January 2020 Scholarship Recipients
Thomas Aranda (Hopewell Junction, NY) spent four years in the Marine Corps. His first two years were spent as a maintenance management officer, overseeing all aspects of the supply chain and maintenance of over 800 piece of equipment valued at over $200 million. He finished his tenure as a logistics management officer of over 800 personnel at Camp Pendleton. He deployed twice – once to the Middle East in 2016 and later in 2017 to the Pacific. After four years, Thomas made the tough decision to transition to civilian life and joined the family business – law enforcement.
Over the last few years, Thomas has nurtured a passion for personal finance in his downtime, and he’s noticed similarities in the types of financial advice and training offered to both service members and law enforcement. "A lot of marines and sailors make a lot of poor financial decisions because the training offered to them was not effective." Thomas says. “At the police academy, it was no different except these folks are a lot older than the young Marines.” Thomas wants to cultivate his passion in financial service so he can better educate his fellow officers and veterans. By completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® program and later sitting for the CFP® exam, Thomas will gain the confidence and credibility to serve others in a completely new way. We’re grateful for his service and we wish him the best! Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of E. Hardy Vaughn, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Jonathan Childs, ChFC®
Jonathan Childs, ChFC® (Chalfont, PA) graduated from West Point Military Academy in 2002. Following his graduation ceremony, he told his parents to head on to his graduation party without him, as he had some post-ceremony processing to take care of, and he would catch up with them after. “That’s the last thing I remember. On my way back from the ceremony, my car rolled off the highway and I was found hanging from my seatbelt on the side of the road. No one knows what happened.” Jonathan was in a coma for five days following the accident and spent two months in a few different hospitals. He spent two years convalescing at home, going through rigorous physical therapy, and 3 years after the accident, he was medically discharged from the Army. “It was a big shock,” Jonathan said. “I’m a big example of how plans don’t always go as you expected. According to my plan, I should still be in the Army today.”
Jonathan tried a few different jobs after his discharge, but nothing that lasted. In 2008, Jonathan joined Prudential, a position that helped him gain some beneficial experience and further developed his love of serving others. His experience at Prudential allowed him to build the confidence to open his own firm, New Perspectives Financial Group, with a few of his coworkers from Prudential. “It’s going well, but with any new business any money you make goes back into the business to pay off expenses.” Jonathan will be completing the Masters of Science in Financial Services, which will build on the expertise gained earning his ChFC®. We’re proud of Jonathan and we wish him the best in his Master’s classes. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of The Marigold N. Saunders Education Fund and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Dedrick Curtis, AFC®
Dedrick Curtis, AFC® (Fort Riley, KS) is a veteran Navy Petty Officer Second Class who served for six years as a fire controlman, a highly technical job that involves not only the operation of weapons systems, but the troubleshooting and repair of those systems as well. “Troubleshooting equipment is not my passion,” Dedrick says. “I still wanted to go to college, so I made the decision to get out.” Upon his transition from the Navy, Dedrick earned his Bachelors in Psychology and followed that up with an MA. Interestingly, Dedrick is not only a veteran himself, he’s also married to an Active Duty Army Captain. The life of an active duty military family is one of constant relocation, so having a flexible, mobile career is crucial for Dedrick.
Currently, he is an rotational Financial Counselor with Zeiders at Fort Riley. “I love it,” Dedrick says. “I’m packed most days; I see 4-5 clients a day, I teach classes, leading briefings. It keeps me busy, its taught me a lot and it lets me help others.” To build on the skills he picked up while completing his AFC® credential, Dedrick will be completing the Chartered Financial Consultant®. This advanced financial planning program will equip Dedrick with the skills to continue serving in a very meaningful way. “I live for my clients,” Dedrick says. “Sometimes to the detriment of myself. I’ll do anything for them, I’ll adjust my schedule, I’ll get up early, I’ll work late.” Troubleshooting weapons equipment might not have been Dedrick’s passion, but it seems that he’s found his passion now. We’re thrilled to assist him in his professional development, and we thank he and his wife for their service. Bravo Zulu!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of F&G, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
John Ensley (Ridgefield, WA) enlisted in the Army in 1987. After being assigned to the 101st Airborne, John was sent to Germany for three years. “I loved Germany,” John says. “They sent me back home kicking and screaming.” After separating in 1991, John found that he missed the military life. He came back and rejoined the 101st for another two years. After his second separation, John was hired at a company that collects defaulted student loans, which was his first small taste of financial services. It would be another 15 years before John returned. After working industrial sales for 13 years as a national account manager, John was introduced to the “bank on yourself” theory. “I set up my own plan, and it all ‘clicked’ that this is what I want to do.” John started as a part time independent advisor in 2012, and made the jump to full time in 2015 and opened his own business, J-Ensley Financial, LLC. He’s just passed the Series 65 exam, and now John is ready to take his financial services education to the next level. Once he completes the Chartered Financial Consultant® program, John intends to sit for the Certified Financial Planner® Certification exam. “This is critical to achieving my career goals of developing a successful financial planning business,” he says. “The knowledge gained and credibility earned with the ChFC are invaluable.” We’re proud to know John and we thank him for his service! Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of Hoopis Performance Network and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Kaleb Flem (Jarrell, TX) joined the Army in 2012 and has worked since then as a cryptologic linguist. First, the army sent him to learn Modern Standard Arabic, after which he deployed with 3rd Special Forces group to Afghanistan. After returning home from that deployment, he was sent back to language school to learn Russian. “Full disclosure, I don’t think I have an affinity for languages,” Kaleb says. “I took French in high school and didn’t do well; I took German in college and didn’t do well. I just have a passion for whatever I’m working on at the time.
A lifelong saver, Kaleb first developed an interest in finance through a professor in college who showed him the power of financial planning. After joining the army and mentoring his fellow soldiers, Kaleb realized that his interest in finance had developed into a passion. Now in his seventh year in uniform, Kaleb is in the process of transitioning out of the military and into a full time career as a financial advisor. He’s currently and Advisor Trainee with First Command and has earned his series 7 and 66 in short order. “Though passing these exams is the minimum threshold to begin a career as a financial advisor, I have no desire to simply maintain the minimum standard.” To that end, Kaleb wants to complete the Chartered Financial Consultant® program and follow that up by sitting for the CFP® Certification Exam, which will position him for great success in this new career. “Any time I have a goal, I go into full force. I‘m not a halfway person,” Kaleb says, and we believe him! We thank him for his service and wish him the best in his coursework. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of the First Command Education Foundation, and as always The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Andre Hayes (Melborne, FL) is an Active Duty Air Force Staff Sergeant with 11 years of service under his belt so far. “I thought the military would be a great start to my career,” Andre says. “I wasn’t planning on doing more than four years, but I fell in love with the atmosphere, the teamwork, the camaraderie.” Andre has been in electrical systems for the bulk of his time in the Air Force, starting out as a lineman. “I fell in love with that,” he says. As his career progressed, Andre worked his way up the ladder to become the noncommissioned officer in charge of a $15 million Air Field in Tokyo. Most recently he’s been working in the same field in a project manager capacity, but following a recent injury, he’s considering a change in careers.
Andre is passionate about expanding education. He’s currently completing the last four classes for his bachelor’s degree, and will start an MBA in accounting and financial forensics this Summer. Alongside those programs, Andre has set his signs on completing the CPA program, as well. “Now is not the time to hit the brakes on my ambition – I want to continue to strive to complete these goals.” Andre sees a clear path ahead of him, once he completes his education. “I want to use this knowledge within the military,” he says. “Either working within the government, or focusing on military members.” We’re proud of what Andre has accomplished and we can’t wait to see what he does next. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of Kandace Watson, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Kevin Kensinger (Fort Wayne, IN) retired from the Army in 2008 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after an impressive 28-year career, including two years in Germany and a year spent in Iraq serving as battalion commander. In addition to his military career, Kevin has been an adjunct faculty member for over twenty years, and has taught over one hundred courses across IT, Economics, Accounting, Engineering, and Statistics.
A natural knack for numbers and logic combined with a heart for service and instruction has brought Kevin to financial services. As a personal financial counselor, Kevin is able to offer advice on budgeting a debt management to service members and military families, but he’s interested in expanding his skillset. “I’m able to help a lot of people, and it’s very necessary and very rewarding.” By completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® designation and sitting for the CFP® exam, Kevin will be able to provide his clients with a wider array of solutions and a higher level of service. We’re proud of Kevin’s service and we wish him the best in his coursework. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of Christopher Blunt, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Keith Robinson, CFP®
Keith Robinson, CFP® (Prairieville, LA) has a combined 35 years of service in the National Guard, enlisting in 1984 at the age of 18. He retired in February of 2019 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His first five years were spent as a weekend-only guardsman, and then he spent the next five years full time. In 1994, Keith started a career in financial service, “I’ve either been part time investments and full time military, or part time military and full time investments” since then.
Now that the dust has settled from his retirement, Keith is ready to sharpen his skillset and expand of his CFP knowledge. To better serve families with Special Needs family members, Keith will be completing the Chartered Special Needs Consultant designation program. As the father of a Type 1 diabetic teenager, “I can relate to the emotions and concerns,” Keith says. “This is really a new start to my previous financial services career and I believe that with this additional knowledge I can assist families such as mine.” We’re immensely proud of Keith’s 35 years of service and we wish him the best with his coursework!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of Fred and Sue Sievert in memory of Jerome F Smolar (WWI) and Jerome F Smolar, Jr. (WWII) and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Lesha Shardt (Colorado Springs, CO) has been a military spouse for the past 11 years and in that time, she, her husband, Special Forces Sergeant First Class Bryan Shardt, and their five boys have moved to Germany, North Carolina and now Colorado. Still very much in the busy years of raising their children, Lesha is looking ahead at what she’ll do once her kids are all school-aged. “I love the Armed Forces,” Lesha says. “And I’ve been thinking about what I want to do, and that is provide financial services to military families. I want to be able to be the person that someone can come to, and feel confident that I’ll help.”
With Bryan facing another upcoming deployment, Lesha sees this as an opportunity to focus on building her skillset for this new career. “I don’t like not knowing things,” she says. “I feel a sense of accomplishment when I’m studying something new.” Lesha is diving into the Chartered Financial Consultant® designation, which will provide her with a comprehensive financial planning education, and will give her the knowledge and skills to give back to others. “I want to lighten other’s burden in any possible way I can,” Lesha says. We’re proud to know her, and we’re thankful for Bryan’s service. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of War Reporter Alex Quade, who wanted to give back to the community of Special Forces she's covered in combat, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Megan Schroeder (Raeford, NC) is the wife of an Active Duty Army Staff Sergeant, who has spent her entire life immersed in the military life. “I have over 20 years’ experience as a military brat – my dad was career Air Force,” Megan says. “Shortly after my dad retired, I met my husband who was already serving in the military” and she’s been following where his orders take their family since then. “I am constantly meeting new people, seeing new places, and learning new things.”
Prior to having her child, Megan was using her undergraduate degree in Rehabilitation Services to help disabled veterans, as well as exceptional family members of service memebers in health clinics on post. Megan wants to use this time at home while her child is still young to develop herself professionally. To that end, she’ll be completing the Masters of Science in Management program. “It’s always been a goal of mine to get my Master’s degree. I’d like to gain a better idea of how to lead others,” she says. “This will broaden my opportunities for when I return to work.” We’re proud to know Megan and we think she’ll do great things with this education. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of the Henry N. Farmer Fund and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Matt Stephens (Shreveport, LA) is an Active Reserve Army Sargent and a Personal Financial Counselor for Zeiders Enterprises. Most of his time in uniform has been spent in the Reserves, save for a deployment to Iraq in 2010. Currently, Matt is in a Civil Affiars unit. “That job stood out as feeling very in line with what we do as financial advisors – listen to what people need and then try to get it for them. As I have become skilled at speaking directly with people about the most crucial needs: food, water, and shelter, I have at the same time become more confident as a Financial Advisor.”
Matt is looking to augment his skillset by completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® program and also sitting for the CFP® certification exam. “I feel like, to be viewed seriously, this is a benchmark I need to meet,” he says. We’re proud of Matt’s service and we wish him the best in his career. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of the Marigold N. Saunders Education Fund, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Stuart Vaughn (Charlotte, NC) is a Veteran Army Captain and graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Following his graduation, Stuart commissioned into the Army as an infantry officer and was then sent to Army Ranger school. His five years of service includes two years spent overseas in Germany as an infantry platoon leader, and then deployed to Afghanistan twice, once as part of a Special Operations Tactical Strike Force. “I packed a lot into five years, but I enjoyed it. I want to enjoy my life outside of the military, too, so that’s where I find myself now.”
Stuart has had an interest in saving and investing since his West Point days. His parent’s financial advisor is a close family friend and provided Stuart exposure to financial services as an intriguing career path, post-military. “I was giving basic finance classes to all of my soldiers – nothing too groundbreaking: saving for retirement, budgeting, etc. That was really fulfilling.” After leaving the Army in 2016, Stuart had a strong desire to create a successful financial services career. He’s been with Northwestern Mutual since then, and he completed the coursework for the CFP in eleven months, and just recently passed the CFP® Certification Exam. “I like the subject matter, I like the impact I can have with people, I like teaching,” Stuart says. To build on his CFP®, Stuart will complete the Retirement Income Certified Professional® program, which will give him a cutting-edge education and allow him to meet a broader set of client needs.
We’re proud of what Stuart has accomplished so far, and we can’t wait to see what he does next. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of Col Greg Gadson, USA (Ret.) and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Ronald Walrath, CLU®, ChFC®
Ronald Walrath, CLU, ChFC (Columbia, SC) is a retired Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel with twenty-six years of service. “I came out of the Marine Corps a far better man than when I went in,” he says. Alongside his military career, Ron has cultivated a successful financial services career, and he credits that success to his military service – and the values it instilled: honor, courage, commitment. Or, as he puts it, “holding myself to the highest standards of integrity and service, telling the hard truths, and working with clients who need and want my help even when they are not able to afford my help.”
Ron is the sole practitioner of a small practice focused on underserved groups. “I want to help people that society has put on the back burner,” he says. “Widows and widowers, single parents, and same-sex couples – some of the most vulnerable citizens in our country.” Ron is a proud alumni of The American College. He earned the ChFC in 1999® and followed that with the CLU® in 2004. Now, he wants to complete the Retirement Income Certified Professional® program to expand on his skillset and offer more comprehensive retirement planning advice. We’re proud of Ron’s service and we loved getting to hear his story. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of Mrs. Marsha Levin in honor of her late husband, Howard Levin, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Gerard Wrazien (Hummelstown, PA) is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and currently the Director of Service Member and Family Support for the entire PA National Guard (PANG). From 1990 to 2004, Gerard was a traditional guardsman, while working full time in the banking industry. In 2004, he accepted an active duty position in his Field Artillery Battalion, and has since served in command and staff positions from the battery level through the state headquarters. It was after his return from a deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2003 when he consider an active duty career. "I found that returning to my civilian job felt 'different,'" Gerard says. "There was a transition, from serving on active duty as a Captain and briefing Colonels and General Officers on theater operations, to going back to work in a cubicle as a civilian."
Facing mandatory retirement in two years, Gerard is thinking about his next chapter. In his current role, Gerard has a front-row seat to the unique challenges facing Military Families. "I consistently see the number one reason Soldiers and their Families come to our Family Assistance Centers is due to financial concerns," Gerard says. "I would like to focus my career upon retirement from active duty military service; to serving the populations who may find the management of money a daunting task and who may not have a basic understanding of budgeting, money management, insurance, and investments." To aid in this transition, Gerard will complete the Chartered Financial Consultant(r) program and will go on to sit for the CFP(r) Certification exam as well. We're grateful for Gerard's service and we wish him the best in his post-retirement life. Congratulations!
This scholarship is possible through the generosity of PACER ETFs, and as always, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company.