SCIENCE ON STAGE
In her element: Camille Schrier performed a chemistry demonstration known as elephant toothpaste during the Miss Virginia competition in June (Photo courtesy of John Herzog Photography).
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 with a systems biology major in 2018, hasn’t strayed too far from science.
Wearing a lab coat, goggles, and high heels, she performed an exploding chemistry demonstration as her talent in the Miss Virginia competition—and she won.
Her victory is no surprise to her professors at Virginia Tech, who remember Schrier, also a biochemistry major, as one of the brightest students in their courses.
“She definitely made the best presentations in my class,” said Jing Chen, an assistant professor of biological sciences who taught Schrier in several courses. “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.
Camille Schrier spent many hours in a research lab while she was a student at Virginia Tech. She had a dual major in systems biology and biochemistry.
“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.
Camille Schrier wears her Virginia Tech ring every day. "It was something that was meaningful for me," she said.
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.”