Grand Rapids Community College Accounting Instructor Ann Palenske, CPA, knows the value of hands-on experience in helping students learn. So, with tax day looming, Palenske saw an opportunity for her students in her BA 268 Income Tax Accounting class to get out in the field and put what they are learning in the classroom to work in the real world: preparing taxes for low-income Kent County citizens for free! GRCC has a very active Academic Service Learning Center (ASLC) that helps faculty make those community connections, like the recent Pay It Forward Day that brought 250 or more GRCC students into the downtown area on a Saturday to commit random acts of kindness. This tax preparation project is just another example of academic service learning, according to Palenske. The participating GRCC students will offer this free service to anyone earning under $55,000 per year. Palenske has partnered with the Kent County Tax Coalition to get her students federally certified and connected to established sites in the community. “Students continue to express the value of receiving real world, practical experience, which allows them to become more marketable in a competitive workforce,” said Mindy Firlan, director of the ASLC. “This is a perfect fit for this group of students – and the community benefits in the process.” To find Free Kent County Tax Coalition locations in your area, individuals can call United Way 2-1-1. Through the ASLC, these students will also receive an Academic Service Learning Transcript Endorsement, which is an asset when applying to transfer institutions and in the workforce. When asked why she goes through all the extra work to provide these opportunities to students, Palenske reports, “The depth of learning, the value of working with professionals in the field, and the confidence gained by making a meaningful difference in the community far surpass what I can achieve in the classroom alone.” Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for over 32,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several additional locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.