Bridgewater College

The set up: a mom-and-pop ice cream shop has been put up for sale for far more than the business appears to be worth. The cast of characters: a disgruntled ex-employee, an evasive accountant and a pair of sketchy small business owners. The mission: determine if some form of financial crime has been committed and, if so, who is to blame.

This was the task before a group of about 50 undergraduate students participating in the IRS Citizen Academy Training Program this spring. Ten Bridgewater College students joined students from Radford University and Roanoke College to participate in the day-long event, held at Radford’s Davis College of Business and Economics. Students roleplayed a condensed version of an IRS Criminal Investigation case, in which they interviewed fictional informants, sorted through stacks of paper files, and requested search and arrest warrants from actor judges. They also participated in a mock raid on the business of their suspect, seizing evidence while wearing protective vests and carrying rubber weapons. At the end of the day, the students pieced together all the evidence and solved the crime.

A real IRS Criminal Investigation case might take weeks or months, but students were able to experience the highlights of an investigation while working alongside actual IRS employees. Two dozen representatives from the IRS Criminal Investigation team facilitated the event and served as actors in the roleplay.

Dr. Holly Caldwell-Taylor, BC’s Blough Associate Professor of Accounting, said the goal of the IRS Citizen Academy Training Program is to immerse students in the experience of being an IRS investigative agent and encourage students to consider careers in the IRS after graduation. Co-organizer Dr. Daniel Finseth, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, said that high-impact programs such as this are important because they give students hands-on experience working in particular fields.

“The practical experience of actually digging into an IRS investigation is amazing,” Finseth said. He added that he also appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and students from Radford University and Roanoke College.

According to Micah Stine ’26, a sociology major who participated in the program, the event gave students from all three colleges valuable practice working together in teams and identifying their own strengths and weaknesses. She said that some students were better at searching through paperwork, some wanted to conduct interviews and some participants were excited to grab handcuffs and arrest the perpetrator.

Stine, who said she knew very little about the IRS prior to the event, said she also appreciated all the attention that was given to the students by the IRS employees who facilitated the event.

“They were really giving us the ins and outs of what was important,” she said.

Participant Nicole Polome ’25, a business administration major from Culpeper, Va., said she thought the program was “a really cool experience.” Although the rising senior doesn’t plan to join the IRS herself, she said that the experience was a good reminder of the variety of jobs that are available for business majors. “Just because you want to go into accountancy doesn’t mean you have to sit behind a desk all day,” Polome said.

Photo courtesy of Radford University.

– Heather S. Cole