Accounting student Willy Tan
November 23, 2015
Misti Huedepohl

Iowa City comes alive each August when more than 30,000 students become immersed in the community for the academic year. Although some bring automobiles with them, many make the decision to leave their cars at home and opt to travel using Cambus, by foot, or bicycle.

Willy Tan, of Marshalltown, Iowa, didn’t bring a car to college because he prefers two wheels to four and he’s working to make bikes more accessible to students and the Iowa City community.

“Iowa City is a bike-friendly place and I’m interested in putting more bikes on the streets, and fewer cars,” he says.

Willy is a student intern at the UI Office of Sustainability and he’s already applied the knowledge he’s acquired in his accounting courses to help his employer. He also hopes to make a positive impact on the environment.

Over a year ago a friend suggested Willy apply for the internship at the Office of Sustainability because he thought the office could benefit from Willy’s love of numbers and business sense as campus sustainability leaders were applying for a grant from the Iowa Department of Transportation to create a bike-sharing program. 

“I conducted research for three to four months to help with the grant proposal and business plan. I applied what I’d learned in my Cost Accounting coursework to price out the system,” he says.

Willy’s contributions paid off when the Iowa Department of Transportation approved the grant for $135,300 to help fund a bike-sharing program.

“My hope is that students who are unable to bring a bike with them to college can use this program as a resource."

He assisted with a second grant application from Coca Cola, which was approved for $50,000.

The proposed bike-sharing program will have three or four bike stations across campus and 10 to 15 bikes in each station.

Organizers are considering a kiosk-based system where bikes are docked, checked out, and returned to another docking station in the community. Also under consideration is a model where users would pay an annual fee and then have the ability to check out a bike one hour at a time. If the bike is returned within the hour, there is no fee to the user.

The University of Iowa is collaborating with the City of Iowa City on this project. The city is changing its roads and ordinances to benefit bike riders. This city is also helping to fund the bike-sharing program.

“My hope is that students who are unable to bring a bike with them to college can use this program as a resource,” he says.

Willy’s passion for bikes runs deep. He’s not only business smart, but he’s mechanically inclined, too—so much so, that he built his own bike from scratch in a UI course, Handbuilt Bicycles I and ll. He uses it to travel across campus daily.

He even displayed his creation at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Louisville at the encouragement of Gearing Up for Bike Sharing Professor Steve McGuire at the School of Art & Art History. 

“My sister asked me to build a bike for her, so I am working on it now,” says Willy. He plans to show this bike at the handmade bike show in Sacramento next summer.

He shares his mechanical abilities by volunteering at the Iowa City Bike Library where he reconditions donated bikes and is available to assist community members who rent a work bench and tools to make repairs.

When Willy isn’t studying, working or repairing, he’s an active member of Beta Alpha Psi accounting honors organization. Last tax season, he prepared over 40 tax returns for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and served as a leader at the VITA service sites.

“Willy was so exemplary as a Beta Alpha Psi student,” explains Professor Joyce Berg, Beta Alpha Psi faculty advisor, “he was one of only seven members recognized with superior member distinction last year.”

Willy wasn’t the first in his family to choose accounting as a major. He’s following in his older sister’s footsteps. Wendy Tan, BBA13, completed a degree in accounting and advised him to consider doing the same because she said the skills he acquires in accounting will apply no matter where he goes. Wendy works at Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas. Willy’s younger sister, Wynn, is also majoring in accounting and is currently in her third year.

After spring graduation, Willy will join the tax team at Deloitte in Minneapolis. He plans to take the CPA Exam over the summer before he starts working for Deloitte.