Virginia Tech alumna takes science to pageant stage

Camille Schrier didn’t grow up singing, playing piano, or dancing. She played sports, primarily swimming, equestrian, field hockey, and track and field, and dreamed of becoming a meteorologist or a marine biologist — anything in the science field.

Since then, the Virginia Tech alumna, who was one of the first Hokies to graduate in 2018 with a systems biology major, hasn’t strayed too far from science.

In June, she took her science skills to a large stage. Wearing a lab coat, goggles, and high heels, she performed an exploding chemistry demonstration as her talent in the Miss Virginia competition in Lynchburg — and she won.

Camille Schrier

Camille Schrier, a 2018 Virginia Tech graduate and the 2019 Miss Virginia, performed a chemistry demonstration, called elephant toothpaste, during the Miss Virginia competition in June. (Photo courtesy of John Herzog Photography)

Her victory is no surprise to her professors at Virginia Tech, who remember Schrier, also a biochemstry major, as one of the brightest students in their courses.

“She definitely made the best presentations in my class,” said Jing Chen, an associate professor of biological sciences who taught Schrier’s professionalism in systems biology course. “She was very good at explaining the background information and her results.”

During her year-long reign as Miss Virginia, Schrier plans to raise awareness of drug safety and abuse prevention and promote science, technology, engineering, and math education and careers in schools throughout the state, with a focus on attracting girls to the path.

“I want to be that role model for them,” said Schrier, who chose a chemistry demonstration for the competition to showcase what she could bring to schools during her reign.

The demonstration, called elephant toothpaste, is a reaction of hydrogen peroxide and potassium iodide that produces a big stream of steaming foam. Pageant staff had to wear thermal gloves while cleaning up the stage afterwards, Schrier said.

“I wanted to do something that was entertaining and was able to show the talents that I do have,” said Schrier, who is enrolled in the doctorate program at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Pharmacy.

Science demonstrations have become popular in the past few years for talent portions of some pageants nationwide, said Hilary Levey Friedman, a sociologist and expert on beauty pageants. If Schrier does well in the Miss America competition, there could be more of these talent demonstrations in the future, Friedman added.

While at Virginia Tech, Schrier was involved in the Kappa Delta Sorority, attended Blacksburg Baptist Church, and interned at a pharmaceutical company. Science was her focus.

A Pennsylvania native, Schrier first visited Virginia Tech as a high schooler when she attended C-Tech, an engineering camp for girls. She transferred to the university her junior year, and initially, entered the engineering program. But she was drawn to systems biology, a new major for which students use math to solve biological problems.

Schrier’s work ethic impressed Shihoko Kojima, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, who is affiliated with the Fralin Life Science Institute. As a senior, Schrier worked in Kojima’s Steger Hall research lab for her thesis evaluating a gene critical for regulating circadian rhythm.

“Camille is a person who puts in the work, no matter how hard it is,” said Kojima.

Schrier is not new to the pageant world. As a teenager, she competed in pageants in the summer because they helped build her presentation skills, she said.

When the Miss America organization announced last year that it would eliminate the swimsuit competition and focus less on contestants’ appearances, “it resonated with me,” she said.

Schrier had only three weeks to prepare for Virginia’s Miss Dominion competition in April. She won using the elephant toothpaste demonstration as her talent, which she modeled after a performance by Kate the Chemist, a professor at the University of Texas who travels around the country doing chemistry demonstrations for children.

Schrier isn’t the only Virginia Tech alumna who has been crowned Miss Virginia. Several others have won the crown, but only one, Kylene Barker, was named Miss America in 1978.

Schrier will take a year off pharmacy school for her Miss Virginia responsibilities. She hopes to visit Virginia Tech this fall.

“I am totally impressed having her as Miss Virginia,” Chen said. “It definitely puts a very positive image on how people view what’s valuable in a woman in today’s society.”

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