June 2016 Scholarship Recipients

June 13, 2016
Bryan Eberly

Bryan Eberly transitioned from the Marine Corps in November 2015 and has since joined the family business in the financial services profession. After graduating from high school, Bryan attended the United States Naval Academy, fulfilling a childhood dream that he had nearly forgotten. A few years after graduating from the Academy, his 4th grade teacher mailed him a letter he had written to his future self. Among other dreams, the letter stated that he hoped to attend the Naval Academy and play second base for the Philadelphia Phillies. As a Captain in the Marine Corps, Bryan wanted to help prevent his young Marines from making common mistakes with their finances. He conducted financial readiness courses for them and mentored them in the area of personal financial management. “I am in charge of these guys,” Bryan says. “I am a role model for them. I felt it was my responsibility.” After active duty, Bryan joined Hartford Funds and is excited to continue helping people. To better position himself for success in his new career, Bryan will be completing the comprehensive Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) program and will also sit for the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) exam.

Melissa Estrada

Melissa Estrada joined the Marine Corps because, in her opinion, it was the most difficult. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Melissa served for six years, attaining the rank of Sergeant. She joined Edward Jones in 2012, and has been building her practice ever since. A two-time scholarship recipient, Melissa recently completed the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) program and is now preparing to take the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) exam. Melissa says that her time in the military taught her not only to lead, but to lead with integrity. “Ethics must be the corner stone for all financial advisors. The pride of my service leads to always doing the right thing, no matter who is or isn’t looking.”

Carl James

Carl James spent five years on active duty in the Air Force, and then another 20 years in the Air National Guard, where he reached the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. A veteran of the Gulf War, Carl says that the Air Force revealed to him talents that he did not realize he had, like his ability to relate to all types of people, and his ability to perform under pressure. Carl has been managing his own investment portfolio for 30 years, and now he wants to translate this interest into a profession by completing the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) program and sitting for the CFP® exam. Carl hopes to start his own practice, which would combine his two passions: helping people and personal financial management. “Most people don’t know about this area, and they need guidance,” Carl says. “I want to help people.”

Jose Ledesma

Jose Ledesma is an active duty Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant with an 18-year career of helping others. His first role in the Marine Corps was in an administrative capacity, and Jose quickly realized that he really enjoyed helping people solve their problems. In his current role in the University of Washington ROTC program, he is helping in a different way, serving as a mentor for his students as well as acting as a drill instructor. The son of immigrants, Jose felt drawn to the military as a way to better himself, saying, “The Marine Corps made me the person I am today.” Now, he is thinking about his post-military career and the financial services profession is calling him. Jose’s wife is a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) and he says watching her has been a great introduction to the profession. One of his primary goals is to earn the CFP® designation. He will begin with the Financial Services Certified Professional® (FSCP®) program, which will equip him with the skills not only to get into the business, but to survive, and thrive.

Justin McNeal

Justin McNeal spent six years in the Navy, specializing in nuclear engineering as part of the submarine force. He says spending time on submarines made him an expert in conflict resolution, noting, “If there is a conflict on the submarine, there is nowhere you can go, so you better learn to resolve it.” Justin has completed the educational requirements for the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) designation and has almost completed the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) curriculum. Currently based in Hawaii, Justin was able to participate in the Center’s special event held at Ford Island and Pearl Harbor last fall.

Martin Rafalko

Martin Rafalko spent 23 years in the Army, and reached the rank of Sergeant Major in just 14.5 years. “The military was everything to me,” Martin says. “It taught me to be the best I could possibly be, to borrow an old recruiting slogan.” As a Cavalry Scout with two deployments to Iraq, his primary duty was keeping himself and his soldiers out of harm’s way. Since his transition, he has been working with Survivor Outreach Services, an organization that helps the families of fallen soldiers. During his Army career, Martin has developed a litany of positive characteristics including leadership, selfless service, and integrity. One of the talents he wants to develop further is his financial acumen so he can provide more comprehensive financial counseling to the military families with whom he works. Martin will be completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation and also plans to take the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) exam.

Mikki Venekamp

Mikki Venekamp is the spouse of an Army sergeant who is currently stationed in Yongsan, South Korea. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Mikki met her husband in high school while she was living in Nebraska as an exchange student. In their ten years as a military family, they have had four Permanent Change of Station moves, the last of which brought them to Yongsan. Mikki works as a Financial Planning Counselor at the Soldier for Life – Transition Assistance Program, where she counsels service members and their families on their upcoming transitions from active duty. One of Mikki’s goals is to emphasize with her clients the importance of developing an estate plan. “A lot of people overlook this part because they think it’s just for wealthy people,” Mikki says. Her ultimate goal is to become an Estate Attorney. She will be completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation and will sit for the Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) exam. The comprehensive curriculum will provide a strong foundation for success for her and for the clients she serves. Mikki often quotes Benjamin Franklin: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

In This Section