VITA 2013: Another Year of Success!

It’s hard to believe, but another year of VITA – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance – is complete!  After over 1,000 volunteer hours put in by Fisher students at both the Godman Guild and OSU Law Extension Center, 275 income tax returns were filed for residents around Columbus, Ohio.  These returns generated around $425,000 in refunds for these individuals and families, which is an average of about $1,500 per return.  VITA was a fantastic learning experience from both a tax technical skills standpoint, as well as a client relationship-building standpoint.

MAcc student Ly Pham answers a taxpayer’s questions at Godman Guild.

For many student volunteers, VITA is particularly challenging in unexpected ways.  Sure, each student completes training and learns how to navigate the tax software and recognize common tax credits and deductions for our clients.  However, it can often be difficult to explain tax concepts to our clients.  Establishing trust with a client can be difficult in any situation, but it is particularly challenging for some of our clients to put their trust in a 22 or 23-year-old student.  I was happy to see all of our student volunteers express patience and kindness with all taxpayers, making sure their questions were answered and asking site managers for help whenever needed.

MAcc and undergraduate students volunteered over a period of six weeks to assist Columbus residents in preparing their income tax returns.

For those of you who are prospective students or will be starting the MAcc program in August, I highly recommend participating in VITA.  You don’t have to be going into tax after graduation; we had plenty of future auditors and corporate accountants help us out this year.  VITA is simply a great way to get to know your classmates better and spend some time serving the greater Columbus community.

Spring Break Part I: Mesa, Arizona!

The first several days of my last spring break as a MAcc student were spent in Mesa, Arizona, with my dad.  (One of the benefits of being in Columbus is you’re always one change of planes from any decently sized city in the U.S.) We flew out Friday evening and spent Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Hohokam Park, home of the Chicago Cubs spring training!  Unfortunately (although unsurprisingly), the Cubs lost on Saturday to the Cleveland Indians in an embarrassing performance involving five, six, maybe seven different pitchers?  I know, I know, it’s only spring training, but a 9-2 loss doesn’t get my hopes up for the games that apparently do matter in the regular season.  But, the Cubs were able to turn it around on Sunday and beat the San Diego Padres 9-3.  The sun was out, there were hot dogs and ice cream to spare, and it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Outside Hohokam Park, home of the Chicago Cubs spring training!

After a couple of days of baseball, we drove out to the Phoenix Botanical Garden to get some sun and see the Sonoran Desert at its finest!  We saw tons of cacti as you might expect in a desert, but the botanical garden also had an herb garden and butterfly garden, as well as some hand-built shelters and tools used by tribes native to the desert.  I also saw a few prairie dogs running about.  If I remember correctly, the real name according to an official botanical garden sign was some type of squirrel, but they sure looked like prairie dogs to me!  There were also lots of beautiful flowers among the green cacti; the one below was one of my favorites!

One of the thousands of beautiful plants in the botanical garden

We spend the last couple of days soaking up the sun at the pool, as it reached the high 80’s by our last day.  After what seemed like a short trip, it was back to Columbus for a pit stop before heading to Chicago for the Big 10 Tourney to get my basketball fix before the last six weeks of classes in the Fisher MAcc!

 

Closing Time: The Last Term

How is it already the fourth term?!  The MAcc students are just seven weeks away from graduation!  With this last term comes new, exciting classes, and here they are:

AMIS 7784 – Tax Research:

That’s right – one last tax class!  This course will allow us to take all of the knowledge we’ve gained the past three terms on corporations, trusts, estates, etc., and apply it to research questions.  We’ll be developing research skills and using different tools provided by the IRS and other sources to answer realistic tax questions from all kinds of different parties.  This will certainly be applicable to many of us in the class that will be starting our careers in tax.

BUSMHR 7230 – High Performing Teams:

After having a wonderful experience in managerial negotiations with Dr. Tracy Dumas, I’m taking another one of her courses on building and leading effective teams.  Many of us MAcc students will be working in roles in public accounting, where it’s very important to be able to perform well in teams.  This class actually reminds me of some of the activities we participated in at Summit Vision all the way back at orientation.  One of the activities (pictured below), required trust, listening, creativity, and many other skills we’ve already begun to talk about in this course.  I’m excited to learn more about how I can perform effectively in a team setting and motivate others to do so as well.

My Summit Vision group working on our team-building skills. It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come this year!

AMIS 7250 – Government and Non-Profit Accounting:  

I can already tell that this is going to be a great class!  We started out with an overview of non-profits and then began learning about the differences between for-profit and non-profit accounting.  We read an interesting article on Livestrong, formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and the conflicting public perception of the non-profit organization and actual use of donations.  It’s important for people to understand how the money that they are donating to charities and other organizations is being used, and we’re learning how accountants can help with that process.  We’ll also cover governmental accounting later on this term.

After a short first week, it’s already spring break!  I’m off to Arizona for some spring training with the Chicago Cubs and then heading back east to Chicago for the B1G Tourney.  Plenty of stories from this packed week to come!

Broadway Comes to Columbus!

I’m a huge Broadway fan, so I’m always excited to hear about a new show coming into Columbus!  These shows usually come to one of my two favorite theaters downtown – the Ohio Theatre and the Palace Theatre.  If you’re a Broadway aficionado – or if you’ve never seen a show before in your life – you should definitely check out the line-up at these theaters.  I’m sure you’ll find something of interest!

This week I went to see Million Dollar Quartet.  This musical is set on one night – December 4, 1956 – when four music legends were all together for a recording session.  These musicians were Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley.  This would be the only time these artists, who all debuted with Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, were all together.  The show featured memorable songs such as “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “Walk the Line.”  The actors did a fantastic job and took the audience members back to the ’50’s for this session.

Broadway actors portray Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash
(photo courtesy of milliondollarquartetlive.com)

My favorite of the artists portrayed in this musical is Johnny Cash.  My freshman year at Ohio State, I had the privilege of taking a seminar course solely focused on Johnny Cash and his songwriting.  Each class session, we would listen to a couple of his songs and discuss what we thought the lyrics meant to Johnny and what they meant to us.  Some of my favorites of Johnny’s were actually covers – not his original lyrics – and many were spirituals.  In the Sweet By and By and Hurt were two in particular that I enjoyed, although I also love his most famous original songs like Folsom Prison Blues, Walk the Line, and Ring of Fire.

The real Million Dollar Quartet: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash
(photo courtesy of milliondollarquartetlive.com)

I would highly recommend this show – or any off-Broadway shows – that stop by in Columbus for a week or two.  Ohio State’s theater department also puts on shows throughout the year, so you might check out their line-up for the spring.  Even if Broadway isn’t your thing, it’s definitely important to get away from campus for a few hours a week and do something that takes your mind off of classwork.  You have plenty of time to spend in class and working on projects, so be sure to take a break and explore Columbus!

Got Cabin Fever? Hit the Gym!

We’re just four weeks into the first term of spring semester, and I’m already longing for spring break!  Midterms are coming up next week, and I’m itching to do something other than sit in class or study at home.  I’ve found a great way to escape this cold weather by hitting the RPAC!  Here are some of the great amenities this workout facility has to offer:

  • Cardio Canyon – a ton of treadmills, ellypticals, and bikes
  • Countless basketball courts (they’re literally stacked on top of each other)
    • also used for volleyball, badminton, and cardio classes
  • 10 racquetball courts
  • 4 squash courts
  • Four-lane jogging/walking track
  • Weights, weights, and more weights (I avoid these areas, but I assume they have anything and everything)
  • Lap pools
A beautiful shot of the RPAC at nighttime!

This is by far one of my favorite buildings on campus, but there are plenty of other workout facilities across campus.  JO North and the ARC are a couple of popular spots for Fisher grad students.  The ARC even has climbing walls, which I intend to check out later this semester!  We’re not going to be lucky enough to have access to such great workout spaces when we leave Fisher, so I recommend checking some of these out this winter.

Now, back to studying for these midterms.  Just three more weeks and I’ll be onto my last term in the Fisher MAcc!  Could time slow down, please?!

As Tax Season Begins, MAcc Students Serve

It’s finally here!  VITA – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance – has begun!

Each winter for six weeks, Fisher MAcc and select undergraduate students volunteer at Godman Guild and the OSU Law Extension Center in Columbus to provide tax preparation assistance to low-income individuals and families.  After weeks of organizing training and compiling schedules (with much help from other volunteers), we kicked off our first volunteer session on Friday at Godman Guild.

A great group of volunteers for our first week of VITA!

We had several individuals come in and were able to prepare their federal tax returns to be submitted at the end of the month.  These Columbus residents are able to obtain refunds through several different credits including the child tax credit and earned income credit.  What is more important than learning how to complete the tax returns is the time we spend hearing the stories of these people who are really our neighbors.  For many of the people we help, their tax refund will be the largest sum of money received in the year and will help them make it through the winter.  We had a few familiar faces as well – people have been coming to Godman Guild for our assistance since the program began ten years ago.

I’m excited to see how the rest of the tax season goes as we continue to complete returns at Godman Guild and the Law Extension Center.  I’ll be sure to give an update at the end of the season to share how many individuals we were able to help in these six weeks of service!

Winter break 2012 :: Europe Trip Part III: Frohe Weihnachten!

(This is installment #3 of 3 blog posts recounting my 2012 winter break trip. See here and here for the earlier installments.) On Friday, December 21, we made it to our final destination:  Nuremberg, Germany.  The first order of business was to walk through the Christmas market, known as “Christkindlesmarkt.”  Hundreds of booths are set up to sell handmade Christmas ornaments, wooden toys and nativity scenes, and plenty of warm wine and sausages.  Shoppers come from all over Germany but also all over the world, so I was happy to learn that most vendors spoke English, too!  Some of the most beautiful displays were the ones containing hundreds of glass ornaments like the one below.

Ornaments hang from a display at the famous Nuremberg Christmas Market

On Saturday, our first full day but also last day in Germany, we walked around the “Old Town,” the part of the city completely surrounded by a wall.  At the north point of the Old Town stands an old castle which provides great views of the city.  The architecture here was much different than that of England and France, but beautiful nonetheless.  We also stopped in a church that stood in the same square as the Christmas market for a short organ concert of some recognizable classical tunes.  Many people took a break from the cold, windy outdoor market with us to enjoy the music.

Bird’s eye view of the “Old Town”

Our last night in Nuremberg was spent again at the Christmas market, where my family and I finished up our Christmas shopping.  Some of my favorite booths to visit were ones containing intricately decorated nutcrackers and little smoker men, seen in the picture below.  It was hard to stop myself from buying something from every booth, but my limited remaining euros and limited suitcase space kept me in line!

German hand-crafted nutcrackers and smokers for sale at the “Christkindlesmarkt”

As I was flying across the Atlantic for ten hours to get back home the next day, boredom ensued and I settled on reading my passport for entertainment.  Yes, there are quotes in that thing – several well-known ones from Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence – and others new to me.  I found one to be relevant to us students, coming from astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka:

                      Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds…to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.

As we Fisher MAcc students return to campus for our last semester of school, we should keep this in mind.  We are the future our profession, and we have an obligation to make progress and push farther to reach greater heights than before.  With that, I’m looking forward to a great spring 2013!

Winter break 2012 :: Europe Trip Part II: Parlez-vous Anglais?

The second stop on our tour of Europe (aka “winter break 2012”) was the beautiful city of Paris!  We kicked off our four days in the French city with an “Illuminations Tour,” where we took a cruise along the River Seine to view some of the most beautiful buildings, bridges, and statues lit up at nighttime.  One of the coolest buildings in the night lights to me was “La Conciergerie,” which was a prison during the French Revolution and held prisoners before they were sent to the guillotine.  Dark history, I know…but beautiful building!  The tour also allowed us our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night – what a beauty it was!

La Tour Eiffel glowing bright in the Paris night sky!

Another highlight of my time in Paris was walking up the steps to the top of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris, or better known to Americans as the Notre Dame.  My knowledge of the cathedral was limited to what I could remember from the Disney movie (which wasn’t much), so it was great to hear a little bit about its history, dating back to its construction in the 12th century.  There were a couple of huge stained glass windows in the cathedral that contained colorful glass that dated back to the 13th century, which was a little hard to wrap my head around!  What was amazing was all of the people who had come to see this Parisian piece of architecture that once represented a sanctuary of safety and hope during the French Revolution, and still serves as a place of peace for people today.  The views from the cathedral weren’t too bad, either!

View of the French city from the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris

A trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the palace at Versailles.  I don’t have enough space to go on about all of the history of the palace, its surrounding gardens, and former residents, but I will tell you about my favorite room.  It was called the “Hall of Mirrors,” and it was literally just that – a long hallway lined with mirrors and windows.  Giant chandeliers hung all along the hallway so that it was completely full of light.  There were beautiful scenes painted on the ceiling that seemed to glow from all of this light.  This was one of many stops on our tour that reflected just how detailed and grand this palace was – just like the gold accents on the palace in the picture below.

My sister and I outside the grand Palace of Versailles

Our trip to Paris was complete with a stop at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa, the Musee d’Orsay for some Monet and Renoir, plenty of shopping on the Champs Elysees, and quite a few baguettes and bistros.  Much too soon, it was time for us to hop on another train – this time heading to Nuremberg, Germany!  Au revoir, Paris!

Winter Break 2012 :: Europe Trip Part I: London Calling

What’s the best Christmas present I’ve EVER received?  And the best way I’ve EVER spent winter break?

Well, that would have to be our family trip to Europe!  My mom, sister, and I traveled to London, Paris, and Nuremberg, Germany, from December 13-23.  Lots of travel, sightseeing, shopping, eating, and simply spending time together made for an unforgettable experience.  I’ll be breaking my re-cap into three blog posts – one for each destination.  So, here’s LONDON:

Tower of London on a bright, sunny afternoon near the River Thames.

To prevent myself from carrying on and on (you should see my 500+ pictures on FB), here are a few great moments:

1.  Les Miserables – no, not the movie – the on-stage performance!  This is one of my favorite musicals, adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel depicting 19th-century France on the brink of revolution.  We enjoyed this spectacular show on our first night in London.  Check out this video of my favorite song from Les Mis, performed at the 10th Anniversary Concert by Lea Salonga:

“On My Own” from Les Mis

St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background as we strolled across Millennium Bridge.

2.  Double-Decker Sightseeing Tour – this was the source of about half of my pictures from the whole trip!  Having never been outside of North America, I was excited to see buildings that were more than one or two-hundred years old. London did not disappoint!  We saw Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Elizabeth Tower (often confused with Big Ben, which is actually the name of the bell inside the famous tower), the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, and countless other well-known sites.  Our tour guide gave us a great historical overview of the city – including the Great Fire of 1666, the reign of Queen Victoria, the construction of Shakespeare’s Globe, and many other significant points of history to the Brits.  She even pointed out fun sites like JK Rowling’s apartment and Margaret Thatcher’s home.  I definitely recommend tours like these if you want to see a lot of the city in a short amount of time.

3.  Carols at Westminster Abbey – what a concert this was!  A young boy’s choir sang Christmas carols on the evening of Sunday, December 15, our last day in London.  The church is not only home to normal worship services, but also major events such as Prince William and Kate’s wedding a couple of years ago.  The building looked even more beautiful at night than it did on our tour during the day!

The beautiful Westminster Abbey lit up on a cold winter’s night!

4.  Tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury – oh the desserts!!!  The three of us enjoyed afternoon tea and a huge tiered platter of desserts at this little tea shop in London.  The Brits take their tea seriously, and as I was recovering from strep throat, I had to take the green tea seriously as well.  We enjoyed vanilla caramel cupcakes, scones with strawberry jam, double chocolate brownies, chocolate meringues, and many other delicacies.  If your mouth isn’t watering yet, check out their website for pictures that will certainly do the trick!

5.  Shopping at Harrods – the world’s greatest department store!  If you think Macy’s in New York is the best, what with that great big parade in November and all, think again!  Harrods has to be the most luxurious, grandiose shopping experience on the planet.  I’m not just talking multiple stories, but rooms across rooms of perfumes, furs, fashion boots, Christmas toys…and then you have the food!  An ice cream parlour, a room dedicated to seafood, another to wine, and the list goes on and on.  Unsurprisingly, we had quite the task in trying to simply find the exit!

Overall, London was a great way to kick of our trip to Europe!  On Monday morning, it was time to take the “Chunnel” to Paris, where the Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees awaited…

 

Need a Study Break? Volunteer!

Feel like you’re swimming in notes, practice problems, and formula sheets?  That’s certainly how I feel when the end of the term rolls around and I start to look over everything we’ve learned over the past seven weeks in the MAcc program.

In all honesty, we’re given plenty of time to study for our finals.  Enough time, in fact, that twenty of us MAccers took a break on Thursday to volunteer at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.  We wrapped up a holiday season canned food drive by packing a total of 647 boxes of food for the CSFP program.  The food bank’s Commodity-Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) provides a monthly box of nutritious food to low-income seniors.

A great place to do some community service!

After community service, I wrapped up the week with all of my friends at the MAcc Autumn reception.  We enjoyed dinner with Fisher faculty and staff, which was followed by a keynote speech by MAcc alumnus Jeff Howard and the recognition of two autumn graduates of our program.  It was an especially nice way to end the semester and see classmates and faculty before leaving town over break.

My apologies for the short post, but it’s back to studying for me.  After finals, I’ll be traveling to London, Paris, and Nuremberg, Germany, so no worries – there are many exciting posts to come!!