Camille Schrier is not your typical Miss America.
She wears a lab coat with sparkly sequins on the lapels, for starters.
She’s a doctor of pharmacy student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy, a die-hard Rams fan, and refuses to wear a swimsuit to win any competition.
In December, she wowed the judges and won the Miss America contest. Now, armed with two suitcases and a carry-on, she’s on the road for her new job as Miss America.
The 24-year-old VCU student swung through Richmond in January, on her first trip back to her old stomping ground as Miss America.
Wearing her sparkly Miss America crown and a lab coat, she greeted fourth-graders from G.W. Carver Elementary on a field trip to the Science Museum of Virginia.
In the auditorium, she recreated her competition-winning “elephant’s toothpaste” science demonstration for the students, telling them how she wanted to compete to be Miss America but didn’t have a talent.
Her mom told her: “Do what you’re good at. Stay true to yourself.”
At the Miss America contest, all the other candidates were singing, dancing or playing an instrument.
“I came in with my lab coat and beakers, and I was terrified. I was sure I was going to lose,” she said. Backstage, she was so nervous getting ready for the talent portion that she opened a bottle too fast, splashing the contents and burning her face.
While she readied her beakers and bottles for the demonstration, she asked the students what she should wear to protect herself.
“Goggles!” they shouted. “Gloves!”
“Take your crown off!” a kid said.
“I’m not going to do that,” Schrier said. “I worked really hard for that.”
She poured in the hydrogen peroxide, then the food coloring. “Science can be fun,” she said. “This is my favorite demonstration, because it’s super-colorful, it’s super-big and super-visible.”
She explained how it worked: that she was going to add a catalyst that would cause decomposition resulting in an explosion of water, oxygen, gas and heat.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Yes!” the kids screamed.
She added the catalyst. Instantly, giant tubes of green foam, then blue, shot out of the beakers, up to the ceiling. Tubelike snakes of foam kept erupting like a volcano, over the table and onto the tarp-covered carpet.
The kids screamed like crazy.
“Did you enjoy that?” she asked, after everybody settled down.
“YES!” they answered.
She adjusted her goggles and said, “I want you to think about the crazy Miss Virginia who did something different. And I want you to remember: Sometimes when you take the risk, amazing things can happen.”
TIES TO VIRGINIA
Originally from Pennsylvania, Schrier graduated from Virginia Tech with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology. Now she is a doctor of pharmacy student at VCU’s School of Pharmacy.
“She knows that pharmacy can create the drugs of tomorrow, and she wants to be a part of that drug-discovery process,” said Dr. Kelechi C. Ogbonna, associate dean of admissions and student services in the VCU School of Pharmacy.
Schrier doesn’t want to become a pharmacist; she plans to be an executive at a pharmaceutical company.
She attended one year of the doctor of pharmacy program at VCU, trudging up and down West Broad Street, where she made friends and established a “pharma-ly,” in her words. But when she heard that the Miss America pageant had rebranded itself as Miss America 2.0, she started to think about competing again.
“There’s something you don’t know about me,” she told Ogbonna. When she was 14, she started competing in pageants to learn public speaking and master interviewing skills. She won a few titles, including a national title, but then she hung up her heels and headed off to college.
But now that Miss America was starting to focus on women in the STEM fields, she wanted to take a year off from VCU’s four-year program to compete. Ogbonna gave her his full support. After completing her finals in May 2019, she went directly to the Miss Virginia pageant, which she won, and then advanced to the Miss America pageant.
“I’ve never watched a beauty pageant or Miss America before, but this (time), I watched every second,” Ogbonna said. “I was texting with my colleagues and the dean. We were riveted every time she made an additional cut.”
When Schrier won, he said, “it was pure jubilation. It was just the moment, all her hard work, not being afraid to buck the trends. She won with a talent that was true to who she was.”
And she won nearly $75,000, which should cover her graduate school education.
ON THE ROAD
Being Miss America isn’t easy. There are the long days, the constant travel. Schrier will be on the road over 300 days this year.
While she was at school at VCU, she lived near Stony Point Fashion Park, but she’s put her Richmond apartment “on ice.” She will spend the rest of the year living out of her two suitcases and hotel rooms.
As a self-proclaimed homebody, she said her role as Miss America “stretches me and pushes me out of my comfort zone. It’s really cool. It’s not something I would do otherwise.”
Schrier also misses her cats, Cappuccino and Latte, whom she sent to live with her parents in Pennsylvania. She watches them on an app on her phone.
Animals and nature have always been a large part of her life. She grew up on a large piece of land with a pond and woods in Pennsylvania.
“Whenever my mom wanted to have some time to herself, my dad and I would go outside. We’d pick up worms, find a salamander in the woods or go down to the creek. I loved nature and plants. That’s how I ended up loving science. I was drawn to it,” she said.
She also loved cooking in the kitchen with her mom, Cheryl, a nurse who became a small-business owner. Schrier would pull up a stool and help with everything. “My mom would tell me that cooking was science. She’d say, ‘You can’t make cookie dough without science, can you?’ ”
But there was a dark side to her youth, too. Schrier said that she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder.
“I’m very numerically focused, very data driven in science,” she said. In her teens, she developed an eating disorder that she attributed to her OCD.
“It became a control mechanism. I struggled with that and thought I could manage my body,” she said. “As someone who went through treatment, I wouldn’t have been allowed to participate in the swimsuit competition (at Miss America by my doctors) because it would have changed all the work that I did. I was adamant that it was not something I would do.”
Then in 2018, the Miss America organization ditched the swimsuit competition and rebranded itself with a focus on social impact initiatives where Miss America could use her voice to change the world. That made it something Schrier would do.
USING HER VOICE
After her demonstration at the Science Museum in January, Schrier stopped by the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU where she met with kids who had gone through cancer treatments and others who were getting transfusions.
She high-fived one little girl named Analeigh Traeger, 8, and hugged another, Andi Otey, 4, who spent the summer “kicking cancer’s butt,” according to her mother. Andi was dressed up in a net-covered taffeta skirt and a tiara to meet Schrier.
Afterward, Schrier met with VCU students and gave a talk to VCU professors on opioid abuse and medication mismanagement, her social impact initiative as Miss America.
“Most of the people I saw, I hadn’t seen since I became a title holder. It was kind of like coming back (after summer vacation) to the first day of school. These people helped shape my journey to Miss America. Without the program, I wouldn’t be in the position to become Miss America,” Schrier said.
It was a grueling 12-hour day, but Schrier kept at it in her heels and her crown, talking opioid abuse and chemistry experiments. “I’m used to 12-hour days as a student,” she said. “But this is a little different.”
She was always on: talking, engaging and posing for selfies with nurses, professors and staff.
Schrier suffers from a mild form of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which for her causes chronic fatigue. She keeps nuts and protein bars in her purse for a quick burst of energy throughout the day, and always has her trusty water bottle.
But her work is important, she said, and she won’t let anything slow her down. She has a voice now, as Miss America, where she can reach more people than ever before, and she aims to use it.
After 24 hours in Richmond, Schrier used her voice so much that she lost it. Still, the next day, she was on a train to Newport News to meet more students and conduct science experiments.
“VCU’s motto is ‘Make it real,’ and that’s Camille,” her mom said. “That’s who she is, none of this gets in her head. She’s really grounded. My hope is she goes out into the world and then brings it all back to make an impact in the science industry, the pharmaceutical industry and for women.”
And if marriage is ever in her future, Schrier said she’d like to have her wedding at the Science Museum of Virginia, where, her mom said, “She’ll be serving cocktails in beakers, no doubt.”