Making Huntsville home

Tech town embraces community giving

It can take a long time for a new town to feel like home.

But Melissa Morrison-Ellis – longtime New Englander, program director at Raytheon Missiles & Defense, and recent transplant to Huntsville, Alabama – found a way to make it happen fast.

She got involved in the community right away. Really involved. And in ways that matter – like advocating for underrepresented groups such as Black teenage girls.

“It was instilled in me since I was young,” Morrison-Ellis said. “I’ve always been a giver, a mentor, a leader and I tell people, sometimes you’ve got to give a little to get a little.” 

“Being an engineer and being a Black woman in an industry that's mostly white males, I know what it was like to start in a career and come into the room different,” she said. “I know what that feels like and how it can be overwhelming.”

The support she’s received in her own career has been strong from within the company.

“I remember the day I got the call asking if I’d consider moving to Huntsville,” Morrison- Ellis said. “I was out of the country on a work trip sitting outside on a hotel patio in Abu Dhabi when the call came and my answer was, ‘Of course’.” Within a year or so, she was working in Huntsville to build the program management presence and connecting with women leaders at the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce and other mentoring events.

Now she’s involved with a program where Raytheon Missiles & Defense is partnering with a community program called AUM Foundation’s Pathways 2 Success to donate $10,000 to purchase laptops for the under-resourced high school girls. She also speaks to business leaders about the spirit of mentorship, and she helps to guide students toward science and innovation career paths. Outside of work, she has volunteered as a keynote speaker at the Boys and Girls Club for its Girls Day event and also spoke at the Girl Scouts of America Cyber Challenge.

Don’t sit on your gifts

She takes her approach to service from something she once heard in a sermon. That sermon’s title: “Don’t sit on your gifts.”

“It is really a mantra for me,” Morrison-Ellis said. “If you have a gift to share, it is darn near sinful to keep it to yourself.”

She encourages others to share their gifts instead of holding onto them. The giving philosophy is woven deeply within the fabric of the Huntsville community, and it’s a big reason she relishes working and living in town.

While Huntsville has been ranking high on those “great places to live” lists, the real draw for Morrison-Ellis is the community – a sense that people care for their neighbors and have a clear vision for the city’s growth.

“It was not the Alabama I had heard about. Instead, it is very much what I call a happening city,” Morrison-Ellis said. “It’s a bursting city and a city on the incline.” To have this sense of service weaved into the community is a bonus.

Morrison-Ellis, who was recently featured in the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce Movers and Shakers column, is not only a strong leader in the community but also the program director for Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Missiles & Defense’s Next-Generation Interceptor program, known as NGI. The program team is located in Huntsville and is currently in the pursuit phase, and is a multi-billion, multi-phased upgrade of flight test articles for the Missile Defense Agency’s ground-based midcourse defense system.

While Morrison-Ellis will always think of Massachusetts as her home, she and her husband Mark Ellis, a former Naval officer, have very much made Huntsville their new home. They recently celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary – in (you guessed it) Huntsville.