Updated: Sep 2
By Elizabeth Gracen:
I have the unusual good fortune to be part of a select group of women (100 to be exact) who have had the unique experience of wearing a rhinestone-studded tiara for a year as Miss America. Having just worked on a massive Miss America Foundation fundraising documentary film during the pandemic to help the organization celebrate its 100th anniversary, I was acquainted with over thirty former title winners who sent in videos to contribute to the project. It was a fascinating peek into the history, lives, and careers of such a varied group of women with one very unusual thing in common. One of those women in particular impressed me with her unique perspective and die-hard determination—Camille Schrier, Miss America 2020.
Camille won the title in late 2019, just as the Miss America Organization approached a second year under a controversial transformation, where the age-old swimsuit competition had been eliminated. Schrier had entered the competition precisely because of the new ruling and was the epitome of the iconic organization's much-needed rebranding. As novel as it was to crown a winner who had performed a science experiment for her talent, it paled in comparison to what was to come for Schrier's year wearing the crown: COVID-19.
As the virus sent us into lockdown and interrupted every aspect of our world, what is usually an exciting year of travel and appearances for the new Miss America took a sharp turn and could have quickly ground to a halt. Undaunted by the challenges, Schrier adjusted and thrived, making the best of an incredibly difficult situation. With an impressive focus and vision to bring STEM education to young people all over the United States, she created a PBS science-education television show and continued to bring important attention to medication safety and pharmacy-related topics through her national platform Mind Your Meds. Schrier came out the other side of her year as Miss America more determined than ever to continue her education toward her doctorate in pharmacy and to continue with her dedication to encourage our nation's youth to seek education and careers in STEM.
When Her Royal Scientist launched in late 2021, I reached out to Camille to talk to her about her life as Miss A and her goals for the future.
Please Meet Camille Schrier!
EG: Camille, first of all, congratulations on navigating the waters of being Miss America 2020 during one of the most difficult times in U.S. history. As I recall, there is a slight sense of relief when the Miss America crown is placed on the next lucky winner, but I would assume that your experience was truly unique. What did you learn from the experience of being Miss A, and how did it impact your life and the way you see the world? Was it all you expected? Any regrets?
CS: Thank you SO much! Of course, my Miss America experience was not what I expected it to be given that I was the first Miss America serving during a pandemic. But, it gave me such a unique experience that was incredibly relevant to me as an individual. Being able to talk about science on a national platform during a pandemic, talking about overdoses as rates drastically increased, and being able to work from home as a person with chronic disease…my experience was perfectly suited to who I am as a person. Overall, my time as Miss America emphasized the importance of flexibility in my life and overall success. I am typically a pretty rigid person, but I had to learn how to be comfortable with the unknown during my time as Miss America, and that was a skill that I absolutely refined during my experience. I really don’t have any regrets, and I’m really proud of the impact I was able to make even from home.
EG: Let’s talk about your latest endeavor, Her Royal Scientist. How did this project come about, and what are your plans for the initiative? You’ve recently promoted COSI Connects Learning Lunchboxes and your own Her Royal Scientist Kits. Can you tell us a little about these products and what you are doing with them?
CS: I have loved being able to serve as a female role model in STEM for the young people I meet, and I wanted to create a brand that would serve as a vehicle for me to continue to do that. Her Royal Scientist is a female-centered science-educational brand, but it’s not just for girls! I also feel that it is important for young men to see a powerful female STEM role model so that they can have that vision normalized prior to entering into STEM fields. If we are seeking equality, we need men to respect females in STEM careers just as much as we need to support women entering the field. The COSI “Learning Lunchboxes” and “COSI Connects kits” are the first products in the Royal Scientist line and have six educational science demonstrations within them! I’m particularly excited that half of the kits will be distributed to students in underserved communities to provide STEM enrichment to students who may not traditionally have had access to these resources. The other half is available for retail purchase at COSI.org/kits! Even if ultimately a student does not find themselves passionate about a career in STEM, I hope that Her Royal Scientist and the COSI Connects kits can help inspire curiosity and help students better understand the relevance of how science affects them in their everyday lives.
EG: You’re currently enrolled as a Doctor of Pharmacy student at Virginia Commonwealth University. What is that experience like for you? What is your typical day like? What are your plans once you receive your doctorate?
CS: Being a graduate student alone is incredibly difficult, and my experience has become more complicated as a graduate student with a chronic disease. I typically have class about 4 to 6 hours each day but will spend almost that much time or more studying outside of class. Pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree is similar to pursuing a medical degree in the amount of work and clinical knowledge that we are expected to know. It has been increasingly difficult with my Ehlers Danlos syndrome, as I’ve struggled with chronic dizziness, pain, and fatigue. During the semester, my life is basically: study, sleep, eat, repeat. My intent was actually never to become a working clinical pharmacist but to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry (which is still my plan today). I hope to be able to take the scientific and medical knowledge that I am gaining and apply it into business after graduation
EG: As the only Miss America to win the title with a science demonstration for her talent, why do you think that is important? Do you think a 100-year-old institution like Miss America can evolve in a way that it will ever be seen as relevant in our modern world? Do you think it should continue?
CS: Miss America has always been breaking and pushing cultural boundaries since its inception in 1921. Miss America looks a lot different [now] than she did 100 years ago, but so do women in our country! Through showing my love of science and highlighting my career in educational goals on stage, I hope I was able to show how far women have advanced in our society. I absolutely still think that Miss America is relevant today. Arguably more women than ever before are pursuing higher education, and Miss America not only helps provide scholarship money but allows women to develop and refine the communication skills that will be invaluable to their careers. Because of my work in medication safety and pharmacy-related topics through my social impact initiative Mind Your Meds, my Miss America experience became somewhat of a paid internship for me. I always find it funny when people try to argue how Miss America isn’t relevant, when the program directly provided me over $77,000 in scholarship funds, professional development, and real hands-on experience toward my professional career.
EG: During your year as Miss America, you started several initiatives and promoted educational information for important causes under your platform Mind Your Meds and the Cooking Up Science with Miss America on a Virginia PBS affiliate. Please tell our readers about these projects and your goals to educate the public about awareness of medication safety and the benefits of learning science.
CS: My official social impact initiative as a Miss Virginia and Miss America was Mind Your Meds: Drug Safety and Abuse Prevention from Pediatrics to Geriatrics. As a Doctor of Pharmacy student, I realize how incredibly lucky we are to have medications that can totally change or even save our lives, but they often come with a certain amount of risk. Some medication, such as opioids, can come with a huge amount of risk to both the patient and our communities. I wanted to have frank conversations about medication safety with kids, parents, and patients to empower them with knowledge to make smart decisions about their health.
I have also focused a significant amount of my work in the addiction and recovery space, particularly in combating stigma around substance-use disorders.
Science education became a secondary piece of my advocacy as Miss America as a result of my onstage science demonstration for the talent competition. I quickly became an unconventional science educator and entertainer and was able to share my passion for the subject with thousands of children and adults across the country. I am personally fascinated by science and see its relevance in every single thing that I do every day. I love being able to share that with the people around me with the goal that they will appreciate the relevance of STEM and that students may potentially see themselves in a STEM career if it’s something that fits their passions and talents. Through COVID-19, I had to transition my advocacy and education to a virtual platform. Through this, I was able to create science videos for YouTube and in conjunction with 3M’s "Science at Home Digital Series," and wrote/shot my mini-series Cooking Up Science with Miss America with PBS VPN in Central Virginia. This content is still available online and serves as a legacy of serving as the first “virtual” Miss A.
EG: I had never heard of the Ehlers Danlos syndromes until I read about it on your Instagram feed. You were diagnosed with the syndrome at age 11 and have had to deal with chronic pain for a very long time now. Please educate us on what the syndrome is and what medical breakthroughs might be discovered on how to deal with it.
CS: I was born with my hips dislocated and was in a brace for first few months of life, which now allows me to walk normally as an adult. As I grew, I was plagued with crowded teeth and a small palate. I was clumsy, falling often and injuring myself. I also complained of stomach pains and fatigue. To most, each of these events seemed unrelated. To some, they were a way of faking my way out of sports practices or class. When I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon after my scoliosis diagnosis, he realized there was a more systemic problem. He suspected that I may have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), and after meeting with a geneticist, he was right. “The Ehlers-Danlos syndromes are a group of connective tissue disorders that can be inherited and are varied both in how they affect the body and in their genetic causes. They are generally characterized by joint hypermobility, skin hyperextensibility, and tissue fragility.”
I manage my symptoms primarily through lifestyle modifications: getting enough rest, staying hydrated, keeping my body strong (I’m in physical therapy weekly), staying away from any high-impact activities, and knowing my own limits. I feel lucky that I was diagnosed so early in life. Many patients endure decades of misdiagnoses before learning they have EDS. Early diagnosis helps patients prevent injury and have better long-term outcomes with EDS.
There is some incredible new EDS research on the horizon. I have had the pleasure of supporting and visiting The Norris Lab at The Medical University of South Carolina, which is the largest laboratory group in the world researching EDS. They have identified the first candidate gene for the hypermobile subtype of EDS. This is the only remaining subtype without a known genetic cause. Knowing this gene will not only help us better understand the disease but could allow for earlier diagnoses for those affected and could lead to development of potential therapies!
EG: You are right on the cusp of being a Millennial, so you’ve experienced some drastic shifts in our society. You’ve also experienced the unique anxieties that have come with growing up in a world of social media and a bombardment of information and body-image pressures. You’ve been quite open about your early struggle with anxiety and an eating disorder, and I’m wondering why you think it is important to be so vulnerable about this aspect of your life? Is this an ongoing mental-health issue that you have to monitor, or is it something you’ve overcome? Wearing a crown for a year and possibly being seen as “perfect” by young women might seem contradictory to the causes you promote. How do you reconcile these seemingly different aspects in your life?
CS: I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I think it’s an incredible platform—it can be fun, entertaining, and meaningful! I enjoy keeping up with people I do and don’t know in real life. But there are plenty of days I want to delete every one of my accounts. I talk about social media as a highlight reel but even knowing that you are only looking at the BEST that others have to offer, it’s so easy to compare yourself to what you see. Using social media in a balanced and healthy way is particularly important to me because I’ve struggled with my own mental health for my entire life but have found some relief through therapy and medications over the past decade. It’s important to know that mental-health disorders don’t usually get "cured," and although my diagnoses are controlled, there are many times where my symptoms recur during times of stress/triggers.
Serving at a national level in a major pageant organization comes with a lot of stress and trauma that isn’t often talked about. I experienced constant online criticism and hateful comments after I became both Miss Virginia and Miss America. It’s unrealistic to assume that everyone will like you in life, but so much of the toxicity that exists could be avoided by simply *not* tearing each other apart. Most of the comments came from those who claim to love the sport of pageantry or were “fans” of Miss America—which I always found ironic. It’s particularly counterintuitive to have this experience in a space that claims to celebrate women.
I have been immensely focused on achievement in my life—in a way that has been unhealthy and unrealistic. For years I measured my self worth and success only by the quantitative factors I could control and track: grades, rankings, and weight. Now so many of us do the same with social media (followers. likes, etc.). But I often take a step back and remind myself that NONE OF THIS MATTERS. It’s so insignificant in the grand scheme of what I want to achieve in my life that it’s NOT worth stressing out over. Now I use my social pages for fun, to share my life, and to make an impact—that’s how I’m able to use the platform in a healthy way.
EG: Final question: where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? What do you think the world will look like ten years from now? What are you most looking forward to, and what are you most concerned about?
CS: In 5 years, I will be in the first few years of my professional career as a pharmacist. I imagine myself having a wonderful position in a pharmaceutical company. In 10 years . . . maybe I’ll have advanced or moved organizations? I’d like to have a house by that point. I’d like a fenced-in yard for my dog. Other than that, as long as I’m happy and financially stable, I’ll be satisfied with wherever my journey takes me.
My college and graduate education combined will take 9 years of my life—with a 2-year break for Miss America and Miss Virginia. I’ve always been eager to work and start my professional life, and after 11 years of education and experience, I’m most looking forward to the opportunity to APPLY all that I’ve learned and start my career.
In terms of concerns . . . I’m sure I feel similarly to most Americans. I worry about expenses and inflation, health-care costs, and the cost of higher education. I think about the long-term impact we are making on our environment, and I wonder if our country will ever become less divided. I am hopeful!