Difference Makers: Rachel O’Loughlin changes lives through unique digital program

Rachael O-Loughlin
Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

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Codefi’s Rachel O’Loughlin manages a unique web development program.

Codefi’s Full Stack Web Developer Program has been teaching web development skills and preparing students for entry-level web development employment for six years. It’s a 40-week program, split into 20-week segments — front-end web development and back-end web development. It’s geared to a spectrum of potential students — fresh high school graduates to someone wanting to make a career change. And it features a flexible schedule — nighttime in-person classes twice a week (six hours) and coursework done on each student’s time (20-25 hours per week).

The best part?

It’s free.

O’Loughlin said a variety of local partnerships and grant funds (local, state and federal) allow Codefi to offer the program at no cost to chosen applicants.

“An online boot camp or a traditional boot camp costs anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, that would be something equivalent to our program,” she said. “It’s really awesome to be able to break those barriers down and provide easy access for individuals who really need it.”

O’Loughlin explained that the “front-end” portion of the course focuses on components of a digital page.

“Those are all of the things you see on a landing page or a website or an application that you can click and interact with, like an image or a call-to-action button,” she said.

The “back-end” portion focuses on making such things work.

“It’s providing you with the skills to learn the functionality,” she said. “So, when you click that button or that image, you are taken to the appropriate destination.”

Contained in the second part of the program is a five-week “employer unit” with a focus on job-seeking skills — resumé building and job interviewing — and a capstone project that not only enhances the student’s skills but also helps area businesses solve real-world issues.

“The employers essentially facilitate and mentor a project that their company needs help with that utilizes the skills these individuals have learned to that point,” O’Loughlin said. “It puts them to the test and really helps build their portfolio, and, of course, that leads to organic networking opportunities for employers. ... It’s a great opportunity for both parties to connect.”

Originating in Cape Girardeau, the program has expanded throughout Southeast Missouri: West Plains, Perryville, Poplar Bluff and Sikeston; and Western Kentucky: Paducah, Murray, Madisonville and Hopkinsville.

O’Louglin said each course usually consists of two instructors and 24 students, though demand has driven higher numbers at times. In those cases, Codefi adds a teacher to keep the teacher/student ratio consistent.

“We do that to make sure that we are getting a student-to-teacher ratio to create the best outcomes for the students going through the program,” she noted.

While the web development skills taught in the program are at home in companies and organizations with a traditional digital footprint, new ways of using technology are making such skills valuable to a wide audience.

O’Loughlin pointed to a group of Southeast Missouri farmers using technology to control the water pumps irrigating their crops as one example.

In the end, wherever the new skills are put to work, O’Loughlin is making a profound difference for graduates and businesses alike.