Haley Kalil: Sports Illustrated, STEM, and her Empowering New Organization

Haley Kalil is a model, scientist, and an activist. She was just announced as a returning model in the 2021 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition for the 4th year in a row.  She has published award winning immunology research, is a winner of the first ever Sports Illustrated Swim Search, and now she is launching her very own organization called “The Nerd Herd”. The organization was created to empower women to love their bodies and their minds, while working to educate the new generation of women in STEM. Haley will be releasing a collection of Nerd Herd loungewear later this year, donating 100% of the proceeds from the first launch to organizations that help get young women involved in STEM at an early age.

You graduated with a 4.0 in Biomedical Sciences and Psychology with a minor in Chemistry. What drew you to the STEM field? 

 I have always been fascinated by the human body. I was also raised by two mechanical engineers. Almost everyone in my immediate family is in a STEM based field – so passion for science runs through our veins. I was drawn to math and science for as long as I can remember. My friends would dread chemistry class… while I secretly loved it!! My friends would complain about Physics… but it was one of my favorite courses. I just knew science was my calling because it came so easily to me. I also love that science is a field where there are no limits to what you can learn. There is so much out there to still be explored, investigated, and studied. I wanted to be the person doing those things. 

You started your modeling career on a whim in 2017, when you decided to submit a video via Instagram for Sports Illustrated’s open call. Before you were modeling you worked in an immunology lab, what was that like? 

 Working in a laboratory setting is a LOT different than working as a model. Although the process of discovery is exciting….a lot of the time, years of hard work on a project can result in no significant findings. I always enjoyed the lab because it was a place where I felt “in my element.” …But, I won’t lie…. there was nothing more disappointing than when your hypothesis did not end up being accurate – especially if you spend a lot of time working on the project. 

Photo By: Derek Kettela

Sports Illustrated saw your submission video for their open call and messaged you about being in the next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. You treated the shoot like a big test and you studied. Can you share with us what that studying looked like?

 Oh man… I watched every single “Making of SI Swimsuit” I could find online. I STUDIED for that shoot. I watched old school videos of Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson, Tyra Banks… you name it… I watched it. I practiced their poses in the mirror. I would film myself posing and making facial expressions – trying my best to mimic the powerhouses of the industry. I thought of modeling the same way I viewed anything else in life…. it can be learned. It just takes a lot of hard work and dedication…. and I definitely put in the endless hours because this was my one shot!!

Do you have someone who acts as a role model or inspiration? 

 My mother is my greatest role model. I know a lot of people have celebrities or social icons they look up to…. and I completely understand why. But for me… I don’t know those people on a personal level. I haven’t seen them at their worst. I’ve only seen them at their best. I’ve seen my mother go through some of the hardest times and she still handled herself with grace, humility, and kindness. I aspire to be as good of a woman and to have as kind of a heart as she does. 

Modeling has always been something that has interested you. Now you are modeling for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition for the 4th year in a row. Can you share a little bit about the process of shooting the issue? 

 Shooting for SI Swimsuit is one of the most exciting things I have ever done and I am honored every single year they invite me back. SI Swimsuit has become a second family to me. Being on set with them is fun, goofy, empowering, and inspiring. I can truly be myself and feel my most confident.

The one thing many people don’t know about SI Swimsuit is that the team is made up primarily of women. The editor and assistant editors are women. The social media, head of PR, and many set assistants are women. It’s a very empowering feeling when you get to stand in front of a group of powerhouse women in a bikini and they cheer you on and build you up!! Because, as a woman, sometimes it’s very hard to stand in front of a group of extremely powerful people in a bikini and not second guess something about your body. When I’m shooting with SI Swimsuit, I have never once had a negative thought go through my head. I feel like they truly see me and celebrate me. Shooting with SI Swimsuit is like shooting iconic, mind blowing images with your best friends. 

Photo By: Nick Suarez

Traveling is something you love to do in your free time. You have been in Miami Swim Week and have shot in Belize and Kenya. Where has been your favorite place that you have traveled? 

 Thailand is absolutely magical. I think it may be one of my favorite places on earth because the natural beauty of the environment is so striking. Kenya was incredible because I never envisioned I would ever get the chance to travel to Africa. The people, the food, and the culture were beautifully intoxicating. I didn’t want to leave. 

You are launching “The Nerd Herd”, an organization that empowers women to love their minds and bodies, as well as empowering women in STEM. Can you tell us a bit more about “The Nerd Herd” and what inspired you to create this organization? 

 The Nerd Herd is my passion project. What started as a social media hashtag has grown into a movement. It is a way I am hoping to give back to a community I know and love dearly. Science was once my entire life. I came from a world where I was respected for my mind….and entered a world where I was respected for my body…. and it made me aware of the incredibly stringent rules that have been placed on women in the sciences and in society as a whole. Society tries to place women into categories. If you embrace your intellectual abilities, you can’t embrace your body and vice versa. Our society puts women in boxes based on their choice of swimsuit or the length of their skirt. But women are incredibly multifaceted and embracing both one’s body and one’s mind at that same time should not be deemed inappropriate. The Nerd Herd is a place for women to feel safe expressing their passion for knowledge, science, math, etc. while also loving and embracing every curve of their physical bodies. It is also a place to encourage young women to pursue their passions in STEM – despite many of the fields still being male dominated.

What are some inspirational words that you live by?

 “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie (the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her studies in radioactivity) 

Haley Kalil | Instagram

The Nerd Herd | Instagram 

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Images Provided by: Christian Michel, Derek Kettela, and Nick Suarez

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