Columbia College in West Harlem announced today the appointment of Joseph Ayala as the new Executive Director of its Double Discovery Center, a Columbia College program that works to enhance higher education opportunities for local low-income and first-generation youth and adults between the ages of 12 and 27. Double Discovery Center’s (DDC) academic enrichment program serves approximately 1,000 students each year and has become a model for similar programs throughout the United States. The DDC program focuses on ensuring high school graduation, college enrollment and completion, and responsible adulthood. Mr. Ayala will begin his new role on February 10.
Founded in 1965, DDC was the creation of Columbia undergraduates who were moved by the disparities between their Ivy League institution and the underserved local Harlem community. 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 greatly surpasses city, state and national outcomes for low-income, first-generation college and minority students.
“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.”
Joseph Ayala, an experienced leader in educational advocacy for the local community with nearly 20 years of experience in youth development, is a native-New Yorker from the Bronx who has focused on teaching and counseling underserved youth throughout his career. 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.
“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.”
Since 2006, Ayala 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, he spent seven years at Prep for Prep, a leadership development program for promising New York City students of color, which he himself attended.
“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.”
“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, 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.”