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USD Law Students Take Tax Prep To Alaska

Photo of Cody Raterman and Kaleb Paulsen. Third-year law students Cody Raterman (left) and Kaleb Paulsen were part of a group of USD students who traveled to Alaska to provide tax assistance.

VERMILLION, SD – While the middle of April is generally considered the busiest time of the tax season, for six University of South Dakota law students, their experience providing assistance in rural Alaska in the middle of February may always rival even the most hectic tax deadlines.

From February 9-18, three groups of two students and their professor Ramon Ortiz, hosted free tax assistance clinics primarily serving Native American communities in northern remote Alaska. The clinics were hosted in Nome, Elim, Fort Yukon, Arctic Village and the Doin village of Jetza.

“Where I was located in Arctic Village, it was -40 degrees,” said Kaleb Paulsen, a third-year law student. “In Anchorage where we completed our pre-deployment training, it was warmer than South Dakota by about 20 degrees.”

Each student was allowed only a 40 pound backpack to carry their sleeping bag, toiletries, food and water. Many of the locations they visited were only accessible via bush plane or snowmobile. In addition to acquiring a certificate from the IRS in tax preparation, applicants to the program complete several steps including an interview to ensure they can handle the extreme conditions.

“Many of the people we assisted were subsistence fishermen and hunters living in an extremely isolated environment, often with no internet,” said Cody Raterman, a third-year law student who primarily served in Elim and Nome. “In Elim alone, we helped file $100,000 in federal income tax refunds. That’s an influx of money that will benefit their local community.”

The students said they appreciated the opportunity to serve. As a team, they assisted over 500 individuals and families prepare and file tax returns.

“Each community appreciated our assistance so much. They invited us into their homes and provided us with the use of their snow machines. They even cooked us meals of moose, caribou and crab,” Paulsen said. “It was a life-changing experience.”


USD’s Knudson School of Law prepares students for leadership in the administration of justice in South Dakota, including in rural areas where the demand is great, and for private practice, public service, business and other law-related endeavors anywhere. Its joint degree program allows students to also earn one of nine master’s degrees within the traditional three-year law curriculum, which includes course tracks in business, commercial, constitutional, criminal, employment, environmental, Indian, real estate and tax law as well as civil litigation and estate planning.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News