Columbia College has appointed Joseph Ayala CC ’94, an experienced non-profit leader with nearly 20 years of experience in youth development and advocacy, as the new executive director of the Double Discovery Center (DDC), a Columbia College program that works to enhance the higher education opportunities for low-income and first-generation youth in the surrounding community. He will begin his new role on February 10, leading a team that provides academic-year and summer programs for students age 12-27 focused on ensuring high school graduation, college enrollment and completion, and responsible adulthood.
Founded in 1965, DDC was the creation of Columbia undergraduates moved by the disparities between their Ivy League institution and the surrounding Harlem community. The center’s core services include afterschool tutoring, Saturday enrichment classes, and college application and financial aid assistance. 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 surpasses city, state and national outcomes for low-income, first-generation college and minority students.
Ayala has focused on teaching and counseling underserved New York City youth throughout his career. Since 2006, he has designed and implemented educational programs focused on college access and completion at Publicolor, a youth development non-profit dedicated to enhancing opportunities for at-risk New York City children. Before joining Publicolor, Ayala spent seven years at Prep for Prep, a leadership development program for promising New York City students of color, which he himself attended. He received a B.A. in Political Science from Columbia College and an M.F.A. in creative non-fiction from Sarah Lawrence College.
“We are excited to welcome Joe Ayala, a Columbia College graduate and non-profit leader, as the new executive director of Double Discovery Center,” says James J. Valentini, dean of Columbia College and vice president for undergraduate education. “Joe’s experience in youth development and advocacy, as well as his passion for helping the youth of our community, will be an asset to the organization and to DDC’s current and future students and families.”
“DDC is a longstanding successful organization that has a big impact on the students it serves and those in the Columbia community who interact with them,” adds Daniel O’Brien, director of capital allocation at Citigroup and chairperson of the DDC Board of Friends. “We board members think that Joe’s determination, work ethic and authenticity will serve him well as he leads DDC to continue to enhance its impact. We are excited to work with Joe on this important mission.”
Ayala’s background in youth development dates back to his time as a Columbia College student, when he coordinated childcare for Columbia’s Harlem Restoration Project. He later served as a program coordinator at Directions for Our Youth, Inc., and provided college counseling and job skills training for high school students at the Isabella Geriatric Center.
“The opportunity to lead a program that provides support and guidance for young people who would otherwise not have those opportunities is extraordinarily exciting,” says Ayala. “What I love most, which is at the core of DDC’s mission, are the double discoveries: Columbia has the chance to discover the gold mine right in its own backyard, while our young people get to see one of the finest institutions in the world and create a set of expectations for themselves about what is possible for them to achieve.”
Ayala, a native New Yorker from the Parkchester area of the Bronx, became involved with Prep for Prep in fifth grade, after a teacher challenged him to read more comic books than a classmate and discovered his high-reading level. After graduating from the program, he went on to attend The Allen-Stevenson School and to graduate from The Dalton School. He has continued his involvement with Prep for Prep, teaching literature and writing to students.
“Joe brings together a passion for the Center's mission with demonstrated experience helping New York City youth make the most of educational opportunities,” says Roger Lehecka CC ’67, GSAS’74, a founder of DDC and member of the DDC Board of Friends. “His own life is an example of how the right help at the right time can change everything. I am confident that his leadership and vision will provide such assistance to current and future DDC students.”