Volunteer Spotlight: Austen Michalak

Austen Michalak has volunteered as a tutor with College Town – Solana Beach for the past 3 years at Reality Changers.

What makes volunteering with Reality Changers meaningful?

The thing I enjoy most about volunteering at Reality Changers is the one-on-one relationships and impact I’m able to feel with students. I would rather make a big difference in a few peoples lives, rather than a small difference on many.

What do you do outside of Reality Changers?

I am quite busy completing up my PhD in Chemistry at UCSD, but when I’m not in lab I recharge with several activities.  The things I do to unwind are surfing, playing music with friends, mountain biking, sailing, and backpacking. Of course, I also enjoy lounging and playing video games. Several months ago I finished a stint of producing homemade surfboards in my backyard for myself and friends. Now I’m in a smaller space, and focus on music and science.

I’ve also enjoying scuba diving lately, which has spurred my interests in research focused around marine science.

Tell us about a time that was a meaningful moment for you as a Reality Changers volunteer.

Working with one particular student on a speech concerning discrimination she has faced growing up and in school – it was emotional for both of us.  

What is one opportunity that you are currently focused on in your role as a volunteer?

I’m always trying to find ways to serve youth that aligns with their needs. I want to see their needs from their perspective to better serve them. Right now, it’s difficult to connect online so I’m finding other ways to connect (i.e. via text) and deepen my knowledge of what they’re going through.

If you could encourage someone else to volunteer at our organization, what do you wish they knew about Reality Changers?

I would say, it’s very rewarding and I wouldn’t discontinue. It does take time to build up those good relationships, which are the best part of Reality Changers.

What is something you’ve learned while at Reality Changers?

One thing I have learned over the years from Reality Changers is to dig into the abundant diversity and backgrounds of students and peers! It can be very rewarding. I’ve learned of many relate-able things which I might not have expected from people’s backgrounds. I’m always amazed of the hardship some of our students are able to overcome, while still conquering high school. I can share the experiences and strategies of my own high school experience, which was admittedly riddled with challenges and turmoil.

I’ve had plenty of embarrassing moments at Reality Changers. Some nights I have too much energy and I yell “Tough people always do” before the cue at the end of program. I usually get a few looks- but it’s always fun to have an excuse to everyone pumped up around 9pm.


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