Fieldwork in Alaska: Students bring mobile tax preparation to residents

Contact: Janine Adamski

From left to right are Rachel Hart, Claire Knepple, Alex Jimenez, Alexandra DiVito, Jake Grosan, Andrew Tomaszewski, Will Roosien, Nick Koenig, Patrick Callaghan and Noah Hahn.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—In an extreme example of taking learning outside of the classroom, 10 Western Michigan University students recently embarked on a 10-day Alaskan tax preparation trip where volunteers filed over 500 tax returns for Alaskan communities.

Sponsored by philosophy professor Dr. Fritz Allhoff, the trip took volunteer teams who provided services in the villages of Napaskiak, Oscarville and Quinhagak in the southwest, as well as Elim and White Mountain in the northwest from Feb. 9 to 18. Spending time in these rural communities, the volunteers would set up their tax centers and work up to 14-hour days, assisting the residents with their tax returns.

Senior Will Roosien says the volunteer trip to Alaska was "eye opening."

WMU Haworth College of Business senior Will Roosien said the experience provided the team an opportunity to travel as well as help others in the process.

Alaskan skyline

“The trip was arranged to fly trained volunteer tax preparers out to isolated communities of Native Alaskan people who are typically due substantial refunds but historically lack essential resources necessary to be able to file their tax returns,” explains Roosien, who is studying business law.

To prepare for the trip, student volunteers were required to pass exams to be certified to provide assistance through the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. In addition, they had to complete a series of training exercises before participating in the trip. As they began their journey, the volunteers hauled 50 pounds of supplies through airports and onto bush planes.

“Visiting the area was very eye opening,” says Roosien. “It became apparent how the sheer vastness of our country promotes differences based on geography. By traveling across the barren tundra and seeing how another community lives, I was able to comprehend how we take simple things for granted like access to mail delivery, tax preparation and even health care.”

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