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Discoveries and Success Are Normal Aspects of Historic Summer Program

By Jo Kadlecek

Each summer since 1965, a quiet success story has been written on a corner of Columbia's campus. High school students from Harlem and throughout Manhattan have come to improve their academic skills and learn about life at an Ivy League university. College students stay on campus to work full time with them and learn about urban life. The combination brings both a mission and a title to this unique program: Double Discovery.

Started by Columbia students in the heart of the socially-conscious 1960s, Project Double Discovery (as it was called then) has grown from a pilot program on the Morningside campus to a national endeavor known today as Upward Bound. It first began because student volunteers from Columbia College were concerned about the quality of New York's public education and wondered if they could do something to help. They applied for and received federal funding through President Johnson's "War on Poverty" programs and invited 160 students from struggling high schools throughout the five boroughs to join them on campus for the summer. They studied math and English, took field trips and talked about study skills and street life. The eight-week residential immersion program inspired more involvement the next summer from high school students and college mentors alike. Soon Double Discovery was one of the most popular programs on campus.

"I cannot convey how exhilarating that experience was for us," says Roger Lehecka, a founding member of Double Discovery who stayed to make his career at Columbia. For 19 years, he was the dean of students for Columbia College. Today, he is the executive director of Columbia's 250th anniversary and has served on the board of Friends for Double Discovery since it began. "Those summers changed the lives of a lot of college students and affected how they thought about their futures. It was a little naive to think we could change the [public school] system but it was exciting to think we might make a difference in the lives of the students."

The goals haven't changed for Columbia's Double Discovery Center (as it's called now), though the non-profit organization has certainly grown. Today it is housed in Alfred Lerner Hall with a full-time professional staff of 13, dozens of part-time academic staff and more than 100 volunteers who serve as tutors and instructors throughout the year. The program still brings first generation college bound students from low-income families to Columbia each summer for its various academic programs, but the Double Discovery Center (DDC) also provides academic and college counseling services, activities and events year round. In fact, the Center currently serves more than 1,000 New York City youth each year in grades seven through 12. But the goal is still the same as when it first began almost four decades ago: to increase the students' rate of high school graduation and college entrance and completion.

"Double Discovery is a mutual exchange," says Olger C. Tywner III, DDC executive director. "Everyone's enriched by bringing these high school students to campus, and the summer programs -- with so many undergraduates, graduate students, teachers, even some retirees working in them -- reinforce that."

This summer, more than 125 students from high schools such as Brandeis, George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics participated in the six-week summer academy as part of DDC's Upward Bound program. Most are involved in Upward Bound throughout the school year and return to the summer sessions as a way to build on their experiences. They live and eat in John Jay Hall, take classes in English, math, foreign languages or science and participate in a variety of special interest clubs focusing on anything from debate, chess and Double Dutch to step, cultural heritage and choir. With the supervision of college students serving as resident teaching assistants (RTA's), each morning they attend classes and each afternoon they go to their clubs or on field trips in the city as well as study. In the evenings, students participate in tutorials, review sessions, health classes and recreation. Students go home on the weekends and return to campus each Sunday night.

DDC also hosted two day camps this summer: a four-week academic and test-preparation program for 65 seventh and eighth-grade students, and a six-week session for more than 40 high school students enrolled in the DDC's national Talent Search program that is part of the Department of Education. Talent Search students also take academic classes as well as SAT preparation classes, participate in clubs and volunteer for internships in law firms or child care centers during the summer session.

"Most of our students are pretty motivated," Tywner says. "Not every kid wants to get a job over the summer. They enjoy coming here, having a peer group to identify with and a safe place to develop their skills and goals."

And the strategy obviously works: 96 percent of DDC students graduate from high school, and 92 percent go on to college. Some even stay close to home by attending Columbia, like Denise De las Nueces (CC '03), Pamela Brea (SEAS '04) and Min-Chun Lo (SEAS '04).

In other words, success stories have always been easy to find whenever you walk through the doors of the Double Discovery Center.

Published: Aug 12, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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