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Home for the Holidays

Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier returns to Newtown

It’s 4pm on a Monday afternoon, and Camille Schrier is working from a hotel conference room after delivering a hybrid live and online presentation to executives in the event planning industry. Normally, the remarkably poised and dynamic 25 year old would have a full day of photo engagements and public appearances scheduled. These days, however, she is more likely to find herself juggling back-to-back zoom calls, virtual conferences, and socially-distanced meetings. In fulfilling her high-profile role as Miss America 2020 in these unprecedented times, none of Camille’s commitments has followed the familiar protocol of prior years. But with her infectiously positive attitude and tenacious spirit, Camille seems to be taking it all in stride. In fact, the unconventional circumstances seem almost fitting for a young woman who is known for breaking traditions.

Camille's rocket-like trajectory to winning the Miss America competition was unlike that of most typically seasoned pageant winners. As a high schooler at the Hun School, the Upper Makefield was a serious student and three sport varsity athlete who also managed to win several national teen pageants along the way. However, her interest began to fade as the pageants became more centered on physical appearance (swim suit competitions? Um...no thanks!). She instead chose to focus her energy on academics. Her passion for science and math led her to Virginia Tech where she pursued an ambitious course load, graduating cum laude in 2018 with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology. Inspired by a summer internship at a pharmaceutical company, Camille decided to further her studies, and was in her first year of a doctoral program in pharmacology at Virginia Commonwealth University, when she learned that the Miss America organization was rebranding itself as “Miss America 2.0” - eliminating the swimsuit and evening gown competitions and emphasizing character, personal achievement, and social impact. At 24 years old, and with only one year left of eligibility to compete for the national title, Camille took one of many big leaps of faith. “I didn’t have a ‘talent’ in the true sense of what the Miss America organization traditionally looks for, so I knew it was a long shot. But I thought to myself, ‘why not go for it? At least I can say I tried.’” Camille’s decision came as quite a surprise to her parents, Cheryl and Tom, and older sister Megan, who thought she had officially “hung up her heels” after entering college. Cheryl’s mom says, “I was really pretty stunned…but at the same time I was immeasurably excited and colossally proud because from that very moment, something inside me believed deeply that in making the choice to step forward authentically, Camille was going to break new ground.” Preparing for the Miss Dominion (VA) and Miss Virginia competitions as her first step in the process tuned life as she knew it upside down. “I had just finished my first year of graduate school, and in June, I won Miss Virginia; it was a whirlwind! My poor parents - I really put them through the wringer! I definitely could not have done it without their help”. Camille went on to compete for the title of Miss America in September, where she defied stereotypes during the talent portion of the competition by donning a lab coat and safety goggles, and performing a chemistry experiment displaying the “catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide” which sent colorful foam spewing into the air. With her historic win, she had accomplished quite an impressive feat – from acting on an impulsive whim in Spring of 2019 to earning the title of Miss America in just 9 short months.

In January, as she began her commitments as the newly crowned winner, Camille returned to Bucks County expecting to store her personal belongings at her family’s home while she travelled the country making public appearances. However, when Covid hit in March, she found it was suddenly her homebase as well. “I thought I would just be dropping my things at their home for the year. Little did I know I would be parking myself there for a while too!”, she laughs. “They had no idea what hit them. They should be enjoying retirement, but instead they have their grown daughter living with them again! Luckily, they have been really amazing about it.” 

Camille’s platform “Mind Your Meds: Drug Safety and Abuse Prevention from Pediatrics to Geriatrics”, is an outreach program designed to educate the public about over-the-counter and prescription drug safety and alternatives in pain management. Her audiences run the gamut from pre-schoolers to healthcare providers, which means she is constantly developing new material to engage her listeners, often using her signature science experiments and quick wit to keep her presentations entertaining. "I think of Miss America as so formal and serious and I am not. I'm just a normal person who happens to like science." Though she is unable to make many large scale in-person appearances, Camille chooses to focus on the positive aspects of using online communication to promote her social initiatives. “I’m a ‘glass half full’ person. The advantage of having so many events online is that I can be in four places at once. I look at it as an opportunity to reach even more people than I might have in a traditional year”. In addition to reducing drug dependence and overdoses, Camille hopes to decrease the stigma associated with drug addiction, by normalizing dialogue around drug abuse and encouraging conversation that is free of misunderstandings and judgement.

Camille also spends a significant amount of time promoting STEM education, most recently developing an educational mini-series for PBS in Richmond (now on YouTube) called “Cooking up Science with Miss America”, using hands-on science experiments and demonstrations. Developing the series was literally a one woman show. With no access to a studio during quarantine last spring, she managed to write, produce, film and edit the entire series herself in her family’s basement. “So not only am I crashing at my parents’ house, but now I’m blowing stuff up in their basement too”, she jokes. “In the past 6 months, I’ve learned more about video production, filming and lighting than I ever could have imagined. I feel like I can do anything at this point!”. 

Though Camille, with her easy-going and humble demeanor, downplays the significance of the work she has been doing, her mom helped shed some light on the scope and timing of her achievements. “It is inspiring for me to watch her at such a young age as she creates a new vision of Miss America. She is the first Miss America to speak in the United Nations General Assembly. She broadcast coast to coast for the DEA for drug take-back days, and she has written, filmed and directed a TV mini-series", Cheryl said. It is amazing to think that in less than a year, she has "reached thousands upon thousands of students, parents, pharmacists, physicians, scientists, professors, drug safety and mental health experts, legislators and government officials while advancing a passion for STEM and medication safety.” She adds that Camille’s background in science and her social initiatives could not be more relevant and important in the year of a global pandemic. “I believe that she has been called to this place in time for a reason. To be a scientist and Miss America in the year of a pandemic, and to be a future PharmD, fighting to change the opioid epidemic and medication safety in a time when pharmaceuticals are a key social issue in our country is more than just coincidence."

While Camille’s hectic schedule does not allow for much down time, her unexpected return to Bucks County has enabled her to revisit a few of her favorite iconic spots. You may find her grabbing an ice cream cone at Goodnoe’s or strolling through New Hope in the evening, but the Delaware canal has been a special go-to spot for her. “I love spending time outdoors, so biking on the canal is one of my favorite activities. Believe it or not, I also really love to fish, especially with my Dad." (Pro tip: She uses a mix of panko breadcrumbs, jello mix and canned corn as chum!) “It’s a great place to escape to when I need to take a break from the stress of the news, work and social media.” She also added a new “lab” assistant to her roster, adopting a sweet (and energetic!) black lab/pit mix puppy, adorably named Roxi, short for “peROXide”, after her winning science demonstration!

With her tenure as Miss America coming to an end, Camille will soon return to VCU to complete her PhD in Pharmacology, with the goal of eventually working for a pharmaceutical company. As for her experience as Miss America, Camille could not envision a happier ending to the dream she had almost 2 years ago. “The experience of being Miss America has allowed me to grow personally and professionally in a way I could have never imagined. Having the opportunity to make an impact on so many people across the country, from little girls to adults struggling with substance use disorder, has been a priceless experience." Camille is extremely grateful for the overwhelming support she has received from Bucks County throughout her journey, and we are equally grateful to have such a wonderfully inspiring role model right here in our community. 

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