It was a risk. A huge risk.
It was June 22, 2019, and Miss Dominion was preparing to take the stage in Lynchburg to perform her talent in the Miss Virginia pageant. She hadn’t rehearsed a song or choreographed a dance or memorized lines from a famous play. She strode into the lights wearing a lab coat and demonstrated the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide with potassium iodide (a substance also known as “elephant toothpaste”). The explosion was spectacular, and not just on stage.
Miss Dominion became Miss Virginia, and went on to the Miss America pageant, where she again performed her science-experiment-as-talent. Perhaps less of a risk this time, but with similarly spectacular results – an enthralled audience, a set of impressed judges, and the Miss America crown.
Is Camille Schrier a natural risk-taker?
“I still find myself afraid to fail,” Schrier said recently, on a break during a “Southern swing” tour that included stops in Richmond and elsewhere in Virginia. “It’s one of the biggest messages I hope to get out. In the era of everything online, we’re afraid to do things where we fail, or do things that are different from others. I talk about this a lot in schools.”
Then, in a display of humility and generosity for which Schrier has become known, she pointed out that several fellow contestants also took risks during the Miss America talent competition, citing a ceramics demonstration by Miss Idaho and speed painting by Miss Kansas.
Known also for her devotion to STEM studies, Schrier is using her platform as Miss America to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies and careers to girls and young women.
“I’m making it normal for Miss America to be a woman of science,” Schrier said. “The culture of women is changing. I look at this role with as much boldness as possible. People are surprised when they meet me; they say, ‘You’re a real person!’ And I say, ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ Miss America can be a scientist and a scientist can be Miss America.”
During a recent visit in Richmond, Schrier reprised her Miss America talent demonstration at the Science Museum of Virginia, impressing a group of Carver Elementary School students with exploding foam. “I like to do science with my crown on,” she joked. “That can pique a child’s interest in a new way.”
Clearly, she enjoys busting through boundaries and straddling stereotypes. But it’s more than fun and games, fashion and style. Schrier, who holds two degrees from Virginia Tech (biochemistry and systems biology) and is pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, is a passionate advocate for medication safety. This includes reducing opioid abuse, curtailing medication errors, and decreasing the associated mortality of both through education efforts crossing communities and demographics, from pediatrics to geriatrics.
Schrier, a certified trainer in naloxone, the opioid rescue medication, is clear in her intent to make progress during her year as Miss America. “It’s so common to have medication errors in the home,” she said, adding that she hoped to prevent overdoses and reduce the stigma on people who have become addicted to opioids.
She’d also like to spare others her personal struggles with body image. “In a role like Miss America, it’s assumed I’ve never struggled. That’s so untrue,” said Schrier, who talks openly about receiving psychiatric help in her battle against disordered eating. “There are so many people who are struggling with mental health issues, and I’m not afraid to share my story, so they can find help.”
While she has a super-busy year ahead of her, Schrier seizes opportunities to relax and unwind. She confessed a modest couch potato streak (“I’m a millennial who still watches cable TV like TLC”) and a love of cooking and baking (“At I home I will always make myself a meal for fun”).
And she’s looking ahead. Her goal after her Miss America year is to finish her doctoral work at VCU – with reduced student debt thanks to her pageant scholarships – and then to work in a nontraditional pharmacy role, perhaps on the business side of a pharmaceutical company.
“I think I’ll be very appreciative of the routine – coming home from work and relaxing at home,” she said wistfully. “I don’t do that now.”
“I’m using my role to highlight what’s already been happening. Miss America has always been a woman who has been accomplished. You can be fun and wear really glamorous clothes and still be a scientist.”
While visiting VCU in January, Camille Schrier spoke at the “Silent No More” Overdose Symposium. “We have the unique power to prevent this disease through education, to combat the problem at its core,” she said, adding she intended to seek out stories of addiction while on tour because “we’ll be better pharmacy professors after hearing these stories.”