MS Tax Students Get Credit for VITA

This spring, students enrolled in the MS Tax program were offered a new elective: Service Learning and Community Engagement in Taxation. It’s an opportunity to earn college credit for volunteering with the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Through this community service elective, 

students received training, and were provided with options for volunteering. 

Accounting Chair Ingrid Fisher’s goal was to provide students with experience and to get them accustomed to contributing to the community. Dr. Fisher said, “Scores of people out there can’t get a job and our students are being recruited as freshmen. They are a very privileged group. We want them to get in the mindset of giving back.”

Many are involved in this initiative. Adjunct professor Jim Manico ’06, who has over 30 years of tax experience, teaches the class.  Josh Popelka ’12 ’13, a graduate student in the forensic accounting program who was a VITA volunteer last year, serves as site coordinator. Another FA student, Alex Slicho ’12, ’13, runs the printer, troubleshoots IT 

issues and does taxes. (side note: Slicho starts at Harvard Law School this fall.) Eighteen MS Tax students trained and did taxes. Freshmen from the World of Accounting Living Learning Community also volunteered with VITA this spring.

Manico, who also teaches tax and financial accounting, said, “The program is win-win. The students get experience and provide community service. It’s great training. They are working with low level returns, but also meeting and dealing with clients.” The students were well-prepared.  According to Manico, all were VITA certified in advance of the first class meeting.

The eighteen graduate students enrolled in the three credit class spent their winter break attending IRS sponsored TaxWise training. To successfully complete the community service elective, they attended a Friday morning class and volunteered for 32 hours, doing taxes for the low income individuals who qualify the program. Students volunteered at Husted Hall and at other sites in Albany.

MS Tax student Jessica Liu ’13 wanted to improve her practical work experience, as did her classmate, Fiorelkis Filpo ’12, ’13 who said, “I wanted to get some hands-on experiences doing returns – not just sitting in a classroom learning about them.” Roseanna LaBianca ’12, ’13 agreed. She said, “In the past, we’ve had tests, a different way to test our knowledge. This is relevant to our jobs.” 

VITA representative Beth Anne Smith, CA$H Program Director and Community Impact Manager: Financial Stability for the United Way of the Greater Capital Region, said, “VITA gives students a real world view in a short period of time (tax season). We have a need for a lot of preparers. Over 50% of our clients make less than $20,000 a year. They can’t afford to go to paid preparers.” She noted that the students work cooperatively. When they are unsure of an answer they turn to the other people in the room.  

This pilot service learning course will serve as a model for similar program for the other graduate level tax programs: Professional Accountancy and Forensic Accounting. Dr. Fisher plans to make the classes mandatory. 


World of Accounting Freshman Serve as VITA Volunteers
Eleven freshmen enrolled in the World of Accounting, the living-learning community funded by PricewaterhouseCoopers, completed required VITA training, and volunteered at sites in Albany this spring. Christina Sigismondi ’16, there with her classmates early on a Saturday morning, said, “Upperclassmen tell us that they wish they had this opportunity. We will have so much experience by the time we graduate.”