Meet the GEAR UP Staff

Zach Hawkins | GEAR UP Director

(406) 444-0317
Send an e-mail to Zach

Zach Hawkins is the director of the Montana GEAR UP Program. 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 8 and Elijah 5. 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.

Lucille Thomason | School Grant Manager - Eastern GEAR UP Schools

(406) 444-0598
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Lucille Thomason is the 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.

Jamie Jones | College Access Manager

(406) 444-0350
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Jamie Jones is the College Access Manager for Montana GEAR UP. Previously, Jamie spent three years teaching in the Tonasket, Washington school district and eight years working in the Admission Office as an Associate Director of Admission at Carroll College. At Carroll, Jamie worked on recruitment efforts, event planning, supervised the campus tour guides, and provided academic advising to incoming freshman and transfer students. She is very passionate about education and helping students succeed.

Jamie holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from the University of Jamestown.

Jessie Bliss | Program Manager

(406) 444-0674
Send an e-mail to Jessie

Jessie Bliss is the Montana GEAR UP Program Manager. 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 as the Program & Communications Coordinator. Her background is in Marketing/Management and Communications and she serves on the National NCCEP/GEAR UP Communications Advisory Council. Jessie has two children - Rowen who is 11, and Marin who is 9 - three puppies (Rueger, Jordan, and Max), she loves to cook, and enjoys camping, skiing, kayaking, gardening, and hiking.

Theresa Gadaire | Program & Communications Coordinator

(406) 444-0056
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Theresa Gadaire was born and raised in Jefferson County, left after college to pursue her career and passion for educational travel. During her 13 years away, she studied in France, lived in Argentina, and worked in San Francisco, Boston, and New York. She’s spent the majority of that time working in cultural exchange, helping educate and place international college students in seasonal jobs across the United States. More recently, she’s worked in San Francisco’s tech start-up scene in the realm of Customer Success, where she was able to mentor others and help them succeed. She missed having the mountains out her back door and decided to return to her native Montana last year.

When she’s not globetrotting, Theresa loves being outside, especially backpacking trips and her newly acquired skill of fly fishing! Her meal of choice is a burrito, her favorite holiday is Halloween, and she cannot live without her monthly music subscription to Spotify.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Montana and is currently working on a Masters in Social Work and Therapy.

Kelly Hert | Federal Accountant

(406) 444-0321
Send an e-mail to Kelly

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.


Sheila Newlun (left) | GEAR UP Scholarship Department


Sheila is here to help with any and all questions regarding GEAR UP Achievement Grants and Pathways Scholarships. She looks forward to hearing from you!

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Gaining Early Awareness & Readiness for Undergraduate Programs • Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education
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