MPS Accounting students deliver low-income tax clinics in rural Alaska

By: Katelyn Godoy
Group of five students stands in the snow

Building off of the Dyson School’s Low-Income Federal Taxation elective, students in the MPS – Accounting Specialization program offered by the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business had the incredible opportunity to take part in a Low-Income Taxpayer practicum with the Cornell Law School. In the practicum, students use the skills they’ve learned through tax work to assist underserviced areas and people. One such initiative that has been established is an expedition to rural areas in Alaska over February break to provide tax assistance to individuals and families.

Sponsored by the Alaska Business Development Center, and in collaboration with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, this engagement took our MPS Accounting students to areas in rural Alaska to assist individuals and families who don’t otherwise have access to tax preparation due to low-income status, language barriers, and/or geographic location. For instance, the nearest H&R Block office to Chefornak, one of the villages the program services, is nearly 500 miles away! Through this initiative, our MPS Accounting students had a chance to not only build on their knowledge they’ve gained through classwork in Johnson, but also to give back to the greater community.

Here are some of their reflections.

Colin Bartlett ’18 (Dyson), MPS Accounting ‘19

“Eleven flights and 10 days later, I was able to service the entire towns of Old Harbor, a population of 228, and Akhiok, a population 71, with free tax service while providing valuable education to these rural Alaskan communities. I never would have imagined myself sitting in the boardroom, with a view of the ocean, in an Alaska Native corporation explaining to fishermen the importance of making estimated tax payments due to them being classified as self-employed. At night, I learned the vast differences between the way the Alaska Native corporations were built when compared to the reservation system that is prevalent everywhere else. It was a truly amazing cultural and practical experience I will not forget.”

Colin standing in front of a small building that says "airport"

Simran Kashyap, MPS Accounting ’19

Simarn standing on the snow in a the sunset

“After 20 students from across the country scrambled around a grocery store in Anchorage, Alaska, preparing to venture off into rural Alaskan towns to file taxes for low-income families, my team and I boarded a five-seater plane that took us to two towns: Wainwright and Atqasuk. I spent the week using my skills and educational background to give back to the community, personally issuing over $150,000 in refunds for low-income taxpayers. In our free time, we had an unparalleled cultural experience—trying traditional whale meat and visiting a whaling captain’s ice cave. The Alaska VITA program was one aspect that enticed me to enroll in Cornell’s MPS Accounting program, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.”


Learn more about the MPS in Management – Accounting Specialization program.