EE sophomore awarded prestigious Brooke Owens Fellowship in space and aviation

EE sophomore Meredith Hunter is a Class of 2022 Brooke Owens Fellow.

Meredith Hunter, a sophomore electrical engineering major, has been named a Brooke Owens Fellow, a prestigious award that recognizes exceptional undergraduate women and other gender minorities with space and aviation internships, senior mentorship, and a lifelong professional network.

Hunter is the first recipient from a Tennessee university since the fellowships began in 2017. She is among 51 undergraduates selected from more than 1,000 applicants worldwide for the Class of 2022 “Brookie” Fellows.

Her internship will be next summer with Boeing Phantom Works, the advanced prototyping arm of the company’s defense and security side, in St. Louis, Missouri.

The fellowship program honors the memory of industry pioneer and accomplished pilot D. Brooke Owens, who died in 2016 at the age of 35. She worked with NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the White House, the latter as a space policy expert with the Office of Management and Budget. The program was founded by top leaders in the aerospace and avionics industries.

Hunter, from La Jolla, California, grew up in a family of engineers. Her great-grandfather founded Hunter Industries, later run by her grandfather and father. The family-owned company is a global manufacturer of products for the irrigation, outdoor lighting, dispensing technology, and custom manufacturing sectors.

“At home, my dad was constantly tinkering with different projects, and I would often help him,” Hunter said. “When I got older, we would compete to see who could write code to solve a problem quicker. I was always encouraged to learn about new things, and my family demonstrated to me that I could build whatever I could think up.”

She is vice president of Vanderbilt Motorsports, which is working on a Formula-style race car; treasurer for the campus Society of Women Engineers and was freshman representative for SWE last year.

Meredith Hunter, left, works in the machining lab, where she has been a teaching assistant.

Additionally, she is a teaching assistant in the engineering school’s machining lab, and a grader for Robert Reed, professor of electrical engineering, for EECE 2213, Circuits II, and took the course last semester.

“She is one of, if not the strongest student I’ve had in that class,” Reed said. “She’s very energic, has a high level of interest and is moving along well with engaging research.”

Hunter said she applied for the fellowship at the last minute, after a friend and her career coach independently let her know about the opportunity. “I was really excited to get through the first round,” she said.

The selection process included written and creative submissions, interviews with the non-profit organization’s leadership team and its close network, and interviews with 36 leading aerospace employers from across the US aerospace industry.

Hunter said she had been leaning toward pursuing a career in consumer electronics, in part because nearly those technologies are literally at the fingertips of nearly everyone. However, she said, avionics or aerospace is intriguing.

“The field is especially intriguing because of the precision required,” she said. “There’s very little room for error and a lot at stake since airplanes and spacecraft can’t just pull over to the side of the road like a car can.”

She is working on getting her pilot’s license and has logged more than 30 hours in a single engine airplane and about 10 hours in a glider. Hunter also was a software engineering intern at Sandel Avionics in Vista, California, in 2018, and the Brooke Owens Fellowship is a great opportunity to further explore this field, she said.

Fellowship applicants also were evaluated on their creative abilities and leadership records. Hunter has volunteered for a week-long summer camp run by Technology Goddesses, a non-profit STEM equity organization in the San Diego area. She ran the computer lab, designed a programming curriculum for elementary school girls, and managed a team of high school volunteers.

In 2020, Hunter received a Girl Scout Gold Award for a documentary video she made about the history of women in computer science. “After my experience of being the only woman in my computer science class, I wanted to share my passion for programming and encourage young women to pursue their interests in computer science,” she said.

Brooke Owens Fellows are each matched to an executive-level mentor in the aerospace industry who will support and work with them to help launch their careers. The Class of 2022 will also become part of the network of 198 Brookie alumnae, which spans aspects of space and aviation that include engineering, scientific research, policy, journalism, and entrepreneurship.