Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier calls focus on science instead of swimsuits ‘freeing’

In late 2019, Camille Schrier stunned the world when she won the crown for Miss America just minutes after giving a colorful chemistry demonstration in a lab coat.

It was the second year in a row that the female candidates hailing from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were not judged in a swimsuit or how they looked in an evening gown. Instead, a series of interviews and talent demonstrations helped determine who was qualified for the “job,” or a one-ear paid position that comes with a $50,000 scholarship.

The Virginian biochemist, who spoke on stage about having tackled an eating disorder, said she decided to compete for Miss America after the swimsuit competition was ditched. She was determined to “break stereotypes about what it means to be a Miss America in 2020” by being a “woman of science.”

The 24-year-old is now determined to show children how science can be fun. She teamed up with 3M, which has launched Science at Home, an online program tailored for students ages 6-12 that offers simple experiments that can be conducted with commonly found household items.

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Miss America Camille Schrier walks the runway at The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection 2020 at Hammerstein Ballroom on February 05, 2020, in New York City.

Miss America Camille Schrier walks the runway at The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection 2020 at Hammerstein Ballroom on February 05, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for American Heart Association)

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Schrier spoke to Fox News about being a modern Miss America, taking on her reign during quarantine, as well as what the role has taught her about our country and its people.

Fox News: Looking back, what made you want to try out for Miss America?
Camille Schrier: When I was a teenager, I wasn’t necessarily shy, but I didn’t really have any public speaking experience or interview experience. And so, I was looking for a way to gain those skills before I went into college. So I competed in a couple of organizations that were similar to Miss America. I really had fun with them. It was a great way to learn presentation skills that you don’t necessarily get in the classroom… And Miss America’s kind of like the Super Bowl.

I didn’t have any traditional performing talents. And in Miss America, you see women who sing, dance, play instruments… I don’t possess any of those talents. And nobody wants to see me do any of those things. I wanted to represent who I was as a person. And I wanted to chance to gain scholarship money. By winning Miss America, I’ve also won over $77,000 to pay for my graduate school.

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Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier attends the 2020 Beverly Hills Dog Show at the Los Angeles County Fairplex on February 29, 2020, in Pomona, California.

Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier attends the 2020 Beverly Hills Dog Show at the Los Angeles County Fairplex on February 29, 2020, in Pomona, California. (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images)

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Fox News: Where did the idea to do a science experiment as a talent come from?
Schrier: I had to figure out what I was going to do for a talent presentation. So, I ended up doing a science demonstration. Some people thought I was completely crazy to do that, but I’m so glad that I did because more than anything, it was the perfect representation of me as a person.

When I was thinking about Miss America, I wasn’t really keen on the idea of being judge by my body. And then the swimsuit competition was removed. I entered in 2019 because I was not interested in competing in that portion of the competition. More power to anyone who would like to, but that wasn’t who I was… It gave me the platform to do science on stage. I didn’t know how that would be accepted, but it went really well. And it’s opened up so many doors for me. I’m so glad I did it.

Fox News: Many people were shocked when Miss America announced it would eliminate the swimsuit competition. How do you think the organization handled that change?
Schrier: There’s a real divide still with people who would rather see the more traditional Miss America. And there are people like who are so thrilled by that idea. I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

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Pictured: (l-r) Camille Schrier, Miss America 2020; Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019; Kit Hoover at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT on Thursday, December 19, 2019.

Pictured: (l-r) Camille Schrier, Miss America 2020; Nia Franklin, Miss America 2019; Kit Hoover at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT on Thursday, December 19, 2019. (Photo by: Eric Liebowitz/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

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But for me, it was exactly what made me want to come and compete. I think we’re so used to the normalcy of seeing women’s bodies and seeing women in swimsuits on ads. We rarely in our media see women who are put forward because of what they can offer with [their] intelligence and experience. That is what frustrates me [with] our world.

I think that everyone has the right to be able to do whatever feels comfortable for them. But… I fought body image issues throughout my life. I’ve struggled with mental health disorders. I’ve struggled with eating disorders. And so for me, it wouldn’t have been healthy to put that kind of pressure on myself. And it gave me the opportunity to solely focus on what I could offer with my education and my experience in public speaking, and what I could bring to the organization independently of what I looked like. And that was really freeing for me.

I think that it's a huge move forward. Our organization has really since the 1930s has been based upon scholarship. Miss America alone wins $50,000 of scholarship money and a salary to pay for her year. So we've always been based upon scholarship and what we could offer to our communities. And I think a lot of that was overshadowed by things like the swimsuit competition, which kind of took the focus away from what had always been there. So I'm really proud to be part of the new wave of Miss America. It's what brought me there. I'm proud to represent it every single day.

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Miss Virginia 2019 Camille Schrier performs during the talent portion of the Miss America 2020 Pageant Finals at Mohegan Sun on December 19, 2019, in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Miss Virginia 2019 Camille Schrier performs during the talent portion of the Miss America 2020 Pageant Finals at Mohegan Sun on December 19, 2019, in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Donald Kravitz/Getty Images)

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Fox News: Were you ever nervous the science experiment was going to backfire on stage?
Schrier: Here’s the cool thing about science - once you know how to put together the procedure of the reaction, and you have your chemicals, you have your supplies, you’ve done it before, it’s going to work every time. I was more worried about how it was going to be received by people. This is a 100-year-old organization that has had longstanding traditions. I’m going to come in there and basically break that all apart really quickly. How are people going to view me? Am I going to come in last place? I kind of expected to.

I knew the science was going to work, I didn’t think it was going to work in helping me be successful. I was prepared to walk away with nothing. But I think the idea of it being so different than anything else that people had done was exactly what made me successful… More than anything, I think it showed the judges that I wasn’t afraid to take a risk.

Fox News: How has your role as Miss America changed the way you view our country and it’s people?
Schrier: It’s really been humbling for me. I grew up in a wonderful community. I had access to a great education, I had a family that was loving. I had everything that I needed as a young person, and I’m really lucky for that. But when you go out, travel this country and meet people who had none of that - you learn about their struggles, especially families who have been affected by addiction. You learn about communities that don’t have access to the same resources and education I grew up with.

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Miss Virginia 2019 Camille Schrier performs during the talent portion of the Miss America 2020 Pageant Finals at Mohegan Sun on December 19, 2019, in Uncasville, Connecticut.

Miss Virginia 2019 Camille Schrier performs during the talent portion of the Miss America 2020 Pageant Finals at Mohegan Sun on December 19, 2019, in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Donald Kravitz/Getty Images)

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It really makes me understand the complex issues that exist in our country today… I never got to see that firsthand [growing up]. I’ve met those children who go home to parents who are addicted to opioids and other types of drugs. I truly feel for them. And it gives me an entirely different perspective. I think it’s very humbling. And it only makes me want to impact change throughout the country. It’s one thing to understand and know of the issues that other people go through, even if you don’t go through them yourself. But this has further empowered me to do what I can to make a change. And we have so much to do.

Fox News: As a biochemist, how important has it been for you to show kids that science can actually be fun?
Schrier: That's my primary message really. I was that kid who loved science. I mean, from every aspect of what I did as a young person, I loved science. It was so fun for me. And I think that was because of the people who were around me, mentoring me and exposing me to how fun science could be.

It can be this kind of scary, intimidating subject for students because they see that as the hard class in school. But if they can have a perspective of understanding the relevance of why science is important in their lives and also how exciting it can be, it can… give them some motivation to push through those challenging moments. And that's really what I get to do every day, which is such a fun job, which is why I bring really fun demonstrations to kids. That is really the coolest thing that I can do. And to see the looks on their faces when I do that is like the icing on the cake for me.

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Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier is determined to show students science can be fun.

Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier is determined to show students science can be fun. (Photo by Donald Kravitz/Getty Images)

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Fox News: What are some fun ways that families can enjoy science from home?
Schrier: I think that one of the biggest things that I really enjoyed as a young person that made me love science, was getting in the kitchen with my parents. Cooking and baking are all science-related. It’s all biology and chemistry. And I started to understand that as a young person… But one of the other things that people can of course now is [use] these online resources to find science that you can do at home.

If you go on Science at Home, you can see all of the science videos we’ve created, both myself and the scientists at 3M. I am really grateful because I didn't have that kind of access to science education online just because of my age.  We didn't have YouTube when I was growing up. So it's been a really fun thing for me to be able to do this for the young ones.

Fox News: Part of Miss America is traveling across the country and interacting with people. Since you’re in quarantine, how are you taking on your reign?
Schrier: It has changed everything quite literally. I’m usually changing cities between every 24 to 72 hours as Miss America. Now I have quite literally been in my house for two and a half months. During that first couple of weeks being here at home, I was trying to figure out ways that I could continue the work I was doing in some kind of virtual platform. And that became doing science videos… I have produced probably six to 10 science videos.

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That has been a wonderful way to be able to continue my work. Now my job as Miss America is more than just science, of course. My real job as Miss America is to promote the Miss America Organization but also work on my own social impact initiative. And for me, that is drug safety and abuse prevention. So I have a lot of roles as Miss America. I'm talking about opioid abuse and how to keep kids safe with medications, but I'm also talking about science at the same time, and I've been doing podcasts.

I've been connecting with people, networking and finding ways that we can fight the drug abuse issue in our country from home. I wish I could do more with that from home, but it’s something hard to adapt to virtually. But being able to stay connected with my followers on social media, producing video content for parents… That has all been wonderful given the circumstances.

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Miss America Camille Schrier prepares backstage at The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection 2020 at Hammerstein Ballroom on February 05, 2020, in New York City.

Miss America Camille Schrier prepares backstage at The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women Red Dress Collection 2020 at Hammerstein Ballroom on February 05, 2020, in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for American Heart Association)

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.