sets up arrangements with software companies such as Google and Microsoft Enterprise. She also works with small and disadvantaged businesses. Zara recently helped to organize the DOE Workshop for Women-Owned Small Businesses, hosted at PPPL for the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). The event brought more than 75 people to PPPL to learn about opportunities to partner with PPPL, OSDBU and the DOE’s Office of Science.

Sharing culture through Asian Cultural Alliance 

Zara enjoys volunteering as the secretary of PPPL’s Asian Cultural Alliance employee resources group (ERG). “It’s awesome!” she said. “We did a summer fest last year where we showcased a lot of different cultures. We’re thinking of doing a special event for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month [in May]. Having an ERG that gives you a sense of belonging is very important because now you have a group that you can relate to. At the same time, it also gives you the opportunity to show your culture to other people.” 

Zara lives in Somerset, New Jersey, with her husband, Nelson Zara, a warehouse specialist at McMaster-Carr Supply Co. The two have three grown children: Mary Zara Kronstadt, Miguel Zara, and Erin-Grace Zara, and three grandchildren: Greyson Zara, 8; Theo Kronstadt, 6; and Anamaeus Tano Zara, 2.

Describe your job:

“A lot of people think that procurement staff are pencil pushers. They don’t know that it takes so much to do a single procurement. There are so many things we do in the background to justify pricing and negotiate the best value for PPPL. It’s everything that we buy; it’s not simply that we’re given a request and purchase it. We go out there and try to seek the best deals for pricing, quality and services with suppliers. We have to find that relationship with suppliers. You have to have a supplier you can trust who will provide you with 100% authenticity and the best product.

group of people

Zara, kneeling in the center, with other members of the Procurement group at PPPL. (Photo courtesy of Marissa Zara.) 

I’m also an advocate for small businesses. Being a minority myself, I really find it fulfilling to help small business owners find opportunities and show them how they can connect with PPPL. That’s one thing Im very passionate about. Anytime a small business comes to me, I try to match them with whatever we need in the Lab and be the connector between the buyers to give them that opportunity to do business with us.”

Three things about yourself: 

  1. “I play Mahjong. It’s a Chinese tile game.”
  2. “One of my past times — and something I got hooked on — is watching Korean drama. I really find Korean drama relates to where I grew up. The stories and the plot remind me of my own country and culture.”
  3. “I love to cook, and my specialty is the Filipino noodle that we call ‘pancit’ and spring rolls called ‘lumpia.’ It’s a spring roll with meat in it, and it’s crispy.” 

What does working at PPPL mean to you?

“Having the opportunity to work with physicists and engineers has brought me to a different space. I always tell my family and friends I am connected to a laboratory that discovered the sun as the ultimate source of energy. Isn’t that cool?”

Marissa Zara with grandchildren.

Marissa Zara with grandchildren from left to right: Theo Kronstadt, 6; Greyson Zara, 8; and Anamaeus Tano Zara, 2. (Photos courtesy of Marissa Zara.)