Volunteer Gets Hands-on Experience
By Jill Gambon
Summer Zhou is one of the rare people who looks forward to tax season. A graduate student in the Manning School of Business
, Zhou is participating in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for the second year in a row. From January to mid-April, she spends Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings at Community Teamwork in downtown Lowell, greeting clients, answering questions and preparing income taxes. The service is offered free of charge to residents who meet specific income requirements.
“I love volunteering,” says Zhou, who will receive her master’s degree in accounting in May. “I’m helping people and getting experience in my field.”
Zhou signed up for the VITA program last year after hearing about it through the student Accounting Society
. A national program, nearly 92,000 volunteers participated in VITA last year, preparing more than 3.3 million returns, according to the IRS. Zhou estimates she filed about 20 returns during last tax season.
A native of Beijing, Zhou says the VITA program gives her the opportunity to learn more about the U.S. tax system while applying what she’s mastered in her courses and through an accounting internship last summer with Parexel International Corp., a biopharmaceutical firm in Billerica.
“It’s great to use what I have learned,” she says.
Zhou and other volunteers are required to complete training before they start working on taxes. Many of the other volunteers are experienced professionals and Zhou says she has learned a lot from them. In her volunteer role, Zhou also reviews returns prepared by others and troubleshoots issues for clients, many of whom are not native English speakers.
“There is a lot of problem-solving involved,” she says.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Zhou plans to take the Certified Public Accounting exam in April and is looking for a full-time job for after graduation. With her two years of VITA experience, she’s feels well-prepared for tax or auditing accounting positions.