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Corlis Murray. | Abbott Laboratories

Mitchell: ‘Hidden Figures’ pave way for next generation

SHARE Mitchell: ‘Hidden Figures’ pave way for next generation
SHARE Mitchell: ‘Hidden Figures’ pave way for next generation

Follow @MaryMitchellCSTCorlis Murray didn’t have to go to the movies to see “Hidden Figures,” the box-office hit about the adversity African-American women faced in the early days of NASA’s space program, to appreciate the challenges these women faced.

Murray — who holds the title of senior vice president of quality, regulatory and engineering services at Abbott Laboratories — recalls an incident early in her career that mirrors what those brilliant women featured in the movie experienced.

After seeing a trailer for the movie, Murray says she had a bit of a flashback.

“When I look at some of the experiences that the engineers encountered, I have had similar experiences in my career, “ Murray told me. “I was working as a manufacturing engineer when an opportunity came up for a leadership role over an engineering group, and I wasn’t considered for the position.

“A Caucasian colleague shared with me that heknew they knew I was very qualified for the job but that that particular company would not have an African-American female leading their engineering group.”

But like the black women depicted in the movie, Murray didn’t let bigotry stop her from reaching her potential. She went on to become the top engineer for Abbott, the global health carecompany that’s headquartered in the north suburbs.

“You have to understand how to navigate adversity when you encounter it professionally,” she says.

“We know we are going to encounter it personally and professionally. The difference is knowing how to overcome it. I continue to be in a male-dominated profession. But that has not stopped me or hindered me from trying to be the best technical and professional person I could be.”

OPINION

Follow @MaryMitchellCSTMurray, 58, grew up in a low-income household in Dallas and attended public schools.

She says she was always “strong” in math and science. In her junior year of high school, a counselor got her an opportunity to be an intern with a high-tech company.

“I worked with an African-American field engineer, and that solidified what I wanted to do,” she says. “At that point, it became magical to me. I actually knew without a doubt that I wanted to become an engineer.

Taraji P. Henson (from left), Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae (in hat) star in “Hidden Figures.” | 20th Century Fox

Taraji P. Henson (from left), Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae (in hat) star in “Hidden Figures.” | 20th Century Fox

“Keep in mind, no one in my family had ventured into anything like this. So this was very foreign. I didn’t have anyone that I could really talk to that would help me understand how to work through this.”

Six years ago, she started Abbott’s mentorship and STEM education initiative to help young people connect the dots and “put a face” on engineers.

The program is in 10 high schools and so far has served about 80 students. Fifty-seven percent of the participants are female, and 47 percent are minorities.

“We expose them to the reality of the corporate world,” Murray says. “They are placed in professional assignments, with professional engineers and scientists, and are given real business problems.”

Murray describes the high school students whom Abbott’s program is supporting as “really intelligent” children who come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

“They are about their academic performance and want to be successful in their careers,” she says. “They also care deeply about making a difference in the lives of others.

Corlis Murray. | Abbott Laboratories

Corlis Murray. | Abbott Laboratories

“What I tell them is that the path that we pave is not just for ourselves. The path we pave is to make a difference for those who will come behind us.”

While “Hidden Figures,” features three popular entertainers — Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae — the reasons for the film’s success go beyond entertainment, Murray says.

“I think it is so impactful because it is the truth,” she says.

“We have an older generation that wants to see it because it reminds them of the hope that does exist. We simply need to act on it. Then, parents and grandparents are taking their children because they are showing them what’s possible. Just like it happened for these women. It could happen for you.”

How could we not celebrate such optimism?

Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST

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