What started as one student’s idea for a fun T-shirt to add to her STATE Your Honors collection has become a unit-wide campaign for the Illinois State Honors Program.

Jackie Durnil, junior honors student says, “I’m a Speech Pathology major and an English minor; I love words. The ‘Nerdbird’ rhyme came to me during a student leader meeting and I thought that people would identify with it.  As honors students, we’re all a little bit nerdy at heart and I wanted us to have a way to own that.”

Sarah Foote, Honors student and graphic design major, created 15 different “Nerdbird” designs before selecting the final image with her teammates.

Sarah Foote, Honors student and graphic design major, created 15 different “Nerdbird” designs before selecting the final image with her teammates.

#Nerdbird began popping up on social media last year, and has recently shifted from a solely online presence to an overall identity that honors students relate to, and a brand that speaks to them.

Durnil and sophomore graphic design student Sarah Foote worked together on the “Nerdbird” concept. Foote turned this into her Honors Contract for the fall semester and worked with Assistant Art Professor Matthew Walsh as she went through the design process.

“I wanted students to think it’s cool to be smart. We can embrace the fact that we’re a little nerdy and have fun with it,” Foote says. “Glasses like this are in fashion now, and we wanted to play on the ‘cool hipster’ trend without it being too much.”

Foote solicited feedback from Walsh, as well as her honors peers and staff members. Foote says she “had a lot of creative freedom in the whole process,” describing the project as a collaboration. She sought input from fellow students on the Honors Floor, asking them, “Is this something you would wear?”

Foote worked with honors sophomore Michael Kilby, who started Subtletees, a T-shirt company based out of Monticello, when he was just 13. Kilby was excited to be approached about a project for the Honors Program. “I love showing my Redbird pride in unconventional ways,” Kilby says.

The students worked together on the short and long-sleeved shirt designs and set the prices at $10 and $14, respectively, with the goal to first unveil the shirts as a way to #BackTheBirds at Homecoming 2015.

The new, limited edition "Nerdbird" shirts.

The new, limited edition “Nerdbird” shirts.

Durnil believes there are a “million types of Honors students” and describes this as something they can all connect to in whatever way they choose, whether that is wearing the new Nerdbird shirt or using #Nerdbird in social media. “The bird in Nerdbird is important. We’re all Redbirds, but it’s the way we are Redbirds; we’re Nerdbirds.”

“We all love to learn,” Durnil goes on to say. “For anyone who has found a home in the Honors Program, it’s a part of our personalities. This is a cool-looking nerd and it’s really an extension of #HonorsProud.”

Foote believes they are in the beginning stages now and is excited to see what other ideas spring up from the students. “I don’t know if we’ll go as far as plush Nerdbirds, but I can sew too,” she says with a smile. “Anything is possible.”

The limited edition “Nerdbird” shirts are available for sale through the Honors Program Online Store.