Last September, over ninety thousand of the brightest minds in accounting sat down to take a sixteen-hour-long exam to become certified public accountants. With less than fifty-eight percent of participants passing annually, six BYU Marriott School of Accountancy alumni stood out by acing all four sections of the CPA exam, the most in SOA history and from any one school in 2019. These alumni received the Elijah Watt Sells award, given only to those who score in the top percentile on all four sections of the exam on their first attempt.
The awarded recipients are Alex Gunnerson of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Michael Lundberg of Brigham City, Utah; Joseph Pearson and Andee Waldie Soza both of Mesa, Arizona; Regan Stewart of Las Vegas; and Ryan Thorsen of Dallas, Texas. Only one hundred and ten accountants received the Elijah Watt Sells award in 2019.
Simply passing the CPA exam is challenging, but in order to become a certified public accountant, it’s a necessary endeavor. “The CPA credential symbolizes trust and professionalism in the business world,” says incoming SOA director Doug Prawitt, who is a CPA himself. “Because the credential is extremely relevant and rigorous, CPAs are considered among the most trusted advisers in business.” The four-part exam is comprised of auditing and attestation, business environment and concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation.
This is the ninth year in a row that BYU Marriott SOA alumni have received the Sells award, the longest streak of any school in the world. “We are pleased with the national recognition these awards bring to BYU, BYU Marriott, and the School of Accountancy,” says Prawitt. “But mainly we are just thrilled that these awards bring well-deserved recognition to our outstanding students and reflects the success they are having.”
Soza, now a staff accountant at KPMG in Salt Lake City, received multiple offers to accounting firms prior to graduation. She attributes this to the reputation of the School of Accountancy and notes that because of her BYU Marriott education, she felt ready to take the exam immediately following graduation. “BYU Marriott definitely gave me the foundation I needed to get the Elijah Watt Sells award,” she says. “As I studied, I noticed that I had been taught nearly every concept that I came across. When test day came, even if I couldn’t remember an exact calculation, I was able to choose the correct answer based on the accounting principles that I had been repeatedly taught in the accounting program.”
Prawitt says that while the SOA doesn’t specifically teach to the CPA exam like some programs do, the faculty focuses on helping students understand the fundamental principles and concepts that underlie accounting and how to think and reason based on those fundamentals. “But the lion's share of the credit goes to the outstanding students who come into our program and work hard to succeed,” he says.
“Beyond accounting, the structure of the accountancy program taught me discipline, balance, and the importance of hard work,” says Stewart, who is currently employed at Ernst & Young in Dallas. “I know the skills I learned will serve me well in my career pursuits and family life. I feel that I can do anything I want in the future because I have built a great network of supportive and intelligent peers, professors, and mentors.”
Writer: Erika Magaoay