A UCLA alumnus prides himself on turning what could be a tiresome, six-hour drive through the farms of California into a karaoke party on wheels.
Michael Nguyen, who graduated in 2013 and is now a California State University, San Bernardino adjunct professor, often rents out a van for major school breaks to shuttle UCLA students to and from the Bay Area.
Nguyen said he volunteers to drive people in the UCLA Ride Share Facebook page often, even at his own expense in money and work hours, because he wants to give back to his alma mater. Nguyen, a San Bernardino native, graduated from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health with a master of public health in environmental health sciences.
Though he pays for food and drinks, he charges students $20 for the six-hour ride.
“I think it’s important for alumni to give back,” Nguyen said. “It’s important to find something you’re passionate about that connects you with the Bruin community.”
He said he began volunteering in 2015 to put his love of driving to use and benefit UCLA students. Nguyen rents out a van to accommodate 11 to 14 students, he added.
Nguyen made his first trip when he decided to drive up to the Bay Area to see family, and his friends from UCLA told him about the UCLA Ride Share Facebook page. He said he was struck by the vibrancy of students on the page.
His trips are highly organized with two scheduled stops: one for gas and one for mandatory In-N-Out, said Kaushik Donthi, a second-year neuroscience student who has carpooled with Nguyen three times. Nguyen also goes out of his way to drop off students as close to their location as possible, Donthi added.
Michelle Vo, a second-year cognitive science student, has also taken three trips with Nguyen and said he starts a Google Doc to organize the itinerary and passes around a clipboard in the van for everyone’s In-N-Out orders.
“He goes the extra mile in being super kind at every opportunity,” Vo added.
The goal is to not only be a safe, cheap and efficient driver, but also to make the more-than-six-hour drive as fun as possible, Nguyen said.
“We’re going to be in a car together for six hours,” Nguyen said. “We might as well get to know each other.”
Riders should thus prepare for a good amount of singing, he added.
“He has a 15-seater van and everyone’s in the back,” Vo added. “He doesn’t even care; he’ll just sing at the top of his lungs.”
Nguyen said one of the best parts of contributing to UCLA Ride Share is the gratification he feels when he drops off students at their destinations and sees them hugging their family.
“I think participating in (UCLA Ride Share) takes some guts because you’re trusting people you’ve never met,” Nguyen said. “I think when we talk about UCLA being a community of students, this exemplifies that.”
Nguyen is planning his next trip to campus from the Bay Area for the last Sunday of spring break.