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Lilly Lam has used her coursework to teach fourth-graders about profit and loss. She's helped low-income residents with their taxes. And now she's helping construct a basic budgeting course for college freshmen.
These projects are examples of the community service projects she's done with Beta Alpha Psi, an honorary service organization for business students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
These projects also are examples of how members of the UT community are addressing the issue of poverty through community service. Ready for the World, the campus' international and intercultural initiative, is spending this year looking at "Our World in Need" with a particular emphasis on the issue of poverty.
Beta Alpha Psi supports the belief that community service is very important for college students, said Lam, who is vice president of the group. The group's projects help members get experience in their field and, at the same time, assist lower-income families.
"Being an accounting and finance major, I feel that classes help students learn about what’s going on in the world, but Beta Alpha Psi helps you become more aware," Lam said.
For two years Lam has been an active participant and has seen the organization grow. Three years ago, before their current faculty adviser Karyn Valades, joined the team, the organization had 12 members. Now, it has 73 undergraduate members with 41 candidates. When students are initiated in November, there will be over 100 members.
"Everyone has heard about the positive things we’re doing," Lam said. "We’re very hands-on. We like to go in and help people directly."
In the spring, Beta Alpha Psi runs a program called VITA, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. Hosted at the Burlington Library in East Knoxville for eight Saturdays, the program helps those who don’t know how to complete a tax return.
"Some people are not knowledgeable enough to file themselves, nor can they afford to hire someone,” Lam said. “We help anyone who needs it and we don’t turn anyone away. That’s the great thing about Beta Alpha Psi."
VITA goes from February through March, and Beta Alpha Psi members stay at the library all day to help people stopping by.
Another initiative Beta Alpha Psi is trying to begin is the Financial Literacy Project. Members volunteer to create PowerPoint presentations based on basic concepts like balancing a check book, loans and interest rates. Their idea is to take one class out of the First Year Studies class, for incoming freshman, to educate them about basic financial situations.
"Incoming freshman come into college with no debt, but the average student leaves here with $20,000 in debt,” Lam said. “It’s very easy to swipe that credit card and sign loan agreements, but they rack up thousands in debt before they know it."
Beta Alpha Psi plans to present the idea to the Provost to be considered for First Year Studies classes next year.
"Our main purpose with community service projects is to help out less fortunate individuals, but with this one we really want to help the university. This is Beta Alpha Psi's contribution to UT," Lam said.
Another Beta Alpha Psi project -- and one of Lam's favorites -- is Junior Achievement. A member of Beta Alpha Psi is assigned to a teacher and a class in a lower-income area of Knoxville. The schools range from elementary to high school. The member teaches five classes.
“I taught a fourth grade class about simple business concepts such as profit and loss,” Lam said. “At the end of my lessons they made me cards. You could tell they really appreciated me being there. It was really rewarding.”
She still has a few of her favorite cards.
"It’s good to start them off at a young age," Lam said. "It’s incredible how much information they are able to retain."
Lam believes the community service Beta Alpha Psi does helps the community, but also allows the members to better understand their career paths. The UT chapter will be hosting Beta Alpha Psi’s regional conference in February in Orlando, Fla. Although the organization has a lot of obligations, Lam believes it plays an important role in making students more aware of what they can do to help.
"It’s up to you as an individual to change the world as much as you can. Collectively, it’ll make the greatest difference."