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UND student to compete on "Jeopardy!"

Steph Gagelin

If this news story were a episode of the TV quiz show "Jeopardy!", the answer would be, "The first UND student ever chosen to compete in College Championship 'Jeopardy!,'" and the question would be, "Who is Steph Gagelin of East Grand Forks?"

That's the way America's No. 1 game show works. Answers are revealed on a board, each assigned a dollar value, and three contestants vie to be the first to buzz in with the correct question.

Today, UND sophomore Gagelin, chosen as one of 15 students to compete in the annual College Championship edition of "Jeopardy!" hosted by Alex Trebeck, is flying to Los Angeles to begin taping. The shows will be broadcast Nov. 8-19.

Gagelin, 19, said she's hoping there will be lots of questions about maps and geography, maybe not so many about Shakespeare and mythology.

"I like maps for some reason, so if they would ask a map question...," Gagelin said. She stopped for a moment and then said: "I hope I'm not like jinxing myself."

Gagelin will be wearing her lucky necklace, the one that she really likes because wearing it makes her feel extra confident, when she competes in the College Championship, a two-week "Jeopardy!" tournament.

Gagelin was born in Grand Forks and lived here until seventh grade, when she moved to East Grand Forks. At East Grand Forks Senior High School, where she graduated in 2009, she played saxophone and sang in the choir and belonged to National Honor Society and National Forensic League.

She also was part of the school's Knowledge Bowl team coached first by Sharon Budge and then by Roger Hanson and Kirk Misialek, an experience she expects will help her when she's taking "Jeopardy!" clues.

Gagelin said her earliest "Jeopardy!" memories are watching the show with her father when he came home from work. The show often was on while her family (which includes mom and dad, Jason and Connie Gagelin) prepared dinner.

"Then in my tweens and teens I could answer some of the questions and sometimes I would be better than Dad," she said.

"This sounds really silly but I just remember a lot of what I learn," Gagelin said. "It just stays with me. I guess that's lucky for me. I just have always loved learning and I guess that is a big reason why I wanted to do 'Jeopardy!'."

Gagelin took an online "Jeopardy!" test last fall, then went to Chicago in May for an audition, where she had an interview, a written test and a chance to play a mock game to see how well she could handle the buzzer. As time passed, and she didn't hear from the show's producers, she resigned herself to believing she hadn't been selected.

Then one day she came home and found a 'please call us back" voice mail from "Jeopardy!"

"As soon as I had gotten the voice mail, I started shaking and my heart started beating really fast," she said.

The grand prize for the College Championship is $100,000. Second is a minimum of $50,000 and third is a minimum of $25,000. Semifinalists will receive $10,000, and players eliminated in the first week will receive $5,000.

At UND, Gagelin majors in clinical lab science and hopes to get a job in which she can analyze signs of diseases and help in diagnoses. She's a member of the UND academic honor society Phi Eta Sigma and enjoys volunteering. During her last spring break, she traveled to six U.S. cities in nine days, working on many community projects, in a "Pay It Forward" tour through the group called Students Today, Leaders Forever."

So how does one prepare to compete on "Jeopardy!"? That's a tough one, she says, because the categories are so diverse, anything from "Potent Potables" to "The Western Hemisphere."

"You just sort of have to be well read and know what going on in the world. You either know it or you don't, so it's hard to point to what to study. The most important thing," she said, "is to get the buzzer right."