The Ohio State University’s Office of Outreach and Engagement honored Fisher’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program with the 2017 Distinguished Service-Learning Award during the office’s annual recognition awards ceremony. The award recognizes VITA’s contributions to service and scholarships at the university, and it provides additional funding to support the program’s continued efforts.

VITA is an IRS program that provides free income-tax preparation service for low- to moderate-income tax filers throughout the United States. Fisher’s VITA program, which began in 2005, is a partnership between the college, OSU Extension and Godman Guild, one of several United Way agencies throughout Franklin County that participate in the federal VITA program.

Stephanie Lewis, CPA, a senior lecturer and undergraduate accounting coordinator in Fisher’s Department of Accounting and Management and Information Systems, has served as director of Fisher’s VITA program since 2013. Lewis appreciates the opportunity that the VITA program provides Master of Accounting (MAcc) students to learn through hands-on experience, as well as the opportunities for students to grow in their roles as VITA tax preparers.

“It’s nice to see the efforts of our students recognized at the university level,” Lewis said. “The amount of dedication students put into the program each year is unparalleled to anything I’m involved with at Fisher.”

For many people, tax season is a challenging time of year, but the VITA program helps to alleviate that stress. For Fisher’s MAcc students, the program allows them to apply lessons learned in the classroom to help actual clients and give back to the community.

Each fall, MAcc students complete technical training and become IRS-certified tax preparers by passing ethics and tax-law tests. The in-class training helps prepare the students for the rigors of advising clients during tax season.

In winter semester, students volunteer approximately 1,000 hours over six weekends, an effort that serves community residents while returning money to the local economy in the form of tax-preparation savings and income-tax refunds. During the 2017 tax season, Fisher students served 331 income-tax payers, saving more than $60,000 in tax-preparation fees and returning $475,694 in federal tax refunds to the local economy.

Since the Fisher VITA program’s inception, more than $5 million has been returned to area tax payers and more than 3,200 clients have been served.

“Fisher’s VITA program benefits students because they get to apply some of what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations,” Lewis said. “They also get to interact with a number of taxpayers and get to learn about people from different walks of life.”

2017 Distinguished Service-Learning Award
Pictured with the 2017 Distinguished Service-Learning Award are Wayne Carlson, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education; Stephanie Lewis, director of Fisher’s VITA program; and Carly Jackson, MAcc student.