Alumna Alexandra Liggins '15 started out as a pre-health major at Notre Dame because she wanted to help people. Liggins switched her major when she discovered it wasn't for her, but it was actually her extracurricular activities that led to Liggins' career and the founding of a business that helps kids learn to code.
Here, she answers our questions on choosing Notre Dame, service, and starting a business that offers a bright future for South Bend kids.
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Current Position: Co-founder, South Bend Code School
Why did you choose Notre Dame?
The dining hall...In brief, I was not originally familiar with the University of Notre Dame. My senior year of high school, I had already submitted all of my college applications and was planning to attend a school that was closer to home for me. However, a friend of mine told me about Notre Dame and described how amazing a school it was, but the part that stuck with me the most was her description of the dining hall. I applied and was surprised when I found out that I had been admitted to the University. It was the abundance of support from Notre Dame administrators, current students, and alumni that were the ultimate deciding factors in my decision to attend the University of Notre Dame.
How did you decide to major in English?
When I started as a freshman, I majored in pre-medical studies because I wanted to choose a path of study that would allow me to help people. However, I did not enjoy any of my classes as a pre-med student. My academic advisor noticed this and helped me to find other careers/fields of study that I was passionate about but would still give me the opportunity to help others. I added an English major to my studies. Adding on an English major introduced me to a number of different paths and degrees that the University offered, in particular ACE and Education, Schooling, and Society. This led me to creating my own education program for youth in the community, South Bend Code School.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in as a student?
During my undergraduate career, I was particularly involved in the cultural clubs on campus such as Shades of Ebony, the Black Student Association, NAACP, etc. They fostered a great sense of community, not only on campus, but also took the initiative to get involved in the greater South Bend community as well. Within one of the student clubs that I was a part of, I started a tutoring program as a way to offer on-site, free tutoring services to high school aged students at their schools. These on-site tutoring visits inspired me to start South Bend Code School. However, at the time, I did not think that my involvement in extracurriculars was connected to my future career. I am now able to see that these student clubs and the opportunities for leadership they offered both connected me to a community that I would one day call my permanent home and fostered a sense of independence that I would need to become an educator and entrepreneur.
How did the South Bend Code School come about?
I learned how to code in order to teach others. During college I tutored at local high schools and quickly noticed a pattern among the students—many felt that their futures were limited and that the possibilities of much progress or growth post-high school were nonexistent. Whether it be due to low grade point averages or the burden of financial constraints, the majority of my students thought that they did not qualify to attend college. Not having a college education came to equal not being able to earn a profitable career. However, for many reasons, learning how to code had the potential to re-instill a level of hope into many students’ lives. For instance, a college education is not required to begin a professional career as a developer. The field also offers high starting salaries, which was important to many of my students who were responsible for financially providing for themselves and/or a family. Therefore, after my undergraduate classes each day, I started teaching myself how to code in an effort to give students more options in their lives. This developed into South Bend Code School.
What was it like starting a business right after college?
Starting a business right after college was tough and scary; I was venturing into the unknown. I was an English major in college, as opposed to computer science. By becoming an entrepreneur and in a field that was not directly related to my area of study, I was taking what felt like a very non-traditional path and offered a lot of risk.
Did you have anyone in your life, on campus or off, who mentored you through the process?
I had two professors in particular, English professor Stuart Greene and Maria McKenna, director of the Education, Schooling, and Society program, who served as wonderful mentors to me during the process.
What do you love most about your work?
I love seeing the level of impact that learning how to code can have on a student’s life. In South Bend Code School’s first program, we witnessed 19 students (with 0 prior coding knowledge) code 23 websites in five weeks. Four of their websites were civic applications, promoting non-violence in the city of South Bend. Three years later, we have had the privilege of coding with over 300 youth in our formal program and 1,000 through our community outreach efforts. We have worked with students in the Juvenile Justice System or other less than ideal life situations. However, through coding, we have given students more hope and created coding alumni programs for students to continue learning and offer students opportunities such as job and internship placement, college and scholarship application assistance, and tutoring in core academic areas.
Do you have any advice for future Notre Dame students about how to find and follow their passions?
Own your education because learning does not just happen in the classroom or while studying for a test. Notre Dame is an excellent place with an abundance of resources and the city that it’s in, South Bend, is an excellent place for trying out an ideas that you have. For me, that’s what South Bend Code School was born out of. It is important to explore beyond your comfort zone and discover new passions.