“When someone tells you that you can’t do something, don’t believe them” – with those wise words, Merrill High School and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff graduate Raye Montague summed up the way that she has lived her life. It’s a motto that enabled her to break barriers for both her gender and race in her career with the U.S. Department of the Navy. Montague gave the keynote address at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science’s annual Women’s History Month event March 28, titled “Hidden Treasures – Herstory: Celebrating UAMS Phenomenal Women.”

From the time she was 7 and toured a German submarine that had been captured off the coast of the Carolinas, Montague knew she wanted to be an engineer. Despite the obstacles in her path, including the fact that the only college in Arkansas that offered an engineering degree was the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, which didn’t accept African-Americans, she was determined to succeed. Raye Montague encourages women to keep striving in spite of obstacles during UAMS’ annual Women’s History Month event.

So the Merrill High School in Pine Bluff graduate attended Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB), where she earned a Bachelor of Science in business. After receiving her degree, she headed to Washington, D.C., where she interviewed with the U.S. Department of the Navy. With a bit of bluster and a lot of self-confidence, Montague was hired in the Applied Mathematics Laboratory.

“I was there with guys who graduated from Harvard and Yale with degrees in engineering, as well as with people who had worked on the Manhattan Project building the atom bomb,” she said. “They all thought I knew what they knew. I didn’t. But I could listen and learn.”

And that is what she did. By the time President Richard Nixon ordered the Navy to design the FFG-7 class of ships in two months instead of the standard two years, Montague was ready. When admirals came to her and offered her a month to design the ship on her computer, she said yes. Then she designed the FFG-7 ship in 18 hours and 26 minutes, earning her the Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1972. The Secretary of the Navy credited her with revolutionizing the design process for all naval ships and submarines and nominated her for the Federal Woman of the Year award.

That success opened up many doors for her. Some of UAMS’ 2017 Phenomenal Women pose with Raye Montague (center) and Billy Thomas, M.D., vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion. Montague never did earn that engineering degree. However, she is still registered as a professional engineer in two countries — Canada and the United States.

“I’ve found that in order to be successful, you have to get inside of the system and learn to play the game,” she told the crowd of 200. “Then, you will start to influence what changes the game. You become a master of the game so that you can open doors for other people.”

“You must open doors — that is your role in life as a phenomenal woman.”

As part of the celebration, UAMS recognized 22 employees who were honored as UAMS’ 2017 Phenomenal Women. These women were nominated by their departments and peers for championing basic human rights by demonstrating a UAMS core value of integrity, respect, diversity and health equity, teamwork, creativity, excellence or safety; championing women by promoting sisterhood; making her mark in her field; or utilizing her skill and determination to serve and inspire future generations.

“While this group of 22 women is diverse, they share a commonality in that each of their stories — Herstory — inspires us, encourages us and challenges us to be the very best we can be,” said Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, as she introduced each of the women and read from their nomination letters.