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‘A Moment of Reflection’: M.S.W. Grad Pursues Passion After Career in Finance


Frankie Heppell, GSS ’24, thinks humans are meant to do hard things—and she’s living proof. 

Climbing the corporate ladder from a call center representative to the head of global strategy for Credit and Collections at American Express was hard. Moving from London to New York—knowing no one in the country and with two small children—was hard. Navigating a global pandemic, mobilizing 6,000 employees to remote work, and dealing with a 24/7 work environment was, well, you know. 

However, deciding she needed a new career path was the challenge that trumped everything. As a newly single mother with two children, it’s not easy to take that leap—but Heppell said the nature of her work was cutthroat and, worst of all, felt empty. She wanted to do something with an impact. 

To quote Socrates, ‘An unexamined life is not worth living,’” Heppell said. “So, when I left [American Express], I had a moment of reflection. I wanted to go into a helping profession.”

Heading Back to School

Heppell worked at American Express for 23 years, so it had been a while since she was in the classroom. She said the admissions process was intimidating, but Fordham’s office helped her every step of the way. 

“I hadn’t been at school for a really long time, so I was like, How do you get in? What are the platforms, people, processes, all that sort of stuff?” she said. “[Fordham had] a hands-on approach.”

Once enrolled as a full-time Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) student at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, Heppell took stock of the skills she acquired after two decades in corporate work, and how they could transfer into this new profession. Although she originally came into school with sights set on a clinical track, Heppell quickly found she had a unique range of skills that would give her an edge in a macro setting. 

“I’ve got so much experience and skills at the macro level and within organizations that there’s a definite synergy,” she said. 

Heppell said that corporate life trained her to excel organizationally and become savvy with her financial awareness—both important qualities of an effective social worker. However, where she really shines is through her networking abilities and relationship-building. 

“People are the engine of anything and everything,” she said. “It’s all about bringing different folks together.”

With a background in strategy, Heppell is no stranger to problem-solving. Her time at AmEx was about “finding creative solutions for the work to be much easier, more efficient, and effective for the organization.” However, in many situations, a social worker’s operating budget can’t quite match a finance executive’s. In Fordham’s M.S.W. program, Heppell has learned to further tap into her creativity. 

“I’ve learned a lot about how difficult it is to operate outside of corporate, where there’s all the money in the world and all the resources you can get,” she said. “You have to think more creatively about how to engage people and get things done.”

Experiential Advocating

In 2012, Fordham University became a non-governmental organization (NGO) associated with The United Nations Department of Global Communications (DGC) Civil Society Unit, and each year, a select number of students are chosen to become representatives as part of their field education internship. With a growing interest in macro social work, Heppell was accepted during her Specialist year. 

“It was a great learning experience for me,” she said. “You’re learning from the intern perspective…it’s humbling. I’m glad I got that perspective.” 

Heppell was also a core member of the Fordham Institute for Women and Girls, where she engaged in interdisciplinary education, research, and practice activities that work to foster gender equality worldwide. Heppell helped organize the annual Institute for Women and Girls conference in collaboration with the International Health Awareness Network (IHAN), which focused on improving access to technology across the globe. 

Heppell concluded the virtual event, which took place in November 2023, by addressing the ethical considerations of social work practice in the digital age. She noted that, due to the rapidity of technology’s advancements, the profession’s code of ethics—while a north star in many ways for practitioners—has failed to address these tools adequately. 

“Professional competency…is clearly fundamental to the reputation of social work discipline,” Heppell said. “And yet competence with technology has only really evidenced in the more recently updated documents. Only three of the nine codes highlight the importance of developing adequate knowledge and skills before adopting technology in practice.”

Heppell also demanded a redefined understanding of relationships and client boundaries in the new age of technology.

“Suppose the client sends and sends a crisis-related message late at night. Is it okay to respond right away? Should you respond right away? Can you wait till the morning? How do you address these particular issues?”

Officially a Social Worker!

On Tuesday, May 21, Heppell joined her nearly 650 classmates as they graduated as masters of social work. She said the bonds she formed with her classmates while in the program are among the most important things she’s taking with her.

“The network that I’ve got with my friends that I’ve made at school—that will last a lifetime,” she said. “The people that I became friends with are my everything right now, my absolute everything.”

The only question that remains is the biggest one: what’s next?

Heppell has one core requirement of any company she’ll enter: they have to be making a real difference. 

“[I want to do] something in an organization to help drive change,” she said, “big change.” 

Heppell sees herself blending the micro and macro skills she learned at Fordham to drive her new career. But she won’t just work at any company. Heppell experienced the toxicity that can plague some organizations too big for their own good, and end up missing the forest (helping people) for the trees (bureaucracy and shareholder value).

Heppell came to get her M.S.W. because it’s what she was passionate about. She intends to follow that forward.

“Sometimes, in class, I’ve sat there and had these brilliant moments of pure clarity,” she said. “You’re learning about yourself in order to help others. You have to do the work and help yourself. That is really hard, but it’s a big part of the social work journey.” 


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