The Untitled Magazine caught up with top model and scientist Haley Kalil to chat about her career in fashion as well as her latest endeavors supporting women in STEM. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model has recently taken time out of her busy modeling career to launch The Nerd Herd, an organization that empowers women to love their bodies and minds, while working to educate the new generation of women in STEM. Haley is passionate about science, having earned a collegiate 4.0 in Biomedical Sciences & Psychology, with a minor in Chemistry at St. Cloud State University prior to her modeling career kicking off. In 2017 her whole life changed when she attended an open casting call for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit in Brooklyn, New York. The small-town Minnesota native has since graced covers of Glamour and Grazia Magazines, as well as worked with iconic brands Maybelline, Sketchers, and Kohl’s. Read on for our exclusive interview with the stunning scientist who is breaking barriers for women.
Tell us about your background – where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in a small town in Minnesota called Victoria. We had a Dairy Queen and a Subway…and that’s about it. My graduating class in middle school was about 25 kids. I am the daughter of two mechanical engineers so my parents were always working. My father had taken over a bankrupted family business and I remember my parents were always protecting us from any knowledge of their financial strain. I never knew they were struggling because they made sure that I grew up with everything I needed and taught me that intelligence, perseverance, and kindness are more important than anything that money could ever buy. I spent most of my days playing camping in a tent in the backyard, swimming in the creek by my house… always pretending to have discovered it for the first time, or doing little science experiments with my mom.
What were your favorite subjects in school?
As the daughter of two engineers, I like to believe I was destined for science and math. It came easily to me. I would have to work to memorize or understand literature and history, while calculus and biology were as simple as breathing. I never doubted my love for science until I was older and I started to notice it wasn’t something that girls were “supposed to” be good at.
You are a collegiate with a 4.0 in Biomedical Sciences & Psychology, with a minor in Chemistry. Have you always been interested in science or what sparked your interest?
Absolutely. I have always been fascinated by science, physics, and the human body. I remember watching shows on anatomy and physiology when I was very young because I just wanted to know how everything worked. The human body is so intricate and beautifully woven together that I had to understand it – because life is one of the most beautiful feats of nature.
Do you find any gender limitations in being a woman in the biomedical science field?
Without a doubt, there are gender limitations to being a woman in any STEM field. When I was younger, I was told that the sciences were a “man’s field.” I was one of only 4 women in my upper-level physics courses in college. I was always one of the last ones to be chosen as a lab partner despite being the most successful in the course. I have been stereotyped due to my gender time and time again. I’ve also had to play by a certain set of rules that men do not. Don’t wear the wrong thing or you will lose respect. Don’t look too “pretty” or they won’t take you seriously. Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t be bossy. Smile – make your superiors feel important and seen. These things are not taught to men when they or OVERLY emphasized to women – especially within the STEM fields.
How did you start modeling?
As a nerdy kid growing up in Minnesota, modeling seemed like an impossible dream. Thankfully, I built up the courage and submitted a casting video to the iconic SI Swimsuit for their first-ever open casting call. To my surprise, they invited me to the casting in NYC. After the casting, I was chosen as one of only 15 women to walk in Miami Swim Week. This was the birth of my modeling career. I’ll never forget walking that runway in front of what felt like all of Miami…. so nervous but also so excited for what the future could hold. Who knew that runway would be the start of a new life entirely.
I went on to shoot for the issue and eventually was named co-winner of the open casting call. I was signed to my first modeling agency. I went on to shoot with brands that I had previously only ever dreamed of working with! I never would have guessed that four years later, I would have just finished shooting my 4th year with SI Swimsuit and working as a full-time model.
How did the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit come about? Were you excited when you found out you would be featured on the cover?
No one knows who is on the cover or what photos are even in the issue until it comes out. Not even the models. So every year you are crossing your fingers that you are selected. It has always been a dream of mine to grace the cover of the iconic issue. When I saw that I was gracing the first flip cover for the brand and for its new social platform, I didn’t even have the words. I saw my dream in front of me and could hold it in my hands. It’s a feeling unlike any other. I’m not a crier….but I burst into tears.
How have you used your public platform to support women in STEM?
It started with a post I made about being a model and a scientist and the disparities that women faced within these two fields. This post started a movement. Women from around the world began posting their stories of working in STEM. I began reposting these stories and the movement grew into The Nerd Herd with the #nerdherd.
Tell us about your experience as a 2021 Miss USA Judge?
Judging Miss USA was almost more nerve-wracking than competing in it. How hard these young women work to represent their state. They train for years for that one moment on the national stage. These young women all share the same dream… to wear the Miss USA crown. It’s so hard choosing just one woman when you have a stage full of some of the most accomplished, intelligent, well-spoken, and beautiful women you’ve ever seen. It was a wonderful experience and I am so honored they entrusted me with such a large and difficult task!
How do you balance your passion for science with being in front of the camera?
When I first started modeling, I felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t know how to pose or move. I felt very “out of my element.” But then I started to apply the same learning methods I used when I was in school. I practiced and I studied old videos of supermodels. After a while, it started to become easier and easier. Now that I no longer have to focus my time on “learning” this industry, I can give it to things I’m passionate about – like The Nerd Herd.
“A female physician should be allowed to post a swimsuit photo on vacation… the same way her male counterpart can. I want The Nerd Herd to be a place to encourage young women in STEM while also giving them a safe space to express themselves without fear or suppression.” – Haley Kalil
What inspired the launch of “The Nerd Herd” and can you tell us about the project?
I started The Nerd Herd last year when I noticed the disparity in the way men and women are treated within the STEM fields. I have friends who are doctors and engineers that tell me they are terrified to post a swimsuit photo because they think their coworkers will have less respect for them. Women have a different set of rules they are required to follow in this type of industry. I saw this huge need within the STEM fields for women to be respected as the multidimensional beings they are. I want The Nerd Herd to be a safe place for women to embrace both their body and their mind. A female physician should be allowed to post a swimsuit photo on vacation… the same way her male counterpart can. I want The Nerd Herd to be a place to encourage young women in STEM while also giving them a safe space to express themselves without fear or suppression. Later this year, The Nerd Herd will be launching a loungewear line where 100% of the proceeds from the first launch will go to organizations that help get young women involved in STEM. The name originated in middle school when I would go off to my “nerdy” after-school programs, and my older sister would say “oh Haley is off to Nerd Herd.” What used to be a mocking joke has now turned into my passion and a respected title. Heck yes, I am a nerd and I am proud!!
You are also very focused on supporting a number of charities, can you share some of your favorites and what draws you to them in particular?
One of my all-time favorite charities is called Operation Christmas Child. You pack a small box full of toys, clothing, and simple necessities and they are shipped all over the world to children who have never received a gift in their life. It is so beautiful watching these young children receive a gift for the first time and the FIRST thing they do is share it with their community. It’s a beautiful reminder that there is still good in this world.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
“Humility is nothing but truth, and pride is nothing but lying.”
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
One of my ultimate favorite quotes to live by is from Marie Curie, the first female Nobel Peace Prize winner – “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.”
What can we look forward to from you in 2022?
I hope to continue my mission of encouraging young women in STEM. I will work tirelessly for a successful laugh and growth of The Nerd Herd. I hope to continue to grow my social media platforms because they have given me the opportunity to have such a strong platform for a voice that I never imagined I could be given.