Interviewed by Chris Jones
Has being crowned Miss America changed your life overnight?
Camille: It’s changed everything. When I became Miss Virginia back in June, I had to take a year off of my education. I was driving around Virginia educating children about drug and alcohol safety. So now that I’ve got a promotion, instead of driving around Virginia, I will travel around the United States and advocate for my social impact initiative and be a national representative of a brand.
Was it surreal to win the crown?
Camille: Oh yeah, absolutely. I don’t take myself too seriously, so I sure as heck did not think that I was going to end up coming out of that competition as the winner. I wanted to make sure I had the most fun and to make friends with the other 50 women who were there.
So how old were you when you discovered that you loved science?
Camille: Gosh, I can’t even put an age on it because it was something I always loved. I don’t have an “aha” moment, but it was always something I was drawn toward.
When I was a little child, my dad would bring me outside and we’d play in the dirt and pick up worms and find salamanders. I’d pick up snakes and anything that was really biological. I think that’s how I started to love biology.
Then I loved cooking with my mom. Cooking and baking was my first experience with chemistry and biology on a real experimental level. I always say the kitchen was my first lab.
My parents never told me that science wasn’t for me. They sent me to science camp, they encouraged it and it really went from there.
In your Time magazine interview, you said science was talent and that it’s your mission to show kids that science is fun. How do you go about it?
Camille: I think better than telling them, you show them. The demonstration I decided to do for Miss America and Miss Virginia is designed to be really visually engaging. It shoots up in the air like a bottle of soda that’s been shaken up too much; it just explodes. I ask kids, “Are you ready to see things explode?” They get so excited and then they watch this reaction happen, and I’m able to tell them how science is making it happen.
You show a kid that science can be really fun and engaging so when they get into their classrooms learning about something like decomposition, which is pretty much the basis of the reaction that I did on the Miss America stage, then maybe they’ll remember the girl that came in and blew stuff up in their classroom or auditorium. If you can start to see the ways that science can be applied to your life, it can make it a bit more exciting and encouraging to learn.
Do you feel like your victory in becoming Miss America was a big win for science education?
Camille: Oh, I absolutely think so. I had gotten a lot of kudos from the scientific community. I was honestly a little worried to know how the science community would react because there’s a stereotype. It’s stereotype breaking to have a woman in a new Miss America role come out in the lab coat and do the whole science thing. But it’s also breaking stereotypes to be a scientist and be in an academic environment and to go out and compete on stage at something like Miss America. Then to be able to use a competition like Miss America to promote science education and to promote women in STEM and get young people excited in STEM has been really cool, and the scientific community has been excited about it. It’s a big win for science.
Your platform is a drug safety and abuse prevention. How did you choose that platform?
Camille: My platform has two distinct wings. One of them is medication safety, and that was born out of my mom being a nurse growing up. She was always engaged with my medical care. When I would get sick as a child, I always was in the pharmacy with my mom and she was very cautious of what she was giving me. Once I became a pharmacy student, that was what I saw was a huge need because my mom was one of the few parents who actually had the training to know how to do that.
But also as a pharmacy student I saw a huge problem with prescription drug abuse, especially with opioids, and being able to use my platform to address that and advocate for things that can help address the opioid epidemic is something that I wanted to do. That’s how the official impact initiative was born.
So what are some tips or some ways that parents can discuss prescription drug safety with their children? Because teenagers are really starting to feel the impact of prescription drugs more than anything else.
Camille: The biggest thing that parents can do in that situation is to lock up any medications they have in their home and dispose of any medications that you’re not using.
Talk to your children about the health risks, hazards and the potential for addiction and life changing, life altering addiction and addictive behavior that can come from prescription drug abuse and making that a real thing with your children. Not to scare them but to show them the reality of the power of the medications that are prescription drugs or illicit drugs. I think parents need to make it really clear to their children that these are really powerful medications.
How do you encourage teens to resist using prescription drugs and to stand up to peer pressure?
Camille: I think that if you surround yourself with good people, then it’s easier to get out of this situation, but also to really stay true to who you are, going back to that whole don’t change yourself for other people or because of what other people want you to do. Stand up for your values and what you know is true, because in reality, you have one body and one life and the consequences of those types of choices can be lifelong.
For me, I kept myself very busy as a teen and so I didn’t have a lot of time to be surrounded with things that were not healthy for me. I spent my time in sports, and had extracurricular activities, so I was really lucky to not have to face a lot of peer pressure because I was in really good situations that were healthy situations for me.
So what’s next for you?
Camille: I have three more years of pharmacy school, and so when I’ve done my year of service, I’ll go back and complete my Doctor of Pharmacy program. Then I’m hoping to work in a pharmaceutical company. I had worked in a pharmaceutical company for two years as an intern in my undergraduate education. I really loved the combination between science and being able to see the impact that the pharmaceutical industry has on medical treatment throughout our country; how it’s really shaped the way we treat a lot of different diseases was exciting for me.