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Dec. 6, 2007
Contact: Andi Witczak, Center for Service Learning, (785) 864-0960.

Tax relief: KU class helps students, proposes legislation for disabled vets

LAWRENCE — Think taxes are boring? Recipients of tax advice from University of Kansas graduate students didn’t think so. This fall, 23 students in a business tax class used their knowledge to help meet community needs in a new service learning course.

The students completed two service learning projects as part of a tax research class with Raquel Alexander, assistant professor of accounting and information systems. The students drafted proposed federal tax legislation to provide assistance to disabled veterans returning to school. In addition, the students conducted tax and financial planning workshops for performing arts students and faculty in the School of Fine Arts.

From the beginning, the students were excited about helping others but didn’t realize the impact the project would have on the community as well as on their own learning.
Kristin Kuhn, a senior from Pratt, said she was surprised by how much the service portion of the class improved her understanding of tax research skills.

“Research has been very exasperating for me to learn, because it takes so much practice and I can't be good at it immediately,” she said. “However, this service project made worth of all the time, frustration, and effort that I've put forth the past few months.”

She also said that the service allowed her an opportunity to see how her college education could be beneficial as she transitioned into a career in business.

“The class also helped me to understand why research is such a crucial tool to have as I begin my career,” she said. “This project defined the reason I chose this career to begin with: to help and serve others. It was very rewarding to stand in front of strangers, explain tax advice and observe their “ah-ha” expressions or head nods. It really more accurately confirms the past four and a half years of my college education, and that’s a really comforting feeling.”

Alexander said she assigned the labor-intensive projects to allow students to develop skills necessary for a successful tax career. Students had to identify the client’s tax issues, perform research on those topics and then communicate the findings. Alexander said service learning projects were a perfect fit because of the strong student interest in community service activities. Each year, tax students volunteer at the law school free tax clinic. Recently, tax students developed a Web site for Hurricane Katrina tax laws (www.ku.edu/~katrina) and created tax relief brochures for Greensburg residents.
Alexander said the students received positive feedback immediately during the presentations.

“While the student enthusiasm for the class’ service learning component has been incredible, the biggest response has been from the AIS Advisory Council. Our alumni and supporters have been quite moved by our students’ efforts to provide tax assistance in the community, in Kansas and across the nation.”

Throughout this process, Alexander has been supported by the university’s Center for Service Learning, which was established in 2005 with the intent of creating meaningful and experiential learning opportunities for students. The center believes that service learning fosters better understanding of classroom material, is a catalyst for innovative leadership and social responsibility and can drive positive change in the world.

Students enrolled in the course will also have an opportunity to become certified in service learning. The certification process consists of four components including completion of a service learning course, an independent service project, a set of directed civic engagement and leadership readings and a reflection. Certification in service learning benefits students in all majors and disciplines and, in turn, supports a diverse array of community organizations. In the past three years, students in more than 26 majors and four graduate programs have been certified in service learning impacting more than 40 community organizations and partnering with them for more than 5,725 hours of service.

Overall, Alexander and the students say that the experience has been meaningful. The strong emphasis on serving the community even caused positive changes in student priorities.

George Dale Reichert, a master’s degree student from Chanute said, “I noticed that my personal goal for this project became less and less focused on a grade and more and more focused on the people who we would be presenting to and trying to help.”

In the end, the tax research and service was beneficial to both the students’ academic learning and the community as a whole.

Edwin “Eddie” Thomas Mitchell, a master’s degree student from Overland Park said, “Most people would probably rank doing their taxes somewhere between getting a root canal and waiting in line at the DMV. Therefore, one of the most important skills we can develop in our careers is the ability to communicate effectively — to boil down these dense tax laws into meaningful bits of information that everyone can understand and apply. Luckily, my class got a chance to try this out.”

Students enrolled in Alexander’s class are listed below by hometown, level in school, major, and, when available, parents’ name and high school.

BUTLER COUNTY
From Andover 67002
Aaron Chase Burns, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Logan and Jean Burns; Garden City Senior High School.

COFFEY COUNTY
From Burlington 66839
Jennifer C. Smith, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, daughter of Brad and Colleen Smith; Burlington High School.

DOUGLAS COUNTY
From Lawrence 66049
Ashley Renae Lonnberg, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems; Dodge City Senior High School.

GREENWOOD COUNTY
From Eureka 670450
Thomas Scott Mitchell, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Mike Mitchell; Eureka High School.

HARVEY COUNTY
From Newton 67114
Brittany Noel Claassen, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, daughter of Darrel and LaRita Claassen; Newton High School.

JOHNSON COUNTY
From Olathe 66061
Ryan Craig Drake, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Robert and Lisa Drake; Olathe South High School.

From Olathe 66062
Alexandra Gluhovsky, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems.

From Overland Park 66209
Brian Andrew Fisk, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Dina Fisk; Blue Valley North High School.

Edwin Thomas Mitchell, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of James and Deborah Mitchell; Blue Valley North High School.

From Overland Park 66212
Meryn L. Fogt, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, daughter of Thomas Fogt; Shawnee Mission South High School.

From Overland Park 66214
Benjamin Gerard Cindrich, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Mike and Jeanine Cindrich; Saint Thomas Aquinas High School.

LYON COUNTY
From Americus 66835
Jeffrey J. Commerford, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Jeff and Rae Jean Commerford; Northern Heights High School, Allen.

MIAMI COUNTY
From Paola 66071
David Shawn Biller, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of David and Roxanne Biller; Paola High School.

NEOSHO COUNTY
From Chanute 66720
George Dale Reichert, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of John Reichert; Chanute Senior High School.

PRATT COUNTY
From Pratt 67124
Kristen Faye Kuhn, senior in accounting and finance, daughter of Tim and Faye Kuhn; Pratt High School.

RENO COUNTY
From Hutchinson 67502
Michael Dean Bretches, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Ron Bretches; Hutchinson Senior High School.

SALINA COUNTY
From Salina 67401
Lindsey Marie Brake, master’s degree student in education (curriculum and instruction), daughter of Richard and Susan Brake; Salina Central High School Central.

SHAWNEE COUNTY
From Topeka 66614
Michelle C. Pitts, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, daughter of Dan and Evelyn Pitts; Washburn Rural High School.

ALABAMA
From Birmingham 35223
Samuel Brian Siegal, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Frank and Wendy Siegal; Mountain Brook High School, Mountain Brook, Ala.

COLORADO
From Bennett 80102
Jenna Leigh Deines, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, daughter of Debra Deines; Goodland High School, Goodland, Kan.

IOWA
From Marshalltown 50158
Adam James Sipe, master’s degree student in accounting and information systems, son of Richard and Janice Sipe; Marshalltown Senior High School.

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