Sasha Wells TC’18, a longtime Columbia College employee with decades of nonprofit experience, has been named executive director of the Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center. DDC’s mission is to increase the rates of high school graduation — as well as college enrollment and graduation rates — of low-income and first-generation college-bound youth from public schools in Harlem and Washington Heights.
Wells joined the College in 2011 primarily to manage the Board of Visitors. She added to her portfolio of responsibilities within the Dean’s Office by managing several key College-wide projects and initiatives and, for the last two years, working closely with Dean James J. Valentini as his deputy chief of staff. “The Double Discovery Center is a vital part of Columbia’s engagement with our neighborhood, and I know that as the new executive director of DDC Sasha will ensure the continued success of that engagement,” Valentini says.
Prior to joining the College, Wells worked at the American Red Cross on youth development programs and at the National MS Society building its volunteer programs. She earned a B.S. from Cornell and a master’s from Teachers College. Wells is known in the Columbia community for her commitment to excellence, strong work ethic, humility and sense of humor. She also has a heart for young people, which has been consistently present in her 20-year nonprofit career.
“As a first-gen, low-income Latina from the South Bronx, it is an incredible honor to be DDC’s next executive director,” Wells says. “I look forward to building on the strength of this wonderful organization to increase its visibility and ultimately its impact on many more young people from the neighboring communities.”
DDC was established as Project Double Discovery in 1965 by Columbia and Barnard undergraduates, who were spurred to action by the disparities between their Ivy League institution and the underserved nearby Harlem community. Since then, DDC has helped more than 15,000 students achieve college success by supporting their resilience and persistence with academic courses, college and career counseling, and tutoring and mentorship from Columbia students.
“Sasha has been a staunch supporter of the Double Discovery Center since the planning for its 50th anniversary celebration began eight years ago,” says Roger Lehecka ’67, GSAS’74, a DDC founding member and the current chair of the DDC Board of Friends. “That effort would not have succeeded as it did were it not for her hard work and strong advocacy. In the intervening years Sasha has supported the work of the center and its Board of Friends with great skill, and with a passion that comes in part from her own lived experience. I am delighted and grateful that she agreed to become the executive director of the center because I know that under her leadership the center will surpass all its previous success.”
“None of us need researchers to tell us that the global pandemic has been devastating,” says Natalie Edwards, a DDC Board of Friends member. “It has been particularly difficult for the young people in our communities who have lost loved ones, have had limited access to their friends and peers through inconsistent physical participation in school and have experienced an increasing lack of financial stability. The mission of the Double Discovery Center — to help our young people navigate to and beyond college as a pathway out of poverty — has consequently become more important than ever. I am exceptionally pleased that Sasha has chosen to bring her extensive skill set and her deep commitment to the community to the Center as its new executive director at this vital time.”
Wells was appointed interim executive director on March 21, 2022, and began the permanent role on June 1.