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Frozen Assets

Written by Rosemarie Zonetti '10

Tendai Masaya '07, Carolann Luce '07, Joanne Burress, Michael Shumway '07

Cold weather and numbers aren’t a factor for three students in the School of Business who spent their spring breaks journeying through Alaska.

Most college students view spring break as a chance to escape to warm vacation spots or spend time at home with family and friends. But many Ithaca College students choose to participate in alternative spring break trips that promote community service.

One such opportunity in the School of Business sends selected accounting students on a journey through Alaska to file tax returns for low-income residents. This year three business students sacrificed their spring breaks and faced bitter temperatures when combining their practical skills in accounting with the concept of social responsibility.

Students Carolann Luce '07, Michael Shumway '07, and Tendai Masaya '07, along with associate professor Joanne Burress, left Syracuse on March 3 for Anchorage, Alaska. Once in Anchorage, the group received training on Alaska’s tax issues and procedures at the Alaska Business Development Center, which coordinates the trip.

After obtaining their supplies and itineraries, the two teams set off in small planes for their destinations. Luce and Shumway, both students in the MBA program, traveled to six villages along the Yukon River. Burress and Masaya, an undergraduate accounting major and international student from Zimbabwe, covered the Bristol Bay region. Village residents hoping to take advantage of the free services offered by the IC teams flocked to their village tribal council buildings, where all of the taxes were prepared.

Alan Cohen, an associate professor in the School of Business, originally launched the program, which is now in its sixth year. The idea for the trip came after meeting representatives from the Alaska Business Development Center at a conference. This year marked the third adventure for Burress, who describes the trip as difficult but rewarding. “The people are really glad you helped them, so it makes it worthwhile.”

To be selected, Luce, Shumway, and Masaya were required to submit letters to Professor Burress explaining their interest in this particular experience and why they were qualified candidates. Luce participated in the trip last spring, so she knew what to expect, but that was not the case for Shumway and Masaya. “It’s a good chance to get away and take a break from school,” said Masaya before the trip. “I know it’s going to be different from here. In terms of the weather, I’m concerned about how cold it is going to be.” 

The frigid Alaskan winter was just one of many hardships participants faced. The trip also requires a healthy dose of stamina and determination. Participants must be strong enough to carry everything they need for a full 10 days. This feat is complicated by the fact that planes are the only form of transportation from one village to another. “You have to pack all your clothes and all your food and then, of course, the airlines [require] your luggage to be under 50 pounds,” says Shumway. 

The teams’ living conditions, though never unbearable, varied from village to village. Luce and Shumway mostly stayed in schools, but they also had the luxury of sleeping in beds when they were twice invited to spend the night in villagers’ homes.

Masaya and Burress were not as fortunate. Both had to sleep on the floor of a community center. This team was supposed to visit six different villages, but bad weather prevented them from flying. Their stay in Chignik Lagune lasted so long that Port Heiden was the only other village they were able to travel too.

Masaya and Burress’s extended stay in Chignik Lagune’s community center actually turned out to be an interesting experience, says Masaya. “Kids would come to play there every evening. I played games with the kids like Dance Dance Revolution and Pirates of the Caribbean. They liked to hear stories about where I came from because they probably never met anyone from Africa or Zimbabwe.”

Despite the obstacles faced during the trip, students found the experience personally and professionally rewarding. When all was said and done, the team filed 124 tax returns during their visit. This accomplishment “definitely gives you a good feeling,” says Luce.

“It’s satisfying to know that something which is not so difficult for me to do is of great service to a family,” adds Masaya.

Luce, Shumway, and Masaya enthusiastically recommend the experience to other students. It's no wonder—all three returned to Ithaca having improved their accounting skills, witnessed the natural beauty of Alaska, and completed a truly altruistic and admirable task.



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