Miss America 2020

Science Wins!

Camille Schrier, of Virginia, dazzled the Mohegan Sun Casino Area and her competitors with science, as she captured the crown of Miss America 2020

Miss America 2020 celebrated her ninety-ninth birthday with a return to the NBC television network, which broadcasts the celebration from the Mohegan Sun Casino Arena. The 51 state candidates vying for the crown and job of Miss America 2020 would compete before a nationwide audience, all while demonstrating their desires to be inspirations in changing lives and showcasing their talents, passions and ambitions.

The Miss America 2020 candidates opened the NBC telecast by introducing themselves, defined by their fields of study or profession. Following the introductions, the Top 15 semi-finalists were announced: Miss Texas Chandler Foreman, Miss New York Lauren Molella, Miss Oklahoma Addison Price, Miss Hawaii Nicole Holbrook, Miss Colorado Monica Thompson, Miss New Jersey Jade Glab, Miss Connecticut Jillian Duffy, Miss Georgia Victoria Hill, Miss Florida Michaela McLean, Miss North Carolina Alexandra Badgett, Miss Missouri Simone Esters, Miss Alabama Tiara Pennington, Miss Virginia Camille Schrier, Miss California Eileen Kim, and Miss Kansas Annika Wooton.

Although the Top 15 were announced, only the Top 7 as decided by the preliminary scores would advance within the televised program. The competition began with the Miss America 2020 Job Interview, wherein the ladies succinctly answered the interview questions as presented by the panel of judges. The initial seven consisted of state candidates representing Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia, Alabama, Connecticut, and Georgia.

With the completion of the Job Interview, the field of Miss America 2020 candidates were narrowed to the Top 5, who would then advance to the Talent Competition: Miss Missouri – Baton Twirling, Miss Connecticut – Vocal Performance, Miss Georgia – Classical Vocal Performance, Miss Alabama – Jazz Dance, and Miss Virginia – Chemistry Demonstration. The Miss America 2020 Top 5 would again be winnowed, this time to the Top 3.

It was time to impress the judges with a commitment to social change and social awareness as the job of Miss America requires an astute understanding and mindfulness of society’s needs. The candidates would answer to these needs in their Social Impact Statement. Which passions did these young women promote? Taking center stage presenting their statements in a setting reminiscent of a Ted Talk were Miss Georgia – Flip the Script on Foster Care, Miss Missouri – Leave your MARK: Mentor At Risk Kids, and Miss Virginia – Mind Your Meds: Drug Safety and Abuse Prevention from Pediatrics to Geriatrics. All of the topics are pertinent in today’s society.

The tension built as the Miss America 2020 field was once again reduced, from the final three to the final two, with one concluding competition awaiting the ladies, the Final Question. However, it was not the familiar format whereby the same question is presented to each finalist. In a new twist, each of the final two would be asked a singular question, answer the question, then allow a response to her answer from her remaining final delegate, and then have the opportunity to offer a rebuttal if needed or desired. The final question would be the deciding factor in the quest for Miss America 2020.

As the two remaining Miss America 2020 candidates stood center stage, the crowd erupted in applause as Victoria Hill became first runner-up and Camille Schrier of Virginia was announced as Miss America 2020.

Pageantry CEO Carl Dunn enjoyed the opportunity to interview Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier under unusual circumstances. With the later date of the winter event, Camille’s interview had to be postponed due to the production of Pageantry magazine. As fate would have it, this interview took place during the catastrophic Covid-19 outbreak, which also made necessary the postponement of the renowned Miss America travel schedule.

Pageantry magazine: You and Miss Georgia are standing there center stage, what’s going through your mind?
Camille Schrier: Goodness gracious. I mean, I had never even competed in the Miss America Organization until this year, so I really never imagined standing in that situation, so it was kind of surreal. I was just thinking about my mom who was so sure I was going to win. I thought she was bias, because she’s my mom and your mom always thinks you’re going to win.

I thought, “Dang, my mom might be right.” And she was right. So, it was a surreal moment and I think I realized very quickly that everything, all my plans I had for the rest of my year as Miss Virginia were going to change quickly.

PM: Has it become a reality?
CS: No. I don’t think it will, honestly, until I’m much older. I’m still processing because I’m constantly working and doing events. Even still, I’ll put the crown on at events and I think, “Wait, this is mine?” It’s not something which I’ve processed yet, and I think sometimes that’s good, because I don’t want this job to change me as a person.

PM: Miss America is one of the largest, if not still the largest scholarship provider for young women in the world. How much have you earned from the organization?
CS: This number is only from the year 2019 because that is the only year I competed in; I won $73,675 to go towards my education, which will pay for about two years of my graduate pharmacy program. Depending on the school they’re going to, that’s an entire scholarship for someone.

PM: You currently hold two degrees, correct?
CS: Yes. I have a degree in biochemistry from Virginia Tech, and I also have another degree in Systems Biology. Both of those are Bachelor of Science degrees, and it took me five years to gain those so I’m very proud of them. They were difficult to attain, but I have always loved science, so it is great to have gone through a few different degree programs.

I transferred schools in the middle of my college experience, and so eventually I landed on the two degree programs which really fit my interests, passions and talents. Sometimes I wanted to quit them because they were really hard, but looking back … I am so proud of myself for actually fulfilling those two degrees. Ultimately, I graduated with honors and now I’m in a doctoral program getting a doctorate of pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University.

PM: We’re in an unfortunate global situation currently. As a biochemist, what advice would you give to America?
CS: I think the biggest thing we can do is to listen to the recommendations from the Surgeon General of the United States. He’s someone I got to meet back in February and his role is to advise us. It’s important to listen to people who are experts right now.

PM: Tell us a little bit about your social impact initiative.
CS: Since I’m a student pharmacist, I was passionate about using this as a platform to focus on medication safety for parents and kids. I also focused on the prescription drug abuse which is happening in our country, particularly with opioid medications.

I took a Naloxone training class in pharmacy school. Naloxone is the opioid overdose reversal agent, so you can give it to someone in an overdose situation and it brings them back to life quickly. It’s lifesaving for those people and I never understood until that training how huge the opioid crisis is in this country. Just being able to spread awareness is something I’m really passionate about.

PM: Please explain the science behind your talent presentation.
CS: Well, there’s a couple ideas behind the science demonstration for the talent competition. I was not someone who can naturally sing, or dance, or do baton twirling. For me, I really wanted to go out of the box and show everybody you can do something completely different and still be successful.

I am a huge science nerd and I wanted to totally put that on display and be like, “Hey, this is who I am.” It’s called Elephant’s Toothpaste and it is the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. I take hydrogen peroxide that’s really concentrated and I break it down very quickly by using the smaller beaker which I pour into my larger flasks.

Basically, it produces a lot of oxygen, and it forms a bunch of bubbles, and there’s dish soap in there which catches all the bubbles and it shoots out really fast. That took, many, many, many hours, and days, and weeks of preparation just to figure out the volume of chemicals I needed to use for that demonstration.

Then you’d move onto the performance aspect of making that entertaining. I didn’t have any background music, so I had to concentrate on captivating the audience, being able to keep them engaged. I kept those ideas in mind to make this really a science performance, science entertainment, and I consider myself a science performer. It’s an interesting and fun way to not only show what my passions are as a person, but also to inspire other people to enjoy science.

PM: Why are the fields of STEM so important today?
CS: I think STEM touches every single aspect of our life. When I do my demonstration, I open it by saying science is all around us and I close it by saying science is all around us because science affects our whole world. Whether it’s the computer we send emails on, the plastic cup we drink our water out of in the morning, or the medicine we take to keep ourselves healthy, science is everywhere.

I think STEM careers are growing exponentially. If people are looking for something which is a rewarding career that can really make a difference in everyone’s life, and can also give them financial independence, look into STEM.

Even people who don’t necessarily think they are interested in science, I can guarantee there’s something everyone likes that has to do with science.

PM: You live with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. What is that?
CS: I have a genetic connective tissue disorder. We have collagen, which is a protein, found in every single cell in our body. This collagen is in our bones, in our skin, in our joints, in our cartilage, and I have a deformed type of collagen. You have around 11 or 12 different types of collagen, but one of my types doesn’t work right. The resolution of the story is, I am extremely hypermobile. I’m really stretchy, but I also can injure myself quickly because of that. It causes chronic pain and injury, bruising and scarring. It’s been something I’ve dealt with my entire life. I was born with it, and my mom has it too.

It makes me understand invisible illnesses people go through. I have days where I wake up and I am tired, I feel like I have the flu, I’m achy, but it’s just because my body is exhausted from trying to keep itself together.

I think it’s important for me to highlight this personal struggle because people think the Miss Americas have never faced any adversity, we’ve never gone through anything that’s hard, but in reality I am fighting with an invisible illness every single day when I go out and do my job as Miss America. Sometimes it makes my job as Miss America hard, but it makes me understand there’s so many people who I meet that are going through something I have no idea about and to never judge because I can’t see their struggle just by looking at them.

PM: What was your trip to speak in front of the General Assembly of the United Nations like?
CS: That was something I never imagined I would do, and I don’t really think I understood the magnitude of speaking in that particular General Assembly hall until I got there, as I was sitting in the General Assembly thinking of how many different world leaders had spoken at the same podium I was about to speak at.

I had the opportunity to speak about why it’s important to have women in science and the adversity women face on a global scale when wanting to pursue science as a career.

It was a life altering experience to be able to speak in that setting, to share my experiences, to address the issues important to me and of course, to have been invited to speak by a princess, actually a princess doctor, MD PhD. I’m proud to be the first Miss America to speak at the UN General Assembly. That was one of the highlights of my year so far.

PM: Can you give us an idea of your media appearances and travel schedule?
CS: Well, we could start from day one. After I won, I went into a press conference, was up all night until 3:00 in the morning, and had to get in the car at 4:00 AM to go to New York City. The first day when I was in New York City, I was on the Today show, I did New York Live, an interview with People Magazine, I did Talk Stoop, and I closed the Nasdaq. The first day it was just a media frenzy. It was absolutely insane and I have never experienced anything like that in my entire life.

I’ve been blessed to have been covered by some wonderful media outlets who have highlighted me as a scientist. Waking up the next morning after winning Miss America and seeing, “Miss America is a scientist,” as the headline for all of these different articles is something I could have only dreamed of. That was what got picked up and I’m so grateful I’ve brought women in science to a forefront.

PM: As Miss America, you have a strong affection and affiliation with Children’s Miracle Networks. Have you been able to visit any of the hospitals yet?
CS: Yes, I have. The one I visited first is one which is very near and dear to my heart and also my university, Virginia Commonwealth University. They are home to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, which ironically is a historical philanthropy of my sorority from college, Kappa Delta.

I got to meet this little girl, named Angie Odie, who drove two and a half hours to come and meet me. She had seen me as Miss Virginia and was a fan. She had just battled cancer for the last year, but luckily she had just gone into remission.

She came in her nicest dress, she had a crown on, and she was so excited to meet me. We got to sit together, I let her touch my crown, then I touched her pretty crown, and we have some wonderful photos of that experience. It was so impactful for me to be able to meet this little girl who had gone through cancer treatments. When you’re a small child and you’re going through cancer treatment, it can be terrifying.

She told me she wanted to be a doctor when she grows up. This really touched my heart because she wasn’t terrified of those doctors, in fact, she wanted to be one of them. I want to continue to raise money for them, both from the perspective of being a student at that university, but also since Children’s Miracle Network is such a deserving organization.

I got to go to the longer term care facility, also associated with VCU Medical Center. Those children are severely disabled and will need medical help throughout the rest of their lives. Those visits are always hard emotionally, but so rewarding to be able to take their minds off of their illness for a bit.

PM: What does our industry provide young women such as yourself?
CS: There’s this stigma with the word pageantry I face constantly. Right after winning the crown, I actually had a reporter ask me, “Camille, you’re a graduate student, why do you feel the need to compete in a beauty pageant?” I literally just laughed.

This is a scholarship organization and I’m learning so many things for my career as well. I competed in pageants as a teenager and what I took out of those were learning how to speak well publicly, learning how to answer questions, learning how to communicate more effectively and clearly in a job interview, and learning how to advocate for myself. I think it puts us leaps and bounds ahead of our peers who don’t compete in similar organizations. There’s really nothing like it and it has been life changing for me, of course, in many ways.

PM: Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic we’re experiencing, the famous Miss America travel schedule has been postponed. What are your plans or ideas for keeping your followers informed of what’s happening?
CS: This is really hard because I’m trying to work from home as Miss America, but Miss America can’t really do her job from home because we’re supposed to be traveling all the time. I’ve been trying to be innovative.

I’m using social media and I have a lot behind the scenes I’m hoping to do. Anything which has to do with science because there’s a lot of students who are currently at home with their parents, and if I can help be a science educator for those people throughout this time I think that’s a wonderful experience.

PM: Until the time when you can go back on the road, how can people follow you?
CS: I am very active on Instagram. My personal Instagram is just my name, Camille Schrier. My Facebook page and Twitter are also at Camille Schrier. You can always follow Miss America on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well. Those are great ways to keep up with me and all the cool things I’ll be posting.

To read the feature article in Pageantry Digital, Click Here

To learn more about the Miss America Organization, Click Here