Mike Mihalek, eager to enjoy his retirement, golfed as much as he could. To his surprise, that got old fast.
Now, Mihalek serves as a volunteer in West Georgia Technical College’s Adult Education Division, leveraging his decades of experience as a manager at Proctor & Gamble to help students with job-hunting skills.
“I wanted to do something that would really help people,” Mihalek said. “Helping these students has been very rewarding. I may not be getting paid financially, but I still see it as a huge reward to see these students – who are very downtrodden at the beginning of this experience – find out they can achieve something great and land the job they’re looking for.”
WGTC Adult Education is recruiting more volunteers like Mihalek to work with students in GED and ESL classes at all of WGTC’s campuses and sites. Current volunteers come from all backgrounds, program assistant Dianne McConnell said.
“Volunteers have always been a key element to supporting adults in the classroom,” McConnell said. “It can be a difficult thing for an adult who hasn’t been in a classroom for a decade or more to come back to that environment. Having somebody else in the classroom who isn’t the instructor but can give them a little extra attention when they need it is invaluable.”
McConnell said volunteers provide important support to instructors, since different students in the same class are typically studying different subjects at the same time, given the nature of the four-subject GED test.
“You’ll have one student in the classroom studying math, while another one is working on language arts,” McConnell said. “Having an extra person in the room who can help students aside from the instructor is great to narrow that wide range of subjects that are being learned.”
McConnell said program coordinators try to be flexible with volunteers’ schedules, allowing them to choose morning, afternoon or night classes, and training is provided for anyone who’d like to volunteer.
“Each volunteer completes an application process and goes through a background check before working with students,” McConnell said. “Volunteers receive training and resources on working with adult learners, as well as useful strategies and resources to use during tutoring.”
For his part, Mihalek meets one-on-one with students who are nearly finished with their GED testing, teaching them how to land a job once they earn their GED. Having interviewed more than 500 applicants and trained 100 employees on how to present themselves to clients over his career at Proctor & Gamble, Mihalek said advising these students is what he’s comfortable doing.
“I teach them the three main factors required to get a good job: having a good résumé, networking to find good jobs and how to be prepared and confident for an interview,” Mihalek said. “I’ve been doing this for about two years, and it never gets old seeing these people leave our sessions excited and ready to find a good job to help themselves and their families.”
One former volunteer parlayed her experience into a paid position.
Nancy Gunter spent her whole career in education, mostly in elementary schools. She started as an Adult Education volunteer a couple of years ago, working with the GED program in the mornings and ESL students at night. Now, she’s a teacher’s assistant with the two programs in Newnan.
“When I was a teacher, one of my most favorite times was to help struggling students break through that wall and find out they can learn something new,” Gunter said. “It’s the same with these students, only it’s more inspiring because these are adults who have real-world issues and are still willing to give their time to better themselves. That’s what got me to volunteer. If these adults are willing to give their time when they’ve still got work and children to take care of, I should be more than willing to give my time to them.”
Gunter said that although being a former educator has helped her, volunteers “absolutely do not” have to be retired teachers.
“Whatever potential volunteers did in their life or their career can absolutely help someone in this program, maybe even more so than a teacher’s experience could,” Gunter said. “The staff supports you all along the way, and the benefits far outweigh any paycheck you could receive. I still think about the students I’ve worked with over the past couple of years, and what they’ve given me has been way more than what I gave them.”
For more information on how to become a volunteer with the WGTC Adult Education Department, email McConnell at firstname.lastname@example.org.