Shidler students help O‘ahu residents complete their taxes through VITA Program
By Dani Douglass
Shidler College Accounting lecturer Michael Dell’s accounting class recently assisted nearly 100 local taxpayers in completing their taxes as part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Each student helped with approximately 20 returns and met the requirement to pass three VITA examinations before completing the 50 hours of volunteer work.
The spring 2022 group was the first time that UH students participated in VITA as part of an organized effort that came about after Dell and his School of Accounting (SOA) colleagues were assigned to review SOA’s tax curriculum.
“As part of this review, we looked at a number of offerings at other universities,” Dell said. “Cornell had a class titled ‘Federal Income Taxation of Low Income Taxpayers.’ I contacted the professor, John McKinley, at Cornell who taught this class. After speaking with John and his colleague at Cornell Law School, Beth Lyon, who taught the practicum part of the class, I decided to move forward with a similar class at UH in the fall of 2021.”
School of Accountancy students at the Hawaii State Capitol.
The course, which is made up two sections – Acc 399 in the fall and Acc 395 in the spring – is designed to provide students with the knowledge required to prepare federal and Hawaii state tax returns for low-income taxpayers.
“The most valuable part of volunteering with VITA Hawaii is discovering my desire to help my community though skills that I’ve acquired from school and my career,” Jimwell Baja, Shidler undergraduate finance major, said. “Being able to help the elderly with their taxes through skills and knowledge from my classes has given me a newfound appreciation for my degree.”
Part of the process is spending a minimum of 50 volunteer hours preparing taxes, which was accomplished through their participation with the VITA program. The group served in various roles, including greeting and interviewing taxpayers, compiling the information needed to complete the returns and preparing and reviewing the returns for accuracy with the taxpayers.
In addition to sharing their tax skills, many of the students are bilingual which was a valuable resource when working with clients whose first language was not English. The experience left a lasting impression on students and helped them to sharpen their skills.
Students do not need to be accounting or business majors to get involved. Dell said that one of his students last semester is a Public Health major with no previous business experience who wanted to serve the community.
“Having participated in the VITA program last semester, I would love to be a part of this program again,” Rana Mejes, Shidler undergraduate accounting major, said. “What stood out to me was not only the opportunity to give back to the low-income community with a field I'm knowledgeable in, like tax, but interacting with everyone. I still remember the first time someone thanked us for our help, and that's what motivated me to keep going even when it got overwhelming sometimes.”