Project Double Discovery, as it was known in its early years, was founded in 1965 as one of the first programs piloted during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration’s War on Poverty. The program mobilized socially conscious college students to help New York City students succeed in high school and carve a path to college. Now called The Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center (DDC), it has evolved from an experimental summer program to a nationally recognized learning hub with comprehensive programming that engages more than 1,000 low-income and first-generation college-bound students annually.
Located on the Columbia University campus and operating within Columbia College, DDC has provided student services, support, college advising and supplemental schooling to more than 15,000 New York City students.
“We are proud of Double Discovery’s origins within Columbia College and that it remains a part of the College today. DDC and the College both educate students and propel them to use that education as engaged and responsive citizens of their communities and of the world,” said James J. Valentini, dean of Columbia College and vice president for undergraduate education.
DDC has a strong history of exceptional innovation in its approach to education. The Upward Bound program administered by the U.S. Department of Education was modeled after work begun in DDC and now exists on hundreds of college campuses across the country. The Freedom and Citizenship seminar, a residential summer program that introduces low-income, mostly minority high school students to the rigors of Columbia, began in 2009 as a partnership with the Center for American Studies. DDC continues to widen its programmatic impact through collaborations on campus and beyond. Unique efforts with companies BlackFem, Edquity and Macquarie are helping DDC become a leader in the field, linking educational access and success with social mobility, and a partnership with Columbia’s School of Social Work strives to refocus education on developing the “whole child.”
Building on this legacy, DDC has recently celebrated several notable milestones including its 50th anniversary, its first named endowment and the arrival of a new executive director, kecia hayes TC’96. Hayes, a Teachers College alumna with more than 20 years of education experience, joined DDC in February 2018. A native New Yorker and longtime Harlem resident, she earned a B.A. from Hamilton College; M.A. and Ed.M. from Teachers College, Columbia University; and Ph.D. in Urban Education from the CUNY Graduate Center, where she was a MAGNET Scholar. Under her direction DDC has refined its programming structure to focus on three critical elements — academic enrichment, college and career success, and healthy minds and bodies — for a more comprehensive approach to college access and success.
“Recognizing the transformative power of education, DDC has been a pioneer in this central issue of our nation’s ongoing quest for civic justice,” said hayes. “DDC has a tremendous impact in making educational opportunity and social mobility a reality for many NYC youth.”
Though DDC has worked hard to maintain momentum, federal funding from the Department of Education alone does not provide adequate resources for DDC to fulfill its longstanding mission. As a result DDC strives to find additional streams of financial support to remain an incubator of new ideas. Gifts from loyal alumni and friends, business and foundations enable DDC to continue to be a place where innovative programs can be tested and explored.
DDC’s newly appointed Board Chair Roger Lehecka CC’67, GSAS’74 recognizes the challenges but is confident that greater knowledge and awareness of DDC will lead to more support. He is invigorated by the opportunity to enhance DDC’s attractiveness to a wider range of funders.
“The work isn’t close to being done, which is why I’m eager to work with the Board of Friends to bring more support and attention to this wonderful program in the future,” said Lehecka.
Lehecka’s long history with DDC makes him an obvious choice to lead the Board of Friends, an advisory entity of dedicated volunteers who are passionate in their goal to fortify the long-term well-being of the center. In 1965, Lehecka helped Steve Weinberg CC’66, GSAPP’68 to lead Barnard and Columbia undergraduates in the creation and implementation of Project Double Discovery.
“It’s very gratifying to me that something I helped to create more than 50 years ago is still flourishing,” said Lehecka. “Double Discovery has changed the lives of thousands of high school students by offering them hope, skills and ambitious plans. It’s changed the lives of hundreds of undergraduates by teaching them about urban education and its long-standing inequities as well as giving them insight into how they want to live their lives. It’s made New York City a more equitable place by helping so many of its low-income high school students develop their talents and get to college.”
With dedicated leadership focused on serving New York City youth and securing the center’s financial future, and with the strong support of the College, DDC will continue to be a leader in college access, paving the way for the next 50 years.
On the significance of this collaboration, Valentini said, “We believe in DDC as DDC believes in its students — and it’s powerful to believe in someone and deeply satisfying when your support helps them thrive. Under the guidance of kecia and Roger, DDC will continue to transform lives for many years to come.”