GECU, Project VITA Provide Real-World Tax Preparation Opportunities for Undergraduate AIS Students
AIS student Estefania Campos works with a client at the Fred & Maria Loya Family YMCA Project VITA site location. Campos is in her second year with the VITA Program and has taken on additional responsibilities as a Site Coordinator. Campos enjoys taking what she learns in the classroom and applying it to help real-world clients with their taxes.
Department of Accounting and Information Systems students are getting real-world experience while helping their community through a partnership with GECU and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
The IRS’s VITA program offers free basic tax return preparation to qualified individuals and has been in use for more than 50 years. The program is geared towards helping low-income individuals, persons with disabilities, and limited English-speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns.
As part of their volunteering efforts, students from the University of Texas at El Paso have been assisting with the VITA program at the on-campus location since 2014. These students have received special training and certification by the IRS to become official volunteers in the VITA program.
Beginning in Spring 2018, the VITA program was offered as a credit-course for eligible accounting students. The course is led by instructor Rebeca Pérez, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the AIS Department, who also serves as site coordinator every year for the UTEP VITA site.
These students, like accounting undergraduate student Estefania Campos, have received special training and earned a certification by the IRS to become official volunteers in the VITA program.
Campos, an accounting student from the College of Business Administration, is returning for a second year with the VITA program.
“Project VITA has been an amazing opportunity not only because I obtained three hours of college credit for it, but also because I gained real world experience while providing a much-needed service to the community,” said Campos. “These experiences translate what I learn in the classroom into real-world situations by working on real tax returns and communicating with real taxpayers.”
Campos was assigned to be a Site Coordinator at the Fred & Maria Loya Family YMCA VITA location, taking on more responsibility in addition to tax preparation. “Knowing how much a volunteer has to go through to work in the VITA Program, I think it’s a very helpful service to the community. I’m fulfilled when I realize this experience has a very real impact on members of my community,” she said.
AIS students are linked to the VITA Program through a partnership with El Paso area credit union GECU.
GECU leads the Coalition for Family Economic Progress (CFEP) which works within El Paso to provide free tax filing through the VITA Program. In 2019, this initiative resulted in over 10,000 free tax returns, giving back more than $16 million to the community. It is estimated to have saved El Paso-area families nearly $3 million in filing fees.
Paulina Rodriguez de la Fuente is another returning volunteer to the VITA program. De la Fuente is grateful the program allows her to expand her skillset beyond the classroom.
“I was taking a tax course during my first year with VITA and the simultaneous experience of learning tax code while also applying it in real life gave new perspective to the information I was learning,” she said. “Now that I returned for another year, I’m back with new skills and perspectives from the previous year and I more aware and compassionate towards people’s situations – something I want to make sure I never lose focus on as I work towards becoming a CPA.”
“These experiences translate what I learn in the classroom into real-world situations by working on actual tax returns and communicating with real taxpayers.” Estefania Campos, Project VITA Volunteer