What More Could We Ask of Ourselves? Tax team takes second place in challenge

"The four of us were quarantined in a small room with nothing but our textbooks, calculators, pencils, scratch paper and thoroughly stuffed brains."

This is how Walla Walla University junior accounting major Kaitlyn Fitch describes her team's arrival on the University of Washington campus for the annual tax challenge in early January. Fitch and teammates, Brittany Smith, senior international business major; Linda Stecker, senior accounting and business administration major; and Donovan West, senior accounting major, formed one of two WWU teams. The event was not held last year, but the WWU team took first place at the 2009 challenge. This year, Fitch's team placed second.

The event was announced in December, leaving students with little time to prepare.

"It is difficult to get motivated to do such a tremendous amount of studying over the holidays," says Norman Anderson, faculty sponsor of the team. "But the students were dedicated."

Anderson met with the students several times, giving them review material and a tax problem to work. They reviewed their work and anticipated areas that might present issues at the challenge.

"My teammates and I spent countless hours rereading our textbooks and marking major sections," says Fitch. "We also reviewed hundreds of slides Professor Anderson put together for us, summarizing two quarters' worth of material."

At the challenge, teams work for four hours on a tax problem, using only their tax books for reference. They are expected to address all tax issues for the hypothetical taxpayers in the problem. The solutions are graded and the top three teams make it to the finals, where they are given additional facts and another four hours to prepare presentations.

"The students presented their findings to 'clients' as well as the judges, representatives from KPMG, a large accounting firm," explains Anderson. "The winning teams were selected based on their solutions and presentations."

"The 'clients' were rather boisterous and feigned ignorance on many points to see if we knew our stuff," says Smith. "We were expected to explain tax issues without jargon, and I think we did well."

The other six competing teams represented University of Washington, Oregon State University and Southern Oregon University.

"I am extremely proud of how well we handled the pressure," says Fitch. "Each individual played a vital role in our success, and while it would have been nice to walk away with first place, we displayed strong ethics, produced great results and worked flawlessly as a team. What more could we ask of ourselves?"

March 01, 2011 / Walla Walla University
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Becky St. Clair, WWU GLEANER correspondent