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 5 and Elijah 2. 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 Senior Project Manager

(406) 444-0646
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Sara Berg has been with Montana GEAR UP since 2008. She served as a school grant manager and AVID district director and now serves in a leadership, consultative and technical assistance role to the state team in the planning, designing, implementation, operation, and evaluation of programs and services funded under GEAR UP such as ACT, STEM, common core state standards, and remediation. She has 16 years experience working in secondary 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 at Montana State University-Northern.

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.

Erich Hellstrom | GEAR UP VISTA

(406) 444-0317
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Erich Hellstrom is the MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA for Montana GEAR UP. Raised in Anderson, South Carolina, Erich has traded time between the East Coast and the Northwest for the past two years. He has a B.A. in Political Science from College of Charleston in South Carolina. Erich has worked in Higher Education with the Office of Institutional Diversity at the College of Charleston, and also as Student Body Vice President. Through these positions Erich focused on making the campus an all-inclusive and welcoming place for all students. He is familiar with this region, as he spent a semester at the University of Montana and five months working in Yellowstone National Park. Erich’s focus at Montana GEAR UP is assisting students with the transition from high-school to college. VISTA

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


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
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