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UMW Alumna Works to Create Opportunities for Montana Students

February 24, 2020

University of Montana Western graduate, Kelly Cresswell, Executive Director at Reach Higher Montana and Vice President of the Student Assistance Foundation, has been leading the way for higher education opportunities for Montana students since 2004.

Graduating from the University of Montana Western in 1997 with a BLS in Administration and Communication, Cresswell went on to receive her master’s degree in Philanthropy and Development from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota in 2008.

Cresswell joined the Student Assistance Foundation in 2004 and was promoted to the position of vice president of Foundation Activities in 2005. The organization restructured in 2016, resulting in the formation of Reach Higher Montana as a public benefits division within the Montana Higher Education Student Assistance Corporation (MHESAC). Previously, Cresswell worked in a variety of roles with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

Reach Higher Montana’s mission is to help Montana students strategically pursue education opportunities through a variety of programs, grants and strategic partnerships. As Executive Director, Cresswell is responsible for directing Reach Higher Montana’s philanthropic giving, programs, fundraising and community outreach activities.

“Everything about the job is rewarding. When students we’ve worked with find their paths and succeed, that’s the ultimate reward. I also find it very rewarding when Reach Higher Montana can partner with others to help more Montana students pursue their passion through additional education,” Cresswell said.

In her role as an ambassador in the community, Cresswell serves on the Leadership Montana Board of Governors, the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce and the board of the Rotary Club of Helena. Cresswell previously served on the boards of directors for the Career Training Institute, the Montana Chamber of Commerce and served as the chair of the Montana Chamber of Commerce Foundation Board. In addition, she served as chair of the Montana ACT State Council and she is a founding member and past chair of the Montana College Access Network. Cresswell is an alumna of Leadership Montana (Class of 2006). She was recognized in 2014 with the Montana College Access Network’s College Access Professional Award, received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Performance, was named the Outstanding Young Montanan by the Jaycees in 2006 and was recognized by the “Helena Independent Record” as one of 20 young leaders in Helena in 2005.

Cresswell credits a lot of her success to the experience she gained while attending UMW. At the time she attended, Montana Western offered a distance education program that brought professors from Dillon to meet with students from Helena in Boulder. This allowed her to both work and attend college full time which paid off when she pursued graduate school.

“My experience at Montana Western had already taught me that I could balance school and work, so I was ready to go when the opportunity for graduate school presented itself,” Cresswell explained.

Reach Higher Montana and the Montana University System have partnered on, a student-facing website for college access and career planning in Montana, with the addition of a central application for Montana University System schools to the site in the fall of 2020. They are also part of the Montana Youth Apprenticeship Partnership, which is creating youth apprenticeship models in healthcare and information technology. This will allow high school students to work in their chosen field while continuing their education, and ideally, complete the program with at least an associate’s degree and significant progress on their career path.

To find out more about Reach Higher Montana and all of services that they provide for Montana students, visit the Reach Higher Montana website.