Learning ‘real-life’ lessons from the professionals
Mike Chatham is always on the lookout for someone who will talk about taxes.
The topic may sound like a yawn-inducing, conversation killer for some people, but for Chatham, an associate professor of accounting at Radford University, finding individuals who can speak about relevant, and sometimes unique, tax issues provides his students with valuable real-life lessons.
Most recently, Chatham invited alumna and philanthropist Nancy Artis ‘73 to talk and work with students in his advanced tax class. It was a Friday morning exercise that involved an actual tax nexus situation for her company, Performance Associates, a computer storage and replication technology company with clientele among Fortune 500 companies and government agencies all over the world.
In summer of 2017, the state of Wisconsin asserted that Artis’ software company, based in Colorado, had established income tax nexus in the Midwestern state.
After reading over notes and hearing some basic information from Artis, the students, acting as her accountants, were charged with researching tax nexus laws and making a recommendation to Artis regarding whether she should fight or settle with Wisconsin.
Working in small groups, students had about 40 minutes to complete their work using a tax research software, CheckPoint Catalyst, which was provided by the university’s McConnell Library. The software is equipped with information about each state’s tax code, including strengths and weaknesses, Chatham said.
Throughout the research process, students were asked to examine basic differences in ways state sales and use tax nexus is created versus how income tax nexus is developed, without addressing Wisconsin and Performance Associates, specifically. They also were asked if Wisconsin Public Law 86-272 applied to Artis’ company.
Chatham encouraged students to ask Artis questions throughout the research process.
Many did and found it valuable.
“The opportunity to ask detailed questions to better help us understand and solve the problem was insightful,” said Nick Leeman, a senior accounting major from Warrenton.
The final portion of the research time was spent looking for evidence Artis could hypothetically provide to her tax attorney – evidence that is consistent with her company not having income tax nexus in Wisconsin.
The class’ final few minutes were spent with students announcing their conclusions and recommendations to Artis, their client.
It was an enjoyable assignment for Cheyenne Bolt, a senior accounting major from Floyd. “It allowed the students to get a more real life perspective,” she said. “It is very important to know your facts, but it is also important to know how to research as well. Each state is different when it comes to collecting tax. I believe the exercise was beneficial in all regards.”
The main takeaway for Brianna Gregory-Monroe was “states can do what they want regarding tax collection; they can collect as they see necessary. Some states can impose a tax nexus, and others can decide to not impose tax nexus.”
And, she offered a bit of advice.
“People who own businesses should ask a tax professional before paying any tax nexus,” said the senior accounting and finance double major from Chester.
After class, Chatham said he was “very grateful to Nancy for doing the exercise. She and her husband, Pat, have given so much financially to the university, but to volunteer her time says a lot about her. She and Pat truly invest themselves in the Radford University community.”
The Artises have invested in and endowed scholarships at Radford. In 2017, they contributed $5 million to establish the Artis Endowed Scholarship fund. In appreciation, the university named the Artis College of Science and Technology in their honor. In 2014, they dedicated the Applied Research in Technology and Information Science (ARTIS) Laboratory, an advanced, high-tech collaborative workspace for students to work closely with faculty and industry partners to solve real problems.
Working with Chatham’s class was one of many opportunities Artis has given Radford University students. She recently spoke with MBA students in Associate Marketing Professor Gary Schirr’s innovation class and has engaged with students in Management Professor Steve Childers’ classes.
“I enjoy bringing life experiences back to the students,” Artis said after chatting with students as they filed out of the classroom Friday. “I believe I have some experiences that can be helpful. The experience I talked about today cost our company a lot of time, energy and work. It’s the kind of real-life problem these students should be aware of.”
Participating in the exercise will be valuable to Matt Holm as he embarks on his career as an accountant, he said.
“The further I've gone in my school career, the more I've come to value real-world examples like we were presented with on Friday,” said Holm, a senior accounting major from Williamsburg. “Those experiences help bridge the gap from what we are learning as students to what we'll be doing as professionals.”
This is not the first time Chatham “has assigned us cases that mirror what a CPA has to deal with on an everyday basis,” Leeman said.
In previous classes, the College of Business and Economics faculty member has invited professionals, some of whom were alumni, to class to engage students on such topics as casualty gains, 1031 exchange – “that’s an infamous part of the tax code,” Chatham explained – gift and estate tax, and foreign-source income.
“Dr. Chatham is one of the best instructors I’ve had when it comes to providing real-world experiences that we can expect to see in our careers,” Leeman said. “I worked a bit in a local tax accountant's office and the research I was tasked with completing for the CPA was very similar to the project with Nancy Artis.”