November 2018 Scholarship Recipients

November 08, 2018
Sheresa Absher

Sheresa Absher (Lake Panasoffkee, FL) spent three years in the Marine Corps and was drawn to them at an early age. “I was always fascinated with the Marine Corps,” says Sheresa. “I like that they were elite. If I was going to do it, I wanted to be the best.” Sheresa enlisted in the Army and served a year with a reserve unit before heading to boot camp. Prior to the beginning of boot camp, she suffered an injury that curtailed her start. After attending the University of Florida, Sheresa felt called to serve one more time. She enlisted in the Marine Corps before her twenty-third birthday. “I think my maturity helped me handle it,” she says. A car accident cut her career short. “I had planned to stay in and retire, but I was medically discharged. Still, the Marine Corps instilled in me who I was going to be for the rest of my life.” After returning home, Sheresa worked briefly as a financial professional with Principal, and then served 12 years as a police officer. “I have no doubt that my training in the Marine Corps saved my life in a few circumstances while I was a police officer.” When her mother’s health began failing, Sheresa changed courses for a third time. “I had to move home, and I didn’t want to start over from the beginning as a cop, so I decided to return to financial services.” She was placed at New York Life by a recruiter, and she has been there ever since. Her goal is to serve those that serve others – veterans and first responders. She plans to complete the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) program, which will give her the most up-to-date knowledge on retirement income planning, which will allow her to better serve her clients. “They deserve to find a long happy life and provide that for the ones they love,” Sheresa says.

Brian Campbell

Brian Campbell (Missouri City, TX) comes from a military family. “My older brother served, two of my uncles are Vietnam vets, my great uncle was on the beach at Normandy, and my grandfather served in Korea,” Brian says. “A Campbell has served in every single conflict since the Spanish American war, so it was my turn.” He enlisted in 2006 and spent five years in the Army, earning his commission in 2010 and transitioning at the rank of First Lieutenant. During Brian’s time, he was deployed to Afghanistan as an artillery officer in 2012. “I got a lot out of the experience,” Brian says. He decided to transition to civilian life after he met his wife and started a family. His interest in financial services was piqued after talking to a friend who was a sales leader at MassMutual. “He hired me at the end of a 30-minute chat, saying, ‘you’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.’” He dove in headfirst, earning his life and health licenses, and learning everything he could. He transitioned to Majors Mondragon, a fee-based, boutique office, a year later. Both founders have their CFP®, and they encouraged Brian to continue his studies after his MBA. He will be completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation and will ultimately sit for the CFP® exam. Brian is committed to continue serving, just in a new capacity. “I care. I care about the clients that I work with.”

Johnnie Encarnacion

Johnnie Encarnacion (Oceanside, CA) is an Active Duty Marine Corps Staff Sergeant currently stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, Africa. In his civilian life, Johnnie has worn several different career hats. He was managing a car dealership in 2009 when the recession hit and he needed to secure a better life for his young family. He enlisted in the Marines and became a real estate agent, working in mortgages and nurturing an interest in investing. On base, Johnnie volunteers his time providing financial counseling to his fellow Marines. "Not everyone comes from financial knowledge," he says. "I want to be a resource to people, but I have to develop my abilities so that I can lead individuals to make savvy financial decisions." While on Active Duty, Johnnie will be completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) program, which will allow him to offer more sound advice and provide a gateway for his next career. "It doesn't make any sense for someone who has the capability and the drive to NOT reach out to help others," Johnnie says.

Artemio Gragasin

Artemio Gragasin (Wahiawa, HI) has served both in the Navy and the Air Force for a combined 25 years and says he’s proud to help “contribute to the betterment of the world.” While serving in the Air Force as a Unit Deployment Manager, Art made it a priority to discuss and implement the financial security of the families left behind by deploying airmen. “I’d say to them, ‘You’re deploying – is there anything I can do to help you take care of your family? Are your financials and life insurance in order? Are your will and power of attorney in place?’ As a senior enlisted advisor, I oversaw the welfare of our troops both on and off duty.” That desire to serve and support others has stayed with Art in his civilian life. While currently working with the Department of Defense, Art also holds his Series 6 & 63, Life and Health Insurance, and Enrolled Agent licenses. His goal is to continue serving the veterans, military, government employees, and senior adult communities. Art will be completing the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) program to equip him to do just that. “Because I have observed that many are struggling in their retirement for improper withdrawals of income, no written financial plan, not optimizing Social Security benefits, or paying unnecessary taxes, I felt like having a mission to go out and help and educate these people,” Art says.

Gary Koda

Gary Koda (Chesapeake, VA) is an active duty Navy Lieutenant with over 10 years of service who is prepping to leave the Navy and start a new career. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Gary says he credits his success in the military to his perseverance. He eagerly enlisted in the Marine Corps, saying, “Most people go in for a free education; for me it was to try to learn how to protect and serve.” He began his enlistment weighing 115 pounds and, through perseverance and hard work, went on to win the highest physical fitness award. Gary wanted to capitalize on his passion for leadership and become an officer. “I didn’t want to stay enlisted; I wanted to be an inspiration to others.” While his time in the Marine Corps allowed him to develop his physical strength and resilience, he says that his time in Annapolis allowed him to develop his mental aptitude. Now looking ahead at his future, Gary wants to further develop the leadership skills he honed in the military and will be completing the Masters of Science in Management (MSM) program. “Money is like air,” Gary says. “When you have less of it, you need more of it. It’s the same with leadership.”

Duc Ly

Duc Ly spent three years in the Navy and had attained the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade when he transitioned from Active Duty in 2011. The son of Vietnamese immigrants, Duc says that his service was, “a way to give back to the country that brought my family in, and a way to repay the freedom and prosperity my family has had.” He says that his time in the Navy taught him to be flexible and dynamic. “Sometimes you have to think on your feet and adjust,” Duc says. When Duc returned home from the Navy, he attended UC Irvine and earned his MBA with a concentration in finance. Now currently with the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau, Duc audits banks, credit card companies, and mortgage lenders to ensure they are in compliance with federal regulations. “A lot of consumers aren’t informed,” Duc says. “I really want to help educate people.” To that end, he will be completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) program, which will provide him with the knowledge to pass on to others. “My friends and family will have worked hard for 20-30 years and they don’t have a good idea of how or when to retire,” he says. “I can come in and help those who are in need with my education.”

Bryan Sauceda

Bryan Sauceda (Lubbock, TX) spent four years in the United States Marine Corps, realizing a lifelong goal in the process. “I had the drive to serve my country at an early age,” Bryan says. “I chose my own path and I’m grateful that I went into the Marine Corps.” After leaving the Marine Corps, Bryan used his GI Bill to earn his Bachelor's degree in Personal Financial Planning from Texas Tech University. “I didn’t know this program existed,” he says. “I fell in love with it once I found it.” Bryan continued working on his goal of becoming a financial planner and passed the Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) exam on his first attempt in November 2017. Now with PFG Advisors, Bryan will be building upon his education and experience by completing the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) designation, which will equip him in his mission to help people understand how to meet their financial goals.