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People in Your La Jolla Neighborhood: Bishop’s grad creates documentary for Girl Scout Gold Award consideration

The Bishop's School graduate and Girl Scout Meredith Hunter.
The Bishop’s School graduate and Girl Scout Meredith Hunter produced the 28-minute documentary “Pink Collar Project: Women in Computer Science” and released it on YouTube on July 28.
(Courtesy)

Meredith Hunter wanted to do something close to her heart for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. It would be inspiring and informative to young girls and help break a developing cycle.

Hunter, a Class of 2020 alumna of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, produced a 28-minute documentary, “Pink Collar Project: Women in Computer Science,” and released it on YouTube on July 28. It contains interviews with female computer scientists, historical retrospectives and inspirational messaging to encourage girls to enter the field.

“I’m very passionate about women being in computer sciences but experienced what can happen when women aren’t active and represented,” she said.

When Hunter was in seventh and eighth grades, she was one of only two girls in her computer science class. When she was in 10th grade, she was the only girl.

“It was difficult,” said Hunter, 18. “When I started [in middle school], there were eight girls enrolled at first, but all but two of us dropped out. They decided they weren’t good enough. There were feelings they weren’t as smart, which wasn’t true, but they felt that way. In 10th grade, I felt isolated and ignored.”

But in the course of her studies, she was given an assignment to write about the history of computer sciences.

“I wanted to know more about the history of women in computer science,” Hunter said. “I found the first ‘real’ computer programmers were women, and that was surprising to me. Women played a huge role when it first started [in the 1940s]. It was considered a field for women because it was like clerical work, which was seen as women’s work at that time.”

A scene from Meredith Hunter's documentary, "Pink Collar Project: Women in Computer Science."
(Courtesy)

But when the personal computer was invented and available to the public, it was marketed to men, she said.

“I watched a couple of the ads that were for the early computers and it was all men in them,” Hunter said. “The women in the ads were props. One was on her husband’s arm, looking impressed. One even jumped in a pool in the ad! I thought, ‘Really?’”

The number of women studying computer sciences fell after that. “I learned that 36 percent of people graduating with computer science degrees were women, but when the personal computer started marketing to men, it dropped to like 15 percent,” Hunter said. “It has risen a little, but not above 15 percent.”

Studying the women who came before her and interviewing those currently in the field validated her experience in the classroom, Hunter said.

“When I talked to women I interviewed, they shared about impostor syndrome [in which a person doubts his or her accomplishments or talents and has a fear of being exposed as a “fraud”], and one shared how she constantly wondered if people were treating her differently because she was a woman. That made such an impact on me; it was very validating,” Hunter said. “It made me feel like I deserved to be in that 10th-grade classroom as much as anyone else.”

She also sought to dispel stereotypes of computer scientists and programmers, such as that they are men, always in front of a computer and working alone.

“I wanted girls that might feel uncomfortable about being in computer sciences to know the history and that they have a place there, too,” Hunter said. “I’m hopeful that I can … surprise people, and I want this to be seen by younger girls. I want them to see the field differently before they even form those preconceived notions.”

A 1-year-old Meredith Hunter shows her early interest in computers.
(Courtesy)

When the documentary was complete, Hunter circulated it to local Girl Scout troops for screenings and sent it to the interviewees to distribute in their companies. It now has almost 900 views at youtube.com.

“I worked really hard to make something anyone can watch. I know I’m making an impact, which is the whole goal of the project,” Hunter said. “It’s very satisfying.”

From here, she has to write a final report, present how she went about executing the project and show the documentary to a Girl Scout board for Gold Award consideration.

The Gold Award is the most prestigious award that Girl Scout Seniors and Ambassadors can earn. Guidelines recommend that the project take at least 80 hours and complete the following steps: “identifying an issue, investigating it thoroughly, getting help and building a team, creating a plan, presenting your plan, gathering feedback, taking action and educating and inspiring others.”

Editor’s note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.