Campus Closeup: Jeff Gagnon
Jeff Gagnon’s position as director of Upward Bound at Northern is an extension of his past involvement in the program. As an NMU student in the ‘90s, Gagnon served Upward Bound in a variety of roles, ranging from tutor to English teacher.
“I’m from this area and so are my mom’s relatives,” he said. “I went to Marquette Senior High School, I student taught at Negaunee High School and my mother’s family is in western Marquette County, so I know what it’s like up here for these kids. To see them succeed and to grow as individuals and expose them to things they wouldn’t otherwise experience because they were in Upward Bound … that’s what I like the most.”
Upward Bound is a federally-funded program that works with four local high schools—Marquette, Ishpeming, Negaunee and Westwood—to give about 65 students who are low-income or would be first-generation college students the opportunity to excel in school and pursue post-secondary education with tutor support, social activities and workshops. Upward Bound also has a summer program. Students spend six weeks on NMU’s campus living in the residence halls, taking classes to help them learn subjects they will be exposed to in the upcoming year and taking a field trip to a larger city like Chicago or Milwaukee to tour a college and experience an urban community. Gagnon started professionally for the program as an academic coordinator in 1997 and then became director of the program about a decade later.
Gagnon said his favorite part about his job is watching kids come into the program as shy freshmen and develop into confident young adults as they prepare for college. He is working on a grant to renew funding for NMU's Upward Bound, which looms as a concern as Congress addresses appropriations. Last year, the program was cut by 3 percent, which decreased the NMU program's budget by approximately $12,000.
Another carryover from Gagnon’s years as an NMU student is his interest in theater. As a graduate student, he performed as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in the production of Scrooge three times. He said it was a great role because he didn’t have any lines, he just moved around the stage. While pursuing his master’s degree, he completed an internship with Forest Roberts Theatre and later spent a year as house manager and playwright coordinator after graduation.
Gagnon continues his involvement in theater as secretary of the First Nighters Club, which raises money for student scholarships and equipment needs through various fundraisers, including the Haunted Theatre.
“There’s so much prep work that goes into (performances) by the students, whether it’s backstage or building the sets or designing the costumes. And then there’s the acting, getting the blocking right and meshing everything together correctly so we can enjoy it. The students don’t have a lot of time for other employment so raising money for scholarships is, I think, important.”
In his spare time, Gagnon also enjoys road biking, going to the movies and traveling throughout the country.
“I enjoy visiting urban areas and historical sites. Some of my favorite trips have been to Denver, Savannah, Seattle, Portland, Boston and Cape Cod, Ft. Lauderdale and Montreal in Canada."