Future Neuro Nerds Meet With Miss America
Sunday, February 23, 2020 was a great day for six-year-old Nora Mays-Sleeman, one of the best of her life, in fact—and she owes it all to her mom, Shanna Mays, who is also the Co-Chair for the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona’s Services for Vulnerable Populations Committee.
Earlier in the week, Shanna had joined the Brain Injury Alliance Advisory Council and Board at the home of Dr. Dina Shacknai in Paradise Valley. The guest of honor was Miss America 2020 Camille Schrier, who was there to help raise awareness for brain wellness, one of her platforms.
Shanna was impressed with Camille, especially with how she’d won the pageant with a talent that showcased her scientific expertise. Specifically, she demonstrated “the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.” While explaining the process to an audience of millions, Camille added the catalyst, causing colorful foam to shoot up in the air, and the crowd went wild.
Later that week, BIAAZ Executive Director Carrie Collins-Fadell called her with a unique invitation—would her young daughter like to meet Miss America for breakfast on Sunday? Shanna immediately said yes, and the date was set. Carrie explained that the Brain Injury Alliance is deeply passionate about inspiring a love of the sciences into the next generation (lovingly called our future neuro nerds) who will work as researchers, clinicians and more. She explains that nurturing the curiosity and experiences of this group is critical because they will be the leading the next generation in brain injury and wellness care.
Normally, Nora isn’t impressed with anyone who isn’t on the social media app TikTok. In other ways, she’s not your typical kid—she loves math, science, and wants to help people with autism in jail. When explaining what her mom does for work, Nora says she helps people with “ow-ee brains.”
But the opportunity to meet Miss America proved interesting to Nora, who knew that, like her, Camille was also studying to be a scientist. Nora knew this meeting would be something special.
Plus, as she puts it, “Who gets to meet Miss America?”
Fast forward to Sunday morning at the Valley Ho in Scottsdale, where Nora was decked out in her dress decorated with DNA graphics. Without missing a beat, Miss America made her feel at home with a discussion of her DNA. Immediately, Nora was smitten.
Over eggs and pancakes, they shared their love of science. Nora is a self-described biology nerd, as well as a sucker for all things STEM. Meanwhile, Shanna was thrilled to see her girl’s world expanding…all the way to the topic of chemistry.
In an extra special moment-turned-memory towards the end of the breakfast, Camille handed Nora her Miss America crown, which she proudly wore and posed with for pictures.
“Camille was gracious, really sweet, and kind. When she spoke with the kids (Representative Jennifer Jermaine and her four-year-old daughter were also there), she was very sincere, and wanted to hear what they said,” Shanna recalls. “She really is a wonderful person. We’re lucky to have her representing our country.”
When they arrived back home, Nora asked her mom, “how come I don’t have clothes with chemistry on it? Anything that Miss America does, I want to do.”
Shanna found herself impressed not only with the obviously positive impression Miss America had made on her daughter, but how she uses her title to bring attention to causes that matter. “It was great to see somebody going for a doctorate in pharmacy use this platform for furthering understanding of brain injury and overdose,” she says. “This helps shed a whole new light on [these] issues.”
She is delighted BIAAZ’s partnership with the Miss America Pageant has been so productive. “This year, we brought awareness of the opioid epidemic and brain injury to different populations, and also reached young girls who like science,” Shanna shares.
Girls like her daughter, who will soon be getting lots of clothes with chemistry on them.
ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ALLIANCE OF ARIZONA
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness, and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members, and professionals.
What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona:
- Works with the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force
- Houses Arizona Brain Health Resource Center
- Hosts the Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Workgroup
- Deploys a Statewide Opioid Use Disorder & Cognitive Impairment Response Team with peer support, training and family wraparound services
- Facilitates the Brain Health Advisory Council
- Manages a Statewide Neuro Info-Line 888-500-9165