Raye Montague, recipient of the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award, shares her story to embolden others to pursue STEM education as one of this year’s Museum of Discovery Spark! Star honorees.
By Barrett Gay | Photography by Dero Sanford | Shot on location at Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum – USS Razorback
If anyone is ever faced with a seemingly impossible obstacle, have that person sit down with Raye Montague, the U.S. Navy’s ‘Hidden Figure’ and an Arkansas native. Since she was seven years old, Raye has dismissed sexist remarks, racist bosses and condescending colleagues and achieved in spite of her circumstances. For this perseverance, Raye will be honored as a Spark! Star by the Museum of Discovery.
In 1970, she became the first person – not just the first woman or African-American, the first person period – to design the rough draft of a U.S. Navy ship on a computer, a feat that revolutionized the ship and submarine design process. What’s more astounding: it previously took the U.S. Navy two years to complete a rough draft, and President Nixon allotted the U. S. Navy two months for this new assignment — then her bosses cut it down to a one-month deadline. That didn’t matter. She completed the project in 18 hours and 26 minutes — and she did it without an engineering degree. She obtained this grit simply by listening to her mother, who told her, “you can do or be anything you want, provided that you are educated.” As Raye recalls, “My mother was the wind beneath my wings.”
After this landmark success, her career accelerated beyond expectation. She became the U.S. Navy’s first female program manager of ships – essentially, the CEO – and met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a monthly basis for briefings. On January 31, 1990 – just days prior to her retirement – the United States flew a flag over the U.S. Capitol in her honor.
Raye keeps a full schedule of speaking engagements across the state – for free – to inspire others, because she says her purpose now is “opening doors for other people and letting them know that life is good.”
Next month, Raye joins an impressive group of Museum of Discovery Spark! Star honorees – all recognized for their professional excellence. “Spark! puts the spotlight on Arkansans who have had successful careers in fields that required the intensive study of science, technology, engineering and/or math,” Kelley Bass, CEO of the Museum of Discovery, explains. “And nobody personifies that better than Raye Montague, an amazing woman with an even more amazing career. She is the quintessential role model for all of us.”
As the name suggests, the evening is meant to spark an interest in STEM education through event attractions, including a visit from the Harding Academy Robotics Team, Arkana Laboratories and local artist James Hayes. “I look forward to Spark! as a wonderful way to have fun with science and technology, while supporting the Museum of Discovery’s mission to ignite a passion for science, technology, engineering, art and math in a dynamic, interactive environment,” Spark! Chairman Brooke Hicks notes. Proceeds from the evening provide critical funding for the museum to invest in programs that enrich the lives and minds of youth in Arkansas.
Raye’s eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Holiday, once told her to “aim for the stars — at the very worst you’ll land on the moon.” Well, she certainly has reached the stars. As Raye is wont to say, “Can you imagine that?”
The 2017 Spark! Stars
Raye Montague, U.S. Navy
Gina Radke, Galley Support Innovators
Greg Kearns, President, Arkansas Children’s Research Institute
LaShannon Spencer, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas
Annice Steadman, former biology teacher
Kent Burnett, retired Dillard’s IT professional
Bishawn Morris, pediatrician