Chapman University alumnus Michael Koll is one of 37 out of 90,000 candidates to receive the 2011 American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Elijah Watt Sells Award.  The announcement from the AICPA came earlier this month. Koll—a Chapman University 2011 graduate with a degree in accounting—is the only recipient from a university located in California, and the first recipient from Chapman University. He is currently an associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Irvine.

According to the AICPA, the 2011 award was presented to candidates who obtained a cumulative average score above 95.50 across all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination, completed testing during the previous calendar year and passed all four sections of the examination on their first attempt. More than 90,000 candidates sat for the exam in 2011. Thirty-seven candidates met the criteria.

When asked how he felt about receiving this award, Koll replied, “It feels really good and kind of surreal. I didn’t go into the exam trying to get it – I just wanted to pass the first time through.”

Koll’s interest in accounting began when he realized he enjoyed his accounting classes at community college. When he came to Chapman he took more accounting classes and had success. That’s when he decided to make it his major, along with business administration. By his senior year he was president of Chapman’s Accounting Society, the professional development chair for Chapman’s business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, served as a research assistant in the accounting department, and tutored the MBA program’s accounting classes.

“In 32 years as an accounting professor, Michael Koll is the first student I have known who won the Elijah Watt Sells award, said Chapman accounting professor Glenn Pfeiffer. “Given the scope and caliber of the competition, this is truly a rare and remarkable achievement.  Michael was an exceptional student.  He epitomizes the qualities of so many of our students.  He is an outstanding representative of Chapman University.”

Koll learned he had received the prestigious Elijah Watt Sells last month but was required to keep it quiet until the press release went out. Koll, one of six 2011 Elijah Watt Sells Award recipients who are currently employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers across the nation, will receive an official plaque from the AICPA.

“The best we can provide is a great platform for success,” says Chapman accounting professor Hank Adler. “Michael practiced on that platform and perfected the triple back flip with a twist before entering the ‘real world’.”

When asked what advice Koll would give to current Chapman students desiring to pass the CPA exam on the first go, he replied, “Have confidence that Chapman is giving you a good base, put in the study time and take it seriously.”

About the Elijah Watt Sells Award 

Elijah Watt Sells was a founding partner in Haskins & Sells, a predecessor to Deloitte & Touche. Sells was born on March 1, 1858, attended local public schools and briefly attended Baker University. Although he did not receive a degree, Baker University later awarded him an honorary degree. At age 16, Sells went to work for the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad and was quickly promoted. After working for several railroads, Sells was appointed to the Dockery Commission with his future business partner, Charles Waldo Haskins.

In 1895, Sells and Haskins formed Haskins & Sells, which was the first major accounting firm formed by American (rather than British) accountants. Sells became one of the first New York State certified public accountants in 1896 and then the firm’s senior partner after Haskin’s death in 1903. Sells died on March 19, 1924, at the age of 66.

In 1923, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) created the Elijah Watt Sells award program. This award recognizes outstanding performance on the Uniform CPA Examination.