Meet the Staff
GEAR UP Director
I grew up in North Dakota and began my teaching career as a middle school science teacher. Prior to joining Montana GEAR UP, I served as a superintendent, high school principal, and curriculum director. As a first generation college graduate, I am very proud of accomplishing my post-secondary goals, as well as, using that experience to help others achieve success. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family, running and completing various races, and rooting for the MSU Bobcats & Green Bay Packers.
GEAR UP Program Manager
I became a Montanan four years ago and haven't looked back. My first introduction to Montana living was the spoiling of a lifetime. I lived and worked 2 years near Flathead lake with the Upward Bound team at Salish Kootenai College where I developed my passion for higher education and it’s advantages for low-income students in Montana’s rural places. As the Gear Up Program Manager I’m excited to prepare students with academic and social experiences that will challenge their world views and honor their traditions moving into their next stage of life.
Outside of state education I strive to spend as much time discovering the ubiquitous nooks and crannies strewn all over Montana’s wildlands. Activities include but aren’t limited to backpacking, bagging peaks, studying maps, walking in the woods and playing tennis.
GEAR UP School Grants Manager
Karen Wilson is a first generation graduate of Montana State University. Most of her career, Karen has served the needs of students kindergarten through college. She’s been with the State GEAR UP Team since October 2018. In her off time, she enjoys playing pinochle and creating art.
GEAR UP College Access Manager
Our family is new to Helena. We feel very fortunate to live in such a vibrant community with endless opportunities to explore. Prior to working for Gear Up and Montana Educational Talent Search, I worked at Helena College and the University of Wyoming, supporting students on their career and educational pathways. I believe that higher education should be an equitable, efficient, and effective option for everyone and I look forward to supporting Montana students and their families. Outside of work you’ll usually find me with one of my small humans, reading, trail running or attempting to garden.
GEAR UP Senior College Accces Manager
Maria Lillrose is the College Access Senior Program Manager for GEAR UP and the Montana Educational Talent Search program, seeking to support Montana students in accessing higher education. Maria has a BA in education and a TEFL certificate. She has over 10 years teaching experience in a variety of settings, including the Peace Corps and the IEFA program within the Helena School District. Maria is passionate about helping students to discover and achieve their potential in all areas of life.
Kelly has been the Federal Accountant for the Office of the Commissioner for the past 17 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 her free time with family camping, enjoying Montana’s great outdoors and spoiling her three grandchildren.