Meet the GEAR UP Staff

Zach Hawkins | GEAR UP Director

(406) 444-0317
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Zach Hawkins is the director of the GEAR UP Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Education to increase the number of low-income students enrolling in and completing a post-secondary credential. He brings a solid understanding of the program to the position as he previously served as the Eastern Schools Grant Manager. Prior to that, he served as the Upward Bound Associate Director/Coordinator with Montana Tech, serving high schools in Helena, Butte and Anaconda. Additionally, he worked with students from 13 western Montana high schools in the Upward Bound Summer Academy. Zach began his career teaching middle and high school social studies in Hays Lodgepole and Heart Butte. Zach graduated from Troy High School and attended Montana State University, earning a degree in History and Government teaching. He has a unique array of life experiences which include attending a one room school for 8 years, volunteering with Americorps in the Montana Conservation Corps., working for the U.S. Forest Service for 15 summers and driving the world famous red jammer buses in Glacier National Park.

Zach and his wife Roni have 2 boys, Andrew 6 and Elijah 3. Zach enjoys sharing a meal, telling stories, and getting to know new people. He enjoys the outdoors and is especially fond of camping, hunting and taking walks with his family. He wants you all to know that he will always have time to hear your thoughts and concerns and is dedicated to ensuring that GEAR UP is working in your community.

Andrea Rankin | GEAR UP Program Manager

(406) 444-0674
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Andrea Rankin has over 19 years of policy, research, program administration, and evaluation experience at the federal, state, and local levels working with disadvantaged populations including low-income and at-risk youth, American Indian students, immigrants, and persons with mental health issues. Ms. Rankin has been a program manager with Montana GEAR UP since 2002 coordinating the program’s evaluation and reporting efforts. She has an B.A. in English from Oberlin College in Ohio, and an M.S. in Social Work and an M.P.A. from Columbia University in New York.

Sara Berg | GEAR UP Special Project Coordinator

(406) 444-0646
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Sara Berg has been with Montana GEAR UP since 2008. She served as a school grant manager, AVID district director and now serves as the Special Project Coordinator. Sara is the lead for College Application Week and will work on grant commitments. She has 20 years experience in education as a career counselor, transition coordinator, teacher, and mental health professional.

Sara has developed and managed multiple programs to promote high school graduation and postsecondary education enrollment for diverse student populations, including those with special needs, low socioeconomic backgrounds, and American Indian students. Ms. Berg has a B.A. in Psychology from Minnesota State University-Moorhead and a M.Ed. in school counseling from Montana State University-Northern.

Suzin Kratina | GEAR UP Senior Project Manager

(406) 444-0301
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Suzin Kratina is the Senior Project Manager of the GEAR UP program. Suzin has experience bringing together professionals and community members to collaborate on issues important to youth. She comes to GEAR UP from the YWCA Missoula where she was the director of a supervised visitation center for families who had experienced domestic violence. Previous experience include working as the coordinator for the KMA, bringing together agencies who worked with youth with serious emotional disturbance; providing statewide technical assistance for afterschool programs with the Montana Afterschool Network; working with Families First to provide parent education and as the coordinator of the Seasons Bereavement Program for youth who had lost a loved one. Suzin also spent 3 terms with AmeriCorps in Miles City and Missoula starting a community computer lab in Miles City, and working as a Family Resource Specialist in Missoula Public Schools. Finally, as an AmeriCorps VISTA, she supported literacy opportunities and training for families, and education for professionals. While living in Miles City Suzin started a health food store and has a lifelong interest in herbs and natural healing.


Suzin has a BS in Film & TV from MSU Bozeman, and earned her MEd in Curriculum and Instruction from UM. Suzin and her husband Mike are getting ready for their oldest daughter’s wedding this summer (2015), and supporting their younger daughter in her pursuit of a degree in medicine after she completed a degree in art.

Lucille Thomason | School Grant Manager - Eastern GEAR UP Schools

(406) 444-0598
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Lucille Thomason is the new School Grant Manager overseeing the Eastern Montana GEAR UP region. Previously, Lucille was a Regional Program Manager for Jobs for Montana’s Graduates through the Dept. of Labor and Industry. She also worked as the Eastern & Southwestern Montana Tech Prep Consortium Director through Dawson Community College and Montana Tech.

Lucille brings a combined history of 14 years working with secondary and postsecondary institutions to promote high school graduation, enrollment in postsecondary education as well as providing information for direct entry into the workforce. She has experience working with a diverse population of students and educators, and enjoys working with the education community to help students succeed.

Lucille holds a B.A. in Education from The University of Montana. She lives in Butte with her husband Jim and their menagerie of animals.

Janelle Egli | School Grant Manager - Western GEAR UP Schools

(406) 444-0848

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Janelle Egli is the School Grant Manager overseeing the Western Montana GEAR UP region. Janelle began her career working with multicultural students at her alma mater, Utah State University, contributing to special programs, recruitment efforts, registration and orientation initiatives, academic advising efforts, and student-led cultural celebrations.

Before moving to Helena with her husband Brad, Janelle worked as an editor and administrative assistant at one of Utah’s premier environmental consulting firms. Prior to joining GEAR UP, Janelle enjoyed working with Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality engineers and scientists, assisting with administering federal grants. She also worked as a direct service provider with Montana high-school-age students in an educational and supportive capacity.

Janelle brings a passion for education and educational opportunity, along with more than 9 years of a range of professional experience, to her position. She considers the highlight of her career to be her work with first-generation and low-income college students and maintains, with her GEAR UP colleagues, that postsecondary education is possible for all Montana students.

Janelle holds a B.A. in English from Utah State University. She loves books and all things poetry.

Katie Meier | College Access Manager

(406) 444-0350
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Katie Meier is the College Access Manager for Montana GEAR UP. Katie hails from Great Falls and earned a B.A. in Exercise Science from Gonzaga and an M.A. in Teaching from University of Great Falls. Previously, she was with Augusta Public Schools where she taught Science, Med. Prep and P.E. for 5 years. Additionally she coached numerous sports, advised the HOSA club and implemented extensive college and career readiness activities in her classes. Katie was also an influential member of the Rocky Mtn. Front Weed Roundtable and did research regarding bio controls and noxious weeds. Her students were also involved in this research. Prior to working in Augusta, Katie served in the Peace Corps. as an Aquaculture Extension Agent and Life Science Instructor. She was stationed in Zambia.

Kelly Hert | Federal Accountant

(406) 444-0321
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Kelly Hert has been the Federal Accountant for the Office of the Commissioner for the past 12 years and has been a part of the GEAR UP team since 2002. Many of the GEAR UP liaisons have given her the name of “Match Queen” which has been a great source of laughter over the years.

She likes to spend your free time with family camping and enjoying Montana’s great outdoors and spoiling her three grandchildren.

Jessie Bliss | Program & Communications Coordinator

(406) 444-0056
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Jessie Bliss is the Montana GEAR UP Program and Communications Coordinator. Originally from Traverse City, Michigan, Jessie attended Michigan Technological University and migrated westward to Bozeman in 2004. In 2009 Jessie moved to Helena where she first started her GEAR UP career. Her background is in Marketing and Communications and, although she was raised in northern Michigan, she is a proud Ohio State Buckeye fan. Jessie has two children, loves to cook, and enjoys camping, skiing, kayaking, and hiking.

Sandy Matule (left) and Sheila Newlun (right) | GEAR UP Scholarship Department

1-800-537-7508
MTScholarships@montana.edu


Sandy and Sheila are here to help with any and all questions regarding GEAR UP Achievement Grants and Pathways Scholarships. They look forward to hearing from you!

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Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs • Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
2500 Broadway • PO Box 203201 • Helena, Montana 59620-3201 • Phone 406.444.0056 • FAX 406.444.0425 • www.gearup.mus.edu

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