Roger Lehecka CC’67 GSAS’74 was one of the founders of Project Double Discovery in 1965 in an effort to make the path to college easier for New York City students from low-income families. He went on to serve as a longtime Dean of Students of Columbia College.
The donor is giving $400,000 a year for five years to Double Discovery in honor of the organization’s 50th Anniversary in 2015 and in hopes of inspiring others to give to Double Discovery.
“We’re so excited to honor one of our founders and greatest champions this way,” said Joseph Ayala CC’94, executive director of DDC. “And we’re even more excited to take on the challenge to match this unprecedented gift over the next five years in order to secure Double Discovery’s future for the next 50.”
“Every day DDC fights the good fight to improve the lives of our at risk children through education,” said Constantine S. Dimas CC’96, chair of the DDC Board of Friends. “By honoring Roger and all those who have fought alongside him, this tremendous gift only strengthens our resolve to do more for more students in more ways. We are so grateful for the continued support of Dean James Valentini for his unwavering support of Double Discovery.”
The gift will serve two main purposes: funding the renovation of DDC’s tutoring and office space on the third floor of Columbia University’s Alfred Lerner Hall; and endowing DDC’s Freedom and Citizenship Program, a summer humanities program for DDC students run in collaboration with Columbia’s Center for American Studies. The Freedom and Citizenship students take an abridged version of Columbia’s Core Curriculum taught by Columbia professors.
This endowment will also allow DDC to focus on solidifying its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative, The Science Discovery Program.
“In Freedom and Citizenship, we have an immersive program for students that prepares them for the rigors of higher education and encourages them to consider studying the humanities in college,” Ayala said. “Our goal is to create a companion program in the sciences that is a comparably robust and transformative experience for our students.”
Double Discovery Center serves approximately 1,000 students each year through its core services, which include after-school tutoring, Saturday enrichment classes, and college application and financial aid assistance. The DDC program, which focuses on ensuring high school graduation, college enrollment and completion, and responsible adulthood, has been a model for similar programs throughout the United States.
Annually, 90 percent of high school seniors participating in Double Discovery graduate from high school on time and enter college the following fall semester, which greatly surpasses city, state and national outcomes for low-income, first-generation college and minority students.
The Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center will be formally dedicated in a ceremony on May 11.
“I am honored and humbled by this recognition, said Lehecka, a member of the DDC Board of Friends. “Double Discovery has helped thousands of deserving but needy New York City high school students since 1965, and I hope this donation will inspire others to help us change even more lives.”