By Laura Butchy
years, Columbians have helped neighborhood youth through the
Denise De Las
Nueces '03 grew up dealing with not only poverty but also
incredible shyness that caused her to stutter. In March, she became
a recipient of one of the first New York Times College Scholarship
Program awards - $12,000 a year for four years toward college
tuition - because of her outstanding academic
The road to
change was not easy, but she was helped along it by Columbia's
Double Discovery Center, a non-profit youth service agency that
tutors students from low-income families. For students of
neighborhood and area schools, DDC staff members and volunteers
offer academic, career, college, financial aid and personal
development services aimed at increasing the students' rates of
high school graduation, college entrance and college
De Las Nueces
became a member of DDC in eighth grade. "Denise is typical of our
students: immigrant parents, first-generation college student,"
said Olger Twyner, DDC's executive director.
overcome her problems, De Las Nueces forced herself to speak in
front of people and began studying astronomy from books her father,
a doorman, found thrown out by residents of his building. She
credits the Center for encouraging her and giving her the
confidence to apply to Ivy League schools and seek scholarships.
"It was a safe haven," she said. Although she applied to several
universities, she said Columbia was her first choice "because it
feels like home."
On May 25,
the Center will celebrate its 35th anniversary as one of the
largest programs of its kind in the nation. More than 400 program
alumni and staff will attend a formal dinner to learn about the
changing program. Conferences and workshops will be offered for
alumni according to age group.
to come back and see how the program has changed," said Grissel
Seijo '93, DDC admissions coordinator.
changed a great deal since 1965, when Roger Lehecka '67, former
dean of students and now director of alumni programming, decided to
start a group that would work with Harlem youth. With the help of
Steve Ross '68 and other College students, he applied for grants to
support the program and it gradually expanded. According to Seijo,
the program now serves about 1,000 students each year.
changed is DDC's overwhelming success rate. Over the past 35 years,
the Center has sent 96 percent of its students to college. To put
that number in perspective, consider that the high schools from
which DDC students come graduate only 34 percent of their freshman
belong to the program enjoy individualized attention. DDC assigns
each student an academic counselor who consults with students about
their individual academic and career goals. Felicia Collins, a 10th
grade student who has been with the DDC for about six months, said
the Center's volunteers, most of whom are College students,
impressed her right away. "They help you adjust to your
surroundings," she said. "They're friendly and outgoing, which
makes the work easier."
belong to two separate programs: Talent Search and Upward Bound.
The Talent Search Program, developed in 1977, provides academic and
career preparation services to more than 600 students annually in
grades 7-12 and young adults up to age 27.
'01 helps Myisha Speas with her math homework.
provides high school students who need more intensive academic
assistance with mandatory tutoring in all subjects. This program
only accepts students in ninth or tenth grade, and students remain
in the program until graduation. According to Seijo, students
receive tutoring twice a week after school that matches their
various high school curriculums, with classes in biology, chemistry
and trigonometry. Incentive trips and science-related laboratories
and lectures are offered each term.
students may also attend Saturday academic classes taught by
College alumni and community members. In one session, students
learned about the elements and structure of poetry by dissecting
hip-hop music. Another session used basketball to teach elements of
mathematics. This alternative learning program incorporates
gender-specific issues as well and emphasizes personal
Seijo, the typical DDC student attends tutoring twice a week, seeks
occasional counseling and participates in gender-specific programs.
Seijo said one of the Center's most popular optional activities is
the Young Women's Alliance, which provides a support network that
offers young women a safe place to discuss issues such as
self-esteem, health, careers, relationships, violence against women
and college life.
that's really impressive is that the numbers (of student successes)
are real, and the students make a community for themselves," said
Twyner. "It takes a lot to come to tutoring twice a
of the Columbia community as well as Columbia alumni support the
Center's activities. Several of the Center's paid employees,
including teachers, tutors, supervisory personnel and work study
students, are Columbia graduates who previously were
the majority of DDC's tutoring force is made up of about 60 College
student volunteers each semester. College student mentors discuss
college preparation, standardized tests and completing high school
with DDC youth, while career mentors help them consider career
professors, retired faculty, DDC alumni, and peer high school
students also serve as tutors. SAT instructors prepare students for
the exams by teaching math and English classes on
an 11th grader who has been part of DDC since seventh grade,
applied at the Center after a teacher told her about the programs.
"The SAT prep and the counselors are great," Chung said, "and it's
nice that the library is nearby and has great variety."
DDC enjoy a number of benefits from the connection with the
College, Twyner said. The Center offers computers with multimedia
and Internet capability for daily use, students may use the
library, and small group activities use campus classrooms. Twyner
said support from individual professors has also helped the program
widen students' experiences. Leonard Fine, director of
undergraduate studies in chemistry, has aided DDC chemistry groups
and run a chemistry workshop, Professor of Astronomy Joseph
Patterson has allowed the Center to use the Columbia telescope, and
Hillary Ballon, associate professor of art history, has arranged
mini-courses about skyscrapers and music.
tutors ninth-grade English, says the best part of her participation
in the program is witnessing the success stories. "It's watching
the ones who go the whole way come back," she said, "and they're
excited-they realize they made it. You learn from them as much
about yourself as they do from you."
Seijo, the Center is developing an alumni database to help it keep
in touch with program graduates and volunteers. Their second annual
alumni party for students and volunteers was held on January
summer, high school students can participate in afternoon academic
mini-courses, personal development workshops, SAT preparation,
trips and pre-professional conferences. Upward Bound students can
attend a six-week summer residential academic program on the
Columbia campus, which includes three academic classes, tutoring, a
health class, special interest clubs, trips, and health awareness.
Students receive dormitory housing, three meals a day, books and
Vasquez, a 12th grade student who has been with DDC for one year,
travels from the Bronx to visit the Center and use the computers.
"The attention and support you get is great," he said. Although he
used to "roam around college programs," he said the Center has
helped him focus his studies. "It's been fun, especially the summer
seniors in particular appreciate the Center's fall and spring
local, overnight, and week-long college trips. During the roughly
20 tours each year, students meet admissions officers and financial
aid administrators and attend classes. Overnight stays help give
them a perspective on what living on a campus is like. DDC
graduates are currently attending a variety of institutions,
including Columbia, Cornell, Rutgers, Boston U., Fordham, LIU and
Burrell, a high school senior, has studied in the program for five
years, including the summer program. "It keeps your mind on track
in the summer," she said, "and you meet new people."
White House recognition in 1998 as part of the President's
Promising Practices program, which highlights community efforts to
reduce racial disparities across the United States.
Author: Laura Butchy is a graduate student studying
dramaturgy in the School of the Arts.