Pathways for Student Leaders | NCACPA Student Programs and VITA

By Ronald O. Cardwell, JD, MAcct, CPA, CMA, CGMA

The IRS Link & Learn Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has been operating since 1971, and is highly regarded as an excellent learning opportunity for accounting students. Over the past two years, I have observed the launch of one of our accounting students as she has grown to become an exemplary student leader, which, I believe, in addition to being an involved NCACPA student member, is largely attributable to her experience in this program.

When I first met Susan*, she was new to our accounting program at Guilford College. As a student in one of my classes, I noticed that she was very attentive to everything that was being said in the classroom, but was somewhat reserved with her own participation. As the semester progressed, she asked more questions and contributed more to the classroom discussions. I could see that she was beginning her journey along the path towards a deeper understanding of accounting methods and theories.

As a course requirement, all of my students become student members of NCACPA. I know that the outreach community at NCACPA distributes information that I might not think to mention in class. Susan attended a student leadership program hosted by NCACPA where she was exposed to the wonderful scope of possibilities and leadership opportunities that exist for a professional accountant.

From that experience, Susan’s interest in a tax career grew stronger. After she completed a tax course with me, I introduced her to the IRS Link & Learn VITA program and arranged for Susan to meet our local United Way VITA team members to help ease her into the VITA program as a volunteer tax preparer.

When I spoke with Susan, she let me know that she was very nervous about meeting with VITA tax clients and working with them to complete their income tax returns. She understood the gravity of the work and embraced the need for a patient and diligent approach. By all accounts, Susan had a wonderful experience in her first year as a VITA volunteer. When I talked with her about her VITA experience, she was effusive with excitement about how much she learned from and enjoyed her VITA tax preparation experience.

As I spoke with Susan over the next few months, I realized that her NCACPA student program exposure and VITA volunteer experience had allowed her to grow in confidence to the point where I believed that she could take on a higher level of responsibility as a VITA Site Coordinator. I asked Susan about her willingness to be trained as a VITA Site Coordinator and she let me know immediately of her desire to assume the new VITA role. After some planning conversations with our local United Way, we decided that it was an opportune time to set up an additional VITA tax clinic in our community at Guilford College.

In her role as VITA Tax Site Coordinator, Susan handled hundreds of emails and attended several training sessions and planning meetings at United Way. She made arrangements for facilities, computers, internet access, and scheduled VITA volunteers at Guilford College to launch the inaugural 2017 Guilford College VITA Tax Clinic. In my role as her academic advisor and as her VITA faculty mentor, I could not be happier about Susan’s progress toward accepting the challenges of taking on a volunteer leadership role in our new VITA program. She recently talked with me about applying for admission to the AICPA’s Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop to be held this summer in Houston, Texas. I think her aspirations for a tax career have been fueled by her experiences in NCACPA student programs and VITA…and the possibility of participating in the AICPA’s leadership program for accounting students.

I am pleased to have had a small role in Susan’s leadership growth, and I am certain she will continue on her path towards a stellar career as a CPA in tax work after graduation from Guilford College. For my NCACPA colleagues who are accounting educators, I encourage you to look for opportunities to grow student leaders from within your accounting programs by helping them take advantage of leadership opportunities such as NCACPA student programs and VITA, as well as the AICPA’s national student leadership workshops, all of which occur annually. I am already keeping an eye out for another outstanding accounting student to nudge toward a pathway of accounting leadership for 2018 and beyond.

*Name changed for privacy.


Ron is currently an Assistant Professor in the accounting department at Guilford College. Prior to teaching at Guilford College, he was on the faculty at Salem College and the Chair of the Business and Economics Department. His professional experience includes 10 years as a practicing CPA and 12 years as a business law attorney. Over the years, Ron has also taught courses on a part-time basis at UNC Greensboro, Elon, North Carolina A&T, and Alamance Community College.

Ron is also a member of the NCACPA Financial Literacy Council. He currently serves as a board member and Audit Committee member with the Guilford County Partnership for Children.