‘I’m trying to be like Bill Nye’: How Camille Schrier’s interest in science helped her become Miss Virginia

Schrier, right, reacts to a blue-colored chemical stream erupting out of a large flask during her...
Camille Schrier, a VCU pharmacy student, donned a lab coat and safety goggles and turned the talent portion of the Miss Virginia competition into a science experiment. (Photo courtesy of Miss Virginia Organization)

Camille Schrier’s science and medical education led her to stop taking part in pageants. That same education helped her become Miss Virginia 2019.

Schrier, 23, a doctor of pharmacy student at Virginia Commonwealth University, was awarded the statewide title in Lynchburg on June 22. She was one of 24 contestants. As Miss Virginia, she will represent the commonwealth in the Miss America competition.

Instead of dance or baton twirling, Schrier’s winning talent presentation featured her in a white lab coat and safety goggles mixing chemicals to create spouts of colorful foam that shot far above the stage.

A few days after her win, Schrier stopped by VCU.

“It’s been crazy,” she said. “It’s been a wild ride.” She recalled being escorted from the competition after her win by guards who ushered her into a waiting car. “I felt like the president,” she added with a laugh.

Schrier is in the process of moving into a Roanoke apartment provided to her as part of her reign. She will take a year off from her studies at VCU to tour the state and share her campaign platform of STEM awareness and drug safety.

“I’m trying to be like Bill Nye [the science guy],” she said. “That’s what I’m going for. I want to get kids excited, but I don’t want it to be boring.”

Camille Schrier poses for a portrait inside of a laboratory. She is wearing a Miss Virginia sash and a crown.
Schrier will take a year off from her studies at VCU to tour the state and share her campaign platform of STEM awareness and drug safety. (Photo courtesy of VCU School of Pharmacy)

Schrier, a Pennsylvania native, said she was an athletic kid, never a “girly-girl.” She attributes her love of science and nature to an eighth-grade science class. When she was 14, she became interested in pageants as a creative outlet.

The process taught her more than she expected, she said.

“It taught me a lot about being professional … in terms of just being able to prepare a resume, go into an interview confidently, and how to prepare for something like that.”

Schrier participated in pageants from age 14 until she started college four years later. She graduated cum laude from Virginia Tech in 2018 with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology. She entered VCU’s Doctor of Pharmacy program last year.

Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D., an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy, taught Schrier in a challenging first-year pharmacy foundations course.

“In a class where a lot of students can become very stressed, she shined and was just a wonderful person to be around. She was always an example of professionalism,” Caldas said.

Around the time Schrier started pharmacy school, she learned that the Miss America pageant had been revamped — eliminating the swimsuit competition and emphasizing professionalism and social impact. That, and the possibility of scholarships, reignited her interest. The Miss America organization says it is the nation’s top provider of scholarships for young women.

Building on her pharmacy education, Schrier decided she would make her platform “Mind Your Meds,” focusing on drug safety and abuse prevention. Since Schrier did not have much experience in performing, she realized she would have to find a way to highlight her talents that was entertaining on stage.

A woman is placing a crown on the head of Camille Schrier in honor of winning the Miss Virginia competition.
Schrier graduated cum laude from Virginia Tech in 2018 with degrees in biochemistry and systems biology. She enrolled in VCU’s Doctor of Pharmacy program last year. (Photo courtesy of Miss Virginia Organization)

After looking online for science experiments for kids, she came across an experiment sometimes called “elephant toothpaste” that demonstrates the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide using potassium iodide as a catalyst. The result is a dramatic burst of foam.

She acquired some industrial-strength hydrogen peroxide and practiced the experiment in the driveway of her apartment complex, adding food coloring to the foam. When she tried it in an outdoor car wash, the foam shot out so violently it hit the ceiling, staining it. (She scrubbed it clean with bleach.)

Her science experiment helped her win a regional title, Miss Dominion, making her eligible for the Miss Virginia pageant. Because the Miss Virginia competition would be held in a large space, she made her experiment bigger, with larger flasks and even more dramatic jets of brightly colored foam. She won the preliminary talent award.

“I expected to hear some feedback saying that my talent wasn’t really a talent,” Schrier said. “But I will tell you, I was overwhelmed with messages saying how cool my talent was, how refreshing it was and how everyone was impressed that I was able to tie education and science into something that was also entertaining.”

David Holdford, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science in the VCU School of Pharmacy, worked with Schrier on her research fellowship.

“After finding out she was competing for Miss Virginia, I was really happy for her,” Holdford said. “To me, it seemed her focus on medication safety and science were very innovative and would give her a chance to win.”

After her year as Miss Virginia, Schrier plans to return to VCU to complete her pharmacy degree. She had applied to three pharmacy schools but said VCU “blew every other school out of the water.”

“It’s a community of people that help each other and that’s something that immediately drew me to want to be a student here,” she said. 

Schrier is not the only VCU pharmacy student to participate in the Miss Virginia competition. Taylor Reynolds, Miss Arlington, is a rising third-year Pharm.D. student and was one of the top 12 contestants who competed with Schrier on June 22. And in 2007, School of Pharmacy alum Traci Poole was second runner up.

Schrier said her education in the sciences has not always been easy.

“I didn’t have that kind of role model who had gone through the same experiences that I had of being an undergrad in a science career,” she said. “And now I’m in a graduate program. It’s not easy [getting a science degree] and I want to be that person to go out there and encourage and show them that I did it. And so can you.”