When an instructor was needed for a class on income tax preparation in 2004, Emilia Chukwuma, ’85, was penciled in. Hoping to instill in her students a practical understanding of the subject matter, she had them set up a table on campus to help Gallaudet community members fill out their tax forms.

Twelve years later, Chukwuma, chair of the Department of Business, and her Income Tax Accounting class continue to host annual workshops, submitting an average of 500 tax returns per year. They provide this free service to the Gallaudet community, the University’s neighborhood residents, and for deaf people across the country.

Chukwuma moved from Nigeria to the United States in 1981 to attend Gallaudet. A mathematics major, she took an accounting course during her junior year. hoping to learn about personal finance. This turned out to be a career altering decision. Her professor, William Sloboda, ’65, captivated her.
“He emphasized discipline, honesty, hard work, and creativity, all of which are very important in the accounting profession,” said Chukwuma.

Upon graduation, Chukwuma enrolled in the Master’s of Accounting program at the University of Baltimore and started teaching at Gallaudet. After earning her M.S. in 1987, she became a full-time faculty member and has since taught and developed a wide range of courses over the past 28 years.

Chukwuma’s popular tax workshop started by a chance occurrence. Dr. I. King Jordan, ’70, Gallaudet’s president from 1988 to 2006, regularly jogged with a friend, a tax lawyer who started learning about American Sign Language (ASL) and Deaf Culture and wanted to collaborate with the Gallaudet community. Jordan, recalling the tax filing table that Chukwuma and her students had set up the previous year, put the two in touch.

The lawyer in turn introduced Chukwuma to Leandra Thomas, a senior tax consultant with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers free tax help to low income people, people with disabilities, elderly people, and people whose first language is not English.

Chukwuma, who had already received her Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure in 1992, worked with Thomas to establish Gallaudet as a VITA location. Chukwuma and her workshop students still collaborate with this program.

“This provides an opportunity for our students to interact with communities around the University, and thereby breaking the barriers that separate the campus and its neighbors,” said Chukwuma.

Students enrolled in Chukwuma’s class must pass a basic tax preparation course offered by the IRS prior to helping at the workshop. This instruction, provided by Thomas and her staff, ensures that all participants have the necessary tax law and e-filing system training.

Chukwuma enjoys seeing her pupils apply their education. Though she has proven herself invaluable to the deaf community in terms of financial services, her heart lies in teaching and advising students. “I believe all deaf people have ability to succeed, and I enjoy motiving students to work harder to do just that,” Chukwuma said.

Chukwuma’s reputation as an authority on financial services has spread throughout the deaf community. Today, she is inundated with requests not only on tax help but on other services, from how to fill out a FASFA to advice for first-time homebuyers. “The deaf community needs a place they can turn to for general financial consulting,” said Chukwuma, “and it is my goal to make that happen.”

She hopes that future collaborations and funding will allow for the hire of a full-time faculty member who can focus on this service, thus improving accessibility.

“Communication is very important in financial decision making,” said Chukwuma. “We need to communicate with deaf people in ASL to help them understand the financial concepts that will help them make better financial decisions.”

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