CAFNR Celebrates Women’s History Month: Q&A with Stacey Follis

Follis is a CAFNR Column award winner and CAFNR alumna

Family posing for a photograph at an awards ceremony. Everyone dressed in black and gold.
Stacey Follis shared the moment with her family as she received the 2022 CAFNR Column Award for Animal Sciences last fall.

Stacey L. (Wood) Follis (BS Agriculture – Minor in Animal Sciences ’98; MS Animal Sciences – Reproductive Physiology ’00) has been employed in the animal health industry for more than 22 years. Her focus is in clinical development with a wide spectrum of experience, from bovine to feline to canine to swine, contributing to more than 30 product indications.

Follis started her career with Pharmacia & Upjohn in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She has not technically changed employers since, although she has been through mergers and acquisitions and worked for three additional companies (Pharmacia, Pfizer and Zoetis); she is currently Associate Director for Global Clinical Development, Statistics and Data Management at Zoetis.

In fall 2022, she received the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources’ Column Award for Distinguished Alumni, the only award specifically for alumni presented by the college. The awardee class includes one graduate from each of CAFNR’s six divisions, reflecting the six historic columns at the University of Missouri.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Stacey a few questions about her distinguished career, women who have inspired her along the way, and how she is supporting the next generation of women in her field.

Tell us about your current or most recent role and what you enjoy about it

I serve in many roles in my life and enjoy serving in each: Career, Wife, Friend, Mom, Volunteer (and the list goes on). I was an Animal Science major while at CAFNR and had no desire to leave Missouri, my family, my best friend (and now husband), my beloved Missouri Tigers or even pursue an “office job”. However, when I was recruited out of grad school nearly 23 years ago to serve in a role out of state in animal health clinical development, the fit just seemed right. Currently, I manage people and projects at Zoetis, leading to the development of animal health products. I have not left the company that recruited me 23 years ago (though we have changed names due to mergers, acquisitions and spinoffs). There are so many things I truly enjoy, but honestly it all leads directly to people. I work with some of the best and brightest in our industry and the culture established within our organization is top notch. I am an extrovert by nature, and working on functional, engaging teams makes it all worthwhile. Of course, seeing the fruits of our labor come to market in a commercialized product by truly helping animals in need, is also very satisfying. In addition, watching direct reports and mentees succeed gives my heart great joy, too. I feel like I have a great balance in my current role utilizing my strengths and continuing to grow as a person. 

Share with us a woman who has inspired you in your life/career

There are really so many women (and men for that matter) that have positively inspired me throughout my life and career, whether it be family, teachers/professors, acquaintances, supervisors, friends, colleagues or those I admire from afar. Some of which I know personally, others via experiences or media exposures. There are even a few women that have driven me via experiences that wouldn’t normally be considered inspirational. I graduated from a very small, rural school district. At my commencement, a lady from our community offered me words of encouragement: “I would never make it at Mizzou” because I was “a small-town girl and would be back home attending the more traditional routes closer to home”. I accepted that as a challenge. Later in my upperclassmen years at CAFNR, I was on a plane travelling to an internship out of state when a lady who had engaged me in a conversation challenged me that my degree and career choice was “no place for a lady.” For anyone that knows me, knows I am just a slight bit competitive. Both of these women inspired me to persevere but in a more non-traditional sense.

All that aside, I do want to recognize a definite positive force in my life, my mother Patty Wood. She is a very driven woman and has a life-long passion for teaching, particularly for young people, and was able to manage her career and her personal life, raising my brother and I and contributing to our family farm, all simultaneously. In fact, she took classes to better herself all while serving as a full-time teacher and mother and serving in numerous volunteer capacities. She achieved her master’s degree and enough hours to have her Specialist’s degree. This was all fairly uncommon for women of her era. She encouraged me to develop leadership skills as a young girl through her support of activities like 4-H, school clubs and athletics, Hugh O’Brien Leadership Academy and many more. Yet through all her own career advancement, she was at nearly every activity my brother and I participated in (and we were very engaged in activities!). Mom was very devout to her priorities though and was a great example for me not only as a career woman, but also a wife and mother.  Following retirement from teaching, Mom remains more active than ever, serving on many Boards of Directors including the recently appointed USDA Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board, Past President of Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, various Extension Council appointments and many others. She is a phenomenal woman with a large personality, and I am fortunate she is one of my biggest supporters and my momma!

In addition, I have two very intelligent daughters that inspire me to be a better person every day. Their own drive, perspectives and growth give me great hope for our future. To all the younger generations, there is so much we can mutually share and learn from each other. Never dismiss the opportunity to connect with a fellow woman and share your stories. You never know who your next source of inspiration might be!

How do you strive to set an example for the next generation of women leaders?

I was fortunate to have developed an extensive network of supporters throughout the years, many of which bleed Black and Gold just like me. To me, a support network is the key to being successful. Having those people that recognize my strengths, that are willing to “go to bat” for me, that push me beyond my comfort zone have been important. One of my common themes is “connection before content”. I am not sure who originally coined that phrase, but I am a huge believer. I have been fortunate many mentors have invested time and effort in me through the years. I feel a true passion for repaying that service by passing it forward to mentees of my own.

One of the most mentioned traits that my mentees indicate I exhibit and drew them to me as a mentor is that I am intentional in my work-life balance. Balance doesn’t mean equal time for all activities. Everyone’s balance needs are different. Determining what you engage in is hard, but I ask myself the question “Does this support the life I am trying to create?” I have this phrase posted so I can see it every day. This question can be used in every aspect of your life, from the assignments you seek in your career, to the volunteer opportunities you commit to, to the partner you choose, to how much time you dedicate to recharging. Yes, my career takes up the largest portion of my workday, but devoting time to my family, friends, and the activities I choose for myself are also very important. You can’t be efficient if one of your priorities gets out of YOUR balance. I encourage the next generation of women leaders to define what their balance is and be intentional about their own set of priorities, recognizing balance is dynamic and will shift as time progresses.

What advice do you have for women entering your industry?

My advice is not specific to industry but to all regardless of industry. In addition to the other areas I have already mentioned (establishing a network and being intentional), train your brain to think positively and proactively in all situations. This is another way of saying “think outside the box”. I had a situation where a change of physical location could have resulted in my employment ending and potentially a career shift. Instead of walking away defeated, I asked questions not only of myself, but of my support network at my employer about how I could make the situation work for all parties involved. Fortunately for me, I successfully pioneered a remote relationship with my employer 15 years ago. Yes, I became remote before remote was cool! Had I not been willing to look for alternatives approaches and keep a positive attitude; I wouldn’t be where I am today with over 22 years with the same company(ies) in a leadership role. I became an invaluable resource during the pandemic and most employees were forced into remote status. You never know when experiences that may seem to be painful will become career boosters. Stay positive and proactive!