Double Discovery Renamed to Honor Founder Roger Lehecka

May 13, 2016

The Double Discovery Center, a Columbia College program that works to foster college matriculation for low-income and first-generation middle and high school students in New York City, has been renamed the Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center, thanks to a $2-million gift from an anonymous donor.

Roger Lehecka (CC’67, GSAS’74) was one of the founders of Project Double Discovery as a Columbia College student in 1965, in an effort to make the path to college easier for New York City students from low-income families. He later served as dean of students of Columbia College.

The donor is giving $400,000 a year for five years in honor of the organization’s 50th anniversary, celebrated last year, 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. 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,” added Constantine S. Dimas (CC’96), chair of the DDC Board of Friends. “We are so grateful for the continued support of Columbia College 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 Alfred Lerner Hall and endowing DDC’s Freedom and Citizenship Program, a summer humanities program for DDC students. Through the Freedom and Citizenship Program, run in collaboration with Columbia’s Center for American Studies, students take an abridged version of Columbia’s Core Curriculum.

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.”

DDC 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.

Annually, 90 percent of high school seniors participating in DDC programs 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 DDC program has been a model for similar programs throughout the United States.

“Over the past 51 years, Double Discovery has made a difference in so many lives – at Columbia College, in New York City and around the world,” said James J. Valentini, dean of Columbia College and vice president of Undergraduate Education. “This gift, made in honor of Columbia College graduate and DDC founder Roger Lehecka, will help support DDC’s programs and opportunities for years to come. We are so glad to be able to recognize Roger and his commitment to DDC and to Columbia College in this way.” 

The Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center was formally dedicated in a ceremony at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11, 2015 on the fifth floor of Alfred Lerner Hall on the University’s Morningside Heights Campus.

“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.”