Engineering girls bare (almost) all

Courtesy of AJ Kane ME Online

By Phil Collins

Smart is sexy. Students at the University spent nine months putting together a swimsuit calendar that showcases that theme – and they did not need to look any further than the north side of campus for models.

The Girls of Engineering 2007 calendar has one stipulation: All the models are students in Engineering at the University. In addition to the pictures, each month has a sidebar containing information about the model’s major, interests, favorite things and other facts.

The calendar was conceptualized a few years ago by Jen Wood, a University alumna. She and three partners turned the idea into a reality.

“She wanted to put something together that broke the mold and the stereotypes,” said Syed Karim, senior at Lake Forest College and executive producer of the calendar.

The idea behind the pictures was not enough for Lexie Parmar, junior in Engineering.

“I’ve seen a few of the pictures, and I thought they were a little racy,” she said. “I know their intention was to show smart as sexy, but part of being sexy is being classy.”

Chiral Productions was founded to produce the calendar, which is independent of the University.

“It’s important for people to know that the University, the College of Engineering, played no role in encouraging or discouraging students from this commercial venture,” said Sue Larson, director of Women in Engineering.

The calendar was shot in a variety of settings, some suggestive of engineering and some not.

“We shot at Cobra Lounge in Chicago, at a few different production places. We shot on the beach and in a laboratory,” said A.J. Kane, former University student and photographer for the calendar.

Karim said Wood found the models by putting up flyers and by searching for engineers on Facebook.

Yasha Huang, a sophomore in Engineering and one of the models, said the calendar is breaking the stereotype that engineers only know how to study.

“I don’t like the stereotype because everyone is different,” she said. “In some way it is trying to say, ‘Treat everyone as an individual.'”

Huang said that she had modeled before, so she was not hesitant about posing for the calendar. She added that people have recognized her on campus based on the calendar.

“It’s targeted at U of I, which in some ways makes me feel less comfortable,” Huang said.

Karim said most of the models were nervous during production.

“A lot of that stuff was foreign to them – looking at the camera, engaging it,” he said.

The calendar was released for sale on Oct. 12, 2006. It is on sale online for $6 at girlsofengineering.com and locally at Hometown Pantry for $12.95.

Karim said that out of more than 3,000 calendars printed, about 300 have sold.

“We got our asses kicked,” he said.

Karim would not reveal the exact amount of money lost but said the number was higher than a few thousand dollars. He said Wood did not fulfill her responsibilities in marketing the calendar. As a result, the calendar was not on sale in as many places as originally planned.

Despite the financial loss, Kane, former Daily Illini employee, is making plans for another edition of the calendar. Kane said he will be playing a bigger part this time around. He said he wants to take the calendar to a wholesaler to ensure sales and get local advertisers on board.

Even if another calendar is made, Parmar said she feels the message will be overshadowed by the photographs.

“When a guy sees a calendar with girls dressed like that…you’re looking at an image and not at their brains,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s accomplished what it’s trying to do in the first place.”

Kane hopes to change the minds of people, like Parmar, with a change in vision for the calendar.

“The photos themselves, while of intelligent people, did not pay much homage to their intelligence,” he said. “I want to capture the physical and intellectual beauty in the same shot.”