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Wonder woman: OASP director helps coordinate science, engineering fairs

Christine Burgoyne is a whiz at answering questions, and she’s heard some doozies during her time as director of state science and engineering fairs.

“I talk to hundreds of teachers,” Burgoyne said. “I get to answer some amazing questions such as ‘How far from the house do I have to keep my dead pig to stay legal?’ or ‘How do I know my student’s anthrax is completely deactivated?’ “

Burgoyne, who also heads the Office of Academic Special Programs, works with teachers, students, parents and volunteers throughout Georgia on special events, such as 22 regional science fairs and many more at the school level.

Along with science fairs, Burgoyne helps coordinate and run the Northeast Georgia National History Day Contest, in which students research and create projects on historical topics, as well as the Georgia Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, a program in which high school students present original scientific research in front of judges.

After being put in charge of the fairs in 2009, Burgoyne said she wanted to increase the options for students to participate in, and win, science fairs.

“I established a system so that home-schooled and cyber students also can compete,” she said. “I wanted to ensure that every child in the state had a pathway to go all the way to the top at science fairs.”

Burgoyne should know of the impact these fairs and contests can have on students’ lives. She won the science fair as a high school student.

“That win led to my first ‘grown-up job,’ a research lab summer internship, which turned into a job,” Burgoyne said. “The science fair opened that door for me, and I would love for that to happen to our participants.”

To help the fairs operate smoothly, Burgoyne acts as a lifeline for teachers or organizers, many of whom are creating their first science fairs and need assistance or run into problems.

“Teachers in a school don’t know all the procedures and regulations, but I do, and I really enjoy helping the teachers who want to take one more step with their classes do just that,” she said.

For Burgoyne, all the work pays off when she sees the students’ projects being presented.

“We’ve had some very basic level projects that are very practical and plausible and you have some that are really publishable research,” she said. “That’s what I love, that you get the whole spectrum.”

Science ran in Burgoyne’s family as a child. Her family used to take trips so her father, Gordon Eggett, could search for special rocks, and her mother, Mary Jean Thomas, was a microbiologist.

However, her true love for science came from nature, Burgoyne said. And she still experiences nature as a scuba diver.

Burgoyne has dived in many countries including Australia and Mexico. She also has dived off the islands of Tahiti and Fiji.

“I started diving when I was 16, and I just loved it,” she said. “I only dive now when I go on vacation, so recently it’s mostly been in the Caribbean.”

With the 65th Georgia Science and Engineering Fair opening March 21, Burgoyne is excited for the event, but said there’s just as much work after a fair as before it. That’s when prizes must be distributed and paperwork must be filled out for all the winners.

One of Burgoyne’s favorite things about the fair is seeing how the participants “grow” from the Thursday opening to Saturday afternoon, when the public is invited to discuss the projects with the students.

“It’s just amazing to see them mature over those few days,” she said. “It’s fantastic.”

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