Excellence in Business Leadership: Christina Byrd ’18 explores how volunteering to help others prepare taxes affects student empathy

The Love Award for Excellence in Business Leadership provided the senior with an opportunity to pursue a research project focusing on how involvement in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program impacts volunteers’ ability to effectively understand others’ situations.  

As a recipient of the Love Award for Excellence in Business Leadership, senior Christina Byrd combined her Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program volunteer experience with an undergraduate research experience.

Established by a gift from The Martha and Spencer Love Foundation, the Love Award for Excellence in Business Leadership honors and provides a student in the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business with $12,000 to complete an independent research project on a business-related topic.

Byrd’s project, “The Effect of VITA Participation on Student Empathy,” considered how student volunteers’ involvement in the VITA program impacted their ability to effectively understand others’ situations. Through VITA, a service initiative carried out in partnership with the Internal Revenue Service, volunteers learn how to prepare income tax returns and complete returns for individuals with incomes below a certain level. Millions of tax returns are completed each year through VITA, representing several billion dollars of refunds obtained. Elon’s Department of Accounting works with accounting students to offer the VITA program to the local community.

“I’ve so enjoyed serving with VITA during my time at Elon,” said the accounting and finance double major. “The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met while serving have shaped me significantly, growing both my practical tax knowledge and my view of others.”

During the past year, Byrd conducted a review of extant literature on the VITA program’s impact, as well as a research study leveraging the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire to measure empathy in a pre- and post-test design with group of Elon VITA volunteers and a control group of non-volunteers from Elon prior to and following tax season. Byrd included a number of demographic questions and several questions from the Duke University Religion Index in the survey to consider the impact of factors other than VITA participation on empathy levels.

“Empathy is increasingly seen as a key component to leadership and ethical decision-making, and is crucial to success in the business world,” Byrd said. “While other studies have examined the effect of VITA service on volunteers’ knowledge and problem-solving abilities, little is known about how this service affects them emotionally. I hope this project will further substantiate VITA’s value as a program for university students. Additionally, I hope the project will benefit any organization that promotes service learning, by showing that community outreach initiatives do truly impact volunteers.”

Throughout the research process, Byrd worked with Professor of Accounting Susan Anderson. “She helped me significantly with directing my project focus, with collecting pieces of literature for background support, with composing the surveys for data gathering, and everything in between,” Byrd said about Anderson’s mentorship. “On top of all this, Dr. Anderson coordinates and runs the VITA program at Elon, and is one of the most gracious professors I’ve ever known.”

Byrd’s advice for students considering pursuing undergraduate research: “Like the Nike slogan says, ‘Just Do It.’ Research certainly requires a lot of personal effort and can be difficult at times, but I’ve found it to be so rewarding.”

“In tax, the ability to research a question for a client and come to a solid conclusion is critical, and this project has certainly grown my skills in this area,” Byrd added. “The project has developed my project management skills, my personal creativity and ability ‘to think outside the box,’ and my ability to communicate with different people and take initiative in engaging with others.”

Byrd presented her research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Oklahoma City and Elon’s Student Undergraduate Research Forum. After graduation, she will intern with RSM this summer and then begin the master’s of accounting program at N.C. State University in the fall, focusing on taxation.

About Christina Byrd ‘18

Hometown: Graham, N.C.
Majors: Accounting & Finance

Leadership Roles

  • Service Chair – Beta Alpha Psi (2017 – 2018)
  • Treasurer – Campus Outreach (2016 – 2018)

Awards

  • John W. Barney Memorial Award (2018)
  • Academic Excellence Award in Accounting (2018)
  • Alpha Kappa Psi Scholarship Award (2018)
  • Delta Sigma Pi Scholarship Key (2018)
  • Love Award for Excellence in Business Leadership (2017)
  • Don S. and Margaret M. Holt Scholarship (2017)
  • Horton Godwin Scholarship – NCACPA Piedmont Chapter & DHG (2016)
  • Samuel L. Burke Endowed Scholarship for Engaged Learning (2016)
  • Omicron Delta Kappa Member (2017)
  • Phi Kappa Phi Member (2017)
  • Phi Eta Sigma Member (2016)
  • Beta Gamma Sigma Member (2016)
  • Elon Presidential Scholarship (2014)
  • LSB Honor Roll for Social Responsibility (2017 & 2018)
  • President’s List (All Semesters)

Activities and Service

  • Beta Alpha Psi Member
  • Campus Outreach Member
  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistant
  • Accounting Tutor – Elon University
  • High School Financial Literacy Volunteer – Beta Alpha Psi
  • Beta Alpha Psi KPMG Gold Challenge Video
  • Intellectual Climate Committee Member
  • Mebane Children’s Outreach Volunteer
  • Hawfields Nursing Home Volunteer
  • NCACPA and AICPA Student Member
  • Advanced Level Pianist

Conferences/Presentations

  • Presenter: Elon’s Spring Undergraduate Research Forum – Elon, N.C.
  • Presenter: National Conference on Undergraduate Research – Oklahoma City, Okla.
  • Second Place Winner: Beta Alpha Psi Best Practices Competition – Birmingham, Ala.
  • Presenter: Beta Alpha Psi Annual Meeting – Anaheim, Ca.
  • Participant: Beta Alpha Psi Best Practices Competition – Raleigh, N.C.
  • Presenter: Beta Alpha Psi Annual Meeting – Baltimore, Md.
  • Attendee: NCACPA Student Leadership Institute of North Carolina – Raleigh, N.C.

Internships

  • RSM U.S., LLP – Tax Intern (Summer 2017)
  • Cobb, Ezekiel, Loy and Company, P.A. – Accounting Intern (May 2016 – May 2017)

Study Abroad

  • Australia and New Zealand Film: Down Under Cinema (Winter Term 2017)

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