Miss America Camille Schrier on Redefining Pageant Standards: 'You Can Have a Crown and a Lab Coat!'

Hanna Flanagan

Thursday night marked the first installment of Miss America 2.0 — a version of the famous beauty pageant sans sans-swimsuit and evening gown competitions, in which contestants are not judged on their appearance. And the crowned winner Camille Schrier, a scientist from Virginia, fully embodies the platform’s inclusive new message.

Just hours after beating out 50 other competitors for the prestigious Miss America title (and performing a science experiment on stage!), the 24-year-old opened up to PEOPLE about finding success as a non-traditional pageant queen.

“I very uniquely fit into the new wave that Miss America has branded itself as 2.0 — I’m a woman who’s a scientist. I wasn’t someone who saw myself in this organization before 2.0 because of the focus on body image,” Schrier, a PharmD student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy, tells PEOPLE. “I wasn’t someone who wanted to get on stage in a swimsuit.”

Eric Liebowitz/NBC
Eric Liebowitz/NBC

But when Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989 and chair of the Board of Trustees of the Miss America Organization, announced last summer that the organization was scrapping the swimsuit portion, the former Miss Virginia remembers thinking she could enter the competition and treat the title as “a corporate position.”

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Schrier — a drug safety advocate who’s social impact initiative was called “Mind Your Meds: Drug Safety and Abuse Prevention from Pediatrics to Geriatrics”— says she hopes her wide-reaching platform will leverage her pharmaceutical career. Adding, “My biggest goal is to just have Miss America be a real person.”

Camille Schrier and Miss Georgia, Victoria Hill | Eric Liebowitz/NBC
Camille Schrier and Miss Georgia, Victoria Hill | Eric Liebowitz/NBC

“I want to be someone who little girls can look up to. I hope they don’t see me just as a beauty queen, they see me as a woman who’s a scientist,” Schrier explains. “This year on Halloween a couple of little girls dressed up like Miss Virginia. They had crowns on and lab coats on, and I was like, ‘If that is what they associate with Miss Virginia, then I’ve done my job’.”

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Throughout her pageant career, Schrier has been candid about her mental health issues, including an eating disorder, telling PEOPLE that she has struggled with body image and body positivity her whole life.

Fittingly, the new Miss America format allowed her to focus on “what I have to offer with my confidence and my public speaking,” she says. “My intelligence is a lot more meaningful to me.”

On Thursday, Schrier was presented with the crown, which comes with more than $300,000 scholarships and a year of representing the organization, by her predecessor, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, 26.

The annual competition was held live at Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort in Uncasville, Connecticut. Access Hollywood’s Mario Lopez and Kit Hoover hosted, while Kelly Rowland, Queer Eye‘s Karamo Brown and Superstore actress Lauren Ash sat on the judges panel.