MSW student Seda Follis leaves behind big data for individual impact

by | Jun 4, 2022

Follis held positions in data analytics at Express Scripts and BJC HealthCare before enrolling at UMSL's School of Social Work.
Seda Follis

Seda Follis worked in data analytics at Express Scripts and BJC HealthCare before deciding to change careers and return to school to pursue a Master of Social Work degree. (Photo by August Jennewein)

By Tim Wombles

Big data has long been in Seda Follis’s wheelhouse.

A student in the University of Missouri–St. LouisMaster of Social Work program, Follis has manipulated colossal amounts of data for more than two decades in numerous positions, including director of advanced analytics at Express Scripts and director of healthcare analytics at BJC HealthCare. 

“I loved it,” Follis says, recalling projects from over the years – including an early effort modeling pharmaceutical sales 15 years into future, the development of predictive models related to prescription drug adherence, and the development and implementation of COVID-19 analytical solutions to support the management of the pandemic across the system and the region.

But when she had a moment to breathe and reflect, her gut told her she needed to look beyond the numbers. 

Follis started thinking where she wanted to spend the next 20 years of her career, and the pandemic gave her courage and space to act. She considered psychology or sociology but, after consulting with an academic advisor, was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of social work.

“I am a life-long learner and energized by making a positive impact,” Follis says. “I now want this impact to be direct rather than through data and analytics.” 

Follis tested the waters as a part-time student. One of her classes “Diversity, Social Justice and Social Practice” gave her assurance that she was on the correct path. After that, Follis dove in as a full-time student and is on track to graduate in May 2023. 

The married mother of two says things could have been overwhelming, but she feels privileged. 

“In a way, I have a sabbatical from working, but I’m also bettering myself,” she says. “Hopefully, I will be able to give back even more to societyand the community.” 

Although still in the first year of her MSW, Follis is already giving back. Last year, she assisted in allocating holiday funds to families through the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s partnership with the 100 Neediest Cases and drafted grants for a non-profit for a senior empowerment project. She also worked with the grassroots initiative One West Florissant. 

The breadth of the social work program has opened up a world of possibilities for the future.

“Originally, I thought I wanted to work with more individuals like myself – immigrants,” Follis says, recalling moving to America from Turkey in 2001 for her first master’s degree in economics and finance. “My first master’s degree was an adventure since I didn’t really know where I was headed, but my MSW degree is more purposeful and focused on serving others.”

In the near future, Follis is eager to get started on fieldwork for her practicums, which will focus on individuals and families. A motivating factor for starting the program was the moments she recalled making a positive impact on team members and coworkers.

“I want to do things that touch hearts, not just databases,” Follis says with a laugh. “I never got a thank you note from any database.”

This story was originally published in the spring 2022 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email

Tim Wombles

Tim Wombles