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More than 20 Students Receive $62,000 in College Scholarships from Don Diego Foundation

More than 20 Students Receive $62,000 in College Scholarships from Don Diego Foundation
From left to right: Taite Tephabock, Moriah McLellan, Reagan Ochalek, and Maria Wang. 

Pictured are the top four recipients of the 2023 Don Diego Scholarship Foundation awards. From left to right: Taite Tephabock, Moriah McLellan, Reagan Ochalek, and Maria Wang. 


Twenty-one idealistic, accomplished, and ambitious students from across the region this fall will head to college bolstered by Diego Scholarship Foundation scholarships. Together, the recipients share $62,000 in monetary awards. 

Don Diego annually offers college scholarships in an array of categories to students who reside in San Diego County and have participated in the San Diego County Fair and/or other activities associated with the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The scholars will be feted at Don Diego’s July 1 gala and Alabama concert at the fair. Tickets for this popular event are available on the Don Diego website

“The ever-rising cost of higher education, combined with current economic uncertainties, makes affording college a daunting challenge for many families," said Don Diego Chairman Stephen Shewmaker. "Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are able to ease the financial burden so that Don Diego scholarship recipients can fulfill their bright promise and give back to our San Diego community and the world.”

Top Four Recipients

Taite Tephabock

Taite Tephabock of Escondido captured three scholarships for a total of $13,000. Ranked 11th in her Escondido High graduating class of 442 with a 4.18 GPA, this phenomenal student and hard-working animal lover won a $5,000 Zable Foundation FFA scholarship, $3,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship, and coveted $5,000 Spanjian Family scholarship.

Taite has wisely chosen an educational path best suited to propel her to her goal: “to give exotic animals living in captivity the most authentic and humane experience they can have.” 

To achieve her goal, she said, “I plan to complete my general education at Cal State San Marcos while interning at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, so I can get hands-on experience before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to earn a BS in animal science, followed by a masters in zoology at Moorpark. I want to put my passion for animals into active work to save endangered species and make the world a better place.” 

“FFA has made me into the person I am today,” said Taite, who has won numerous showmanship awards with her Boer goats and is a successful entrepreneur, operating FlowersByTaite.

Maria Wang

Maria Wang will travel from San Diego to Brown University in Rhode Island, where she will double major in computer science and music, supported by a $5,000 Ranglas Family Endowment Exhibitor/Participant scholarship. 

A multi-talented young woman who attained a 4.47 GPA at Canyon Crest Academy, Maria excels at both coding and the cello. This award-winning musician was recommended by the associate principal cellist of the San Diego Symphony, who praised her selflessness in performing for the elderly. He noted, “Maria moved here with her family four years ago. It is remarkable that she has achieved so much, both musically and academically, while integrating into a new culture.” 

Maria says digital products and programming thrill her, and she is eager to share this “exhilaration and knowledge” with others of her gender: “Having developed and taught online programming to girls around the world, I will continue to mentor the next generation of female engineers as I work toward becoming a software engineer.”  

Reagan Ochalek

Reagan Ochalek of Lakeside won a $5,000 Zable Foundation 4-H scholarship, which she will use to major in chemistry at UC Davis. She describes her early impetus, saying, “Picture this: a five-year-old girl walks out of a Peruvian meat market holding a cardboard box with a little brown guinea pig inside. This became her first 4-H project and was a pivotal moment. Fast forward 13 years and more than 100 animals later, she lives on a farm with chickens, alpacas, cavies, rabbits and dogs. That girl is me.”

Reagan continues, “My love for animals translated into a passion for helping people live their best life, leading me to my goal of earning an MD and becoming a radiologist.” 

In addition to competing successfully with a variety of animals at fairs and forums, Reagan has presented 4-H theatre performances at the San Diego County Fair, where she also educates the public at the alpaca information booth. Reagan said, “I am a well-rounded woman. I play four sports, am a professional classically trained violinist, and excel academically.” 

Moriah McLellan

Moriah McLellan was born in Scotland, raised in Encinitas, and is now heading to USD, fueled by a $5,000 Karetas Family Endowment Employee scholarship. Moriah enjoyed working as a parking cashier at the San Diego County Fair, where she expertly handled the challenges of this very busy job, seeing it as an opportunity to welcome patrons and practice her customer service skills.  

She relates, “Working at the Fair was very rewarding. As the first point of contact for patrons, I was responsible for creating a positive first impression, so I was sure to welcome every guest to a day filled with fun. I loved being part of a team helping to make the Fair a memorable event.” 

Moriah is no stranger to transforming obstacles into opportunities. Dealing with a rare disease that causes extreme pain due to sun exposure, she cheerfully dons long sleeves, gloves, and a giant sun hat even on hot summer days so she can hike with friends. Moriah says, “I intend to become a research chemist working in a lab; helping to make discoveries that aid the planet and benefit our lives.” 

Additional Recipients

Morgan Nelson, Ramona, received the $3,500 Tulloch Family Junior Livestock Auction scholarship, $1,000 Kirby Morrison FFA scholarship; Fresno State, agriculture education.

Collin Cavataio, Escondido, received the $2,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship, $1,000 Zable Foundation 4-H scholarship; Texas A&M University; agricultural science.

Canyon Benner, Oceanside, received the $1,500 Roxana Foxx Endowment FFA scholarship, $1,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship; Palomar College, law.

Wesley Gratzer, Julian, received the $2,500 Allan Royster Vocational Education scholarship; WyoTech, heavy diesel mechanics.

Marisa Monasterio, Fallbrook, received the $2,500 Zable Foundation 4-H scholarship; Belmont University, music business.

Karlee Klemm, Ramona, received the $2,500 Tulloch Family Partners FFA scholarship; UC Davis, plant science.

Nicole Guerrero, Encinitas, received the $2,500 Schenk Family Endowment Employee scholarship; Cal State Northridge, screenwriting.

Gregory Flores, San Diego, received the $2,500 Shewmaker Family Endowment $2,500 Exhibitor/Participant scholarship, UCSD, structural engineering.

Mallory Sehnert, Fallbrook, received the $2,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship; University of Nebraska-Lincoln, agriculture leadership, education and communication.

Luke Anderson, El Cajon, received the $1,500 Zable Foundation 4-H scholarship; University of Idaho, cyber security.

Denisa Petricko, Encinitas, received the $1,500 The Howell Boys Employee scholarship; MiraCosta Community College, nursing.

David Gooding, Carlsbad, received the $1,500 Mannen Family Endowment Exhibitor/Participant scholarship; UCSD, biology/pre-med.

Bart Backer, San Diego, received the $1,000 Ecke Family Exhibitor/Participant scholarship; UC Irvine, electrical engineering.

Jordan Reyburn, Fallbrook, received the $1,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship; Cal Poly Humboldt, fisheries biology.

Spencer Abramson, Lakeside, received the $1,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship; TBD, animal science.

Emily Grothe, San Diego, received the $1,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship; Southern Utah University, hospitality management/event planning.

Taylor Michalke, Fallbrook, received the $1,000 Junior Livestock Auction scholarship; Palomar College, veterinary medicine.

About the Don Diego Scholarship Foundation

The Don Diego Scholarship Foundation was named for Don Diego, AKA Tom Hernandez, who served as the Fair’s welcoming goodwill ambassador from 1947 to 1984. Since its inception in 1986, the Foundation has awarded  $1,338,844 in scholarships to 383 students in agriculture education grants.

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