Columbia's Double Discovery Center Receives Federal Funding to Launch First-Gen Mentorship Program

Thanks to US Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Project Start Right extends DDC resources to first- and second-year college students.

March 27, 2024

The Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center at Columbia University (DDC) announced today that it had received funding in the latest federal spending bill to create a new program for first-generation students from low-income neighborhoods within Upper Manhattan who are enrolled in colleges across the country.

Thanks to U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who shepherded the $388,000 in funding through the FY’24 spending bill, this project will allow DDC to launch Project Start Right, an initiative aimed at reducing college attrition rates among underserved and first-generation communities throughout Northern Manhattan and West Harlem.

Project Start Right will provide intensive mentoring for DDC participants—in particular BIPOC first-gen youth from Columbia’s neighboring communities—in academic, financial, and social-emotional wellness. Historically these communities have suffered significantly higher college attrition rates than their wealthier and second-generation peers.

“We are very excited to launch this new initiative, which we hope will become an important resource for our young neighbors throughout West Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood. On behalf of the entire University, I want to express my gratitude to Leader Schumer and Senator Gillibrand, who worked hard to ensure that funding for this project was included in the latest federal spending bill," said Columbia University President Minouche Shafik. "Because of their efforts, Project Start Right will provide valuable counseling to young college enrollees from Upper Manhattan, with the goal of removing any obstacles that stand in the way of a completed college degree."

The Double Discovery Center is uniquely suited to undertake this initiative. Established in 1965, DDC works with first-generation, college-bound youth from low-income communities in the NYC areas of Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood to help ensure their success to, through, and beyond college. DDC envisions a world where all students can access the resources they need to achieve their academic aspirations and beyond.

DDC reflects the University’s mission to “advance knowledge and learning at the highest level.” The Center is one of the few college access and success programs in the country that leverages the expertise of an Ivy League institution and offers reciprocal benefits through its double discovery approach, which cultivates growth for all through the shared experiences of high school students and the college students who work with them. DDC is partnered with several local schools and serves over 1,000 students across the New York City area annually.

Since its founding, DDC has helped over 25,000 New York City youth to enter and graduate from college, demonstrating a 90% success rate in high school graduation and enrollment to college through its comprehensive program model. The current program model, which supports primarily 9th to 12th graders, includes intensive support, mentoring, and counseling in the three key areas of academic enrichment, college readiness, and social-emotional wellness. Project Start Right will extend this programming to first- and second-year college students.

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