Domer Diaries

My Domer Diary: Rebecca Blais

Using Data for Social Change


Editor’s Note: This week’s Domer Diaries comes from Rebecca Blais ’18, recent Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient for her work at the intersection of data science and politics. Blais co-founded and serves as executive director of Bluebonnet Data, a nonprofit that recruits, trains and organizes people with skills in coding and data science to form volunteer data teams for down-ballot political campaigns.

Name: Rebecca Blais
Class Year: 2018
Residence Hall: Farley Hall
Major and Minor: Political Science and Peace Studies
Student Activities: Student Government, Be The Match On Campus, Dean’s Fellows

What was your path to Notre Dame and were there any significant moments that influenced your decision to attend?

I first learned about Notre Dame from my grandfather, Bob Lloyd ’57, right before my junior year of high school. I was recovering from a bone marrow transplant for a rare blood disorder called HLH and had moved in with my grandparents to heal. It was a difficult time, but it carried its own blessings, including the unique time I had to bond with my grandparents. I had always been close with my grandparents, but during that time, they became (and remain) two of my best friends. While living with them, my grandfather showed me the movie Rudy, and I joked about seeing the school. Not long after, he had found us tickets to an October football game and I was heading to South Bend for the first time. Despite first being skeptical of what I perceived to be a school far away in the northern cold, I quickly fell in love. I was entranced by the autumn leaves, the quiet refuge of the Grotto, and the traditions that seemed to link the community together. I met strangers who would become some of the biggest influences in my life, and I began to understand pieces of what makes the University so special. I became totally obsessed with this feeling that I belonged at Notre Dame, and after another year of high school, I was fortunate enough to be admitted. I enrolled in the fall of 2014 and began my time as a student at Notre Dame, always feeling grateful for the unexpected path that brought me there.

Tell us more about Bluebonnet Data. How did your undergrad experience inform what you do today?

As an undergrad, I studied political science and peace studies, worked extensively on campus policy issues through Student Government, and pursued external learning through the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement and the International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP) through the Center for Social Concerns. Each experience taught me lessons that would eventually guide me at Bluebonnet Data and continue to do so today. In one of my peace studies classes, “How to Change the World” with David Cortright, we studied nonviolent movements to overthrow dictators and the power that young people had to move the needle on social issues. In Student Government, I gained firsthand experience driving policy changes in Title IX and DEI and built a team that would push issues forward well beyond my time. It was these experiences I had at Notre Dame that empowered me to design the structure of Bluebonnet Data, collaborate whole-heartedly with my cofounder team, and always challenge our ideas of what was possible.

Bluebonnet started coming together in my first year post-grad. I was working at a data migration firm in Chicago when I met my cofounders and got excited about the idea behind our mission. In the 2018 election cycle, my cofounder, Nathán, had stumbled upon a gap: he had volunteered to code for Beto O’Rourke’s Senate campaign in Texas and quickly saw that although there were many data projects on campaigns, there weren’t many data people. We founded Bluebonnet Data as a bridge to connect young people with technical skills to the civic and political causes they are passionate about — and we met lots of people eager to be a part of the electoral process and contribute their high-impact skills. Since our 2018 founding, we have trained 1,300+ technologists, reached 700+ campaigns and causes, and worked nationwide to improve data and talent infrastructure.

As a Notre Dame graduate, what advice do you have for current students when considering what to do after graduation?

My advice is to follow what you’re passionate about and don’t be afraid to take some risks! During my time at Notre Dame, I received University support to study elephant conservation in Sri Lanka, spend a summer working in China, switch my major many times, and join Student Government, where I could make a tangible difference on the issues I cared about. The job that I would come to love at Bluebonnet Data didn’t exist when I went to the Career Fair senior year and the lessons I learned through my travels and adventures didn’t always translate clearly on a resumé. But I learned about the world and myself, met people who challenged my perspective, and ignited my curiosity and hunger for change. It wouldn’t have made sense to me while at Notre Dame, but in the years following graduation, I was able to bring all of my seemingly separate experiences together in my work and found an organization that I am still proud of today.