History

Helping young people reach their potential for more than four decades.

For William M. (Bill) Burke, the world was full of possibility, promise, opportunity and optimism. He passionately believed in helping young people to reach their full potential. He envisioned a new generation of leaders working to better communities throughout the world. He dedicated his life to making that vision a reality and founded, with his wife, Sheila McRevey Burke, The Washington Center in 1975 to accomplish it.

Bill knew that engaging with diversity is essential for personal growth and civic responsibility. In that spirit, the Washington Center has always sought to provide equal access to students. We welcome students from all around the world and across the range of ethnic, religious, social and financial backgrounds.

Since our founding, we've helped more than 55,000 young people translate their college majors into career paths. Today, The Washington Center has become the premier provider of internships and seminars to higher education partners and students worldwide.

Though we have grown and adapted to change, we remain true to our founder's mission and honor Bill's legacy by providing young people with enriching experiences, professional connections and caring support to help them pursue successful careers.

1970s
  • William M. Burke and Sheila Ann McRevey establish The Washington Center for Learning Alternatives in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
  • The Washington Center opens in the fall of 1975 with a staff of four in a one-room office and welcomes 51 students from 35 colleges.
  • The first major grant from the Exxon Education Foundation enables fuels a move to DeSales Street and additional staff.
  • RJR Nabisco funds the first Presidential Lecture Series, featuring prominent speakers from government, the media, business, and associations.
  • TWC holds its first three-week academic symposium, “Politics–Domestic and International Affairs."
1980s
  • Grants from Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Minority Scholarship Fund, MacArthur Foundation, and National Scholarship Fund create significant scholarship opportunities.
  • Public Policy Dialogues on Capitol Hill begin providing students with the opportunity to meet and interact with members of Congress.
  • Seminars become core programming with Women as Leaders Academic Seminar and the first two-week seminars at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
  • The first Inside Washington: Presidential Inauguration launches with over 500 students.
  • The Washington Center for Learning Alternatives becomes The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars.
  • The International Business School of Sweden begins an internship program.
1990s
  • Multiple grants and partnerships fuel significant growth in new programming:
  • Ford Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund, Carnegie Corporation and AT&T fund the launch of Diversity in Congress.
  • Hearst Endowed Scholarship for Minority Students
  • Women’s Leadership Internship Program
  • College Plus One Internship Program for recent college graduates
  • NAFTA Leaders Program
  • Mass Communications Program
  • Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly partners with TWC to form the Córdova & Fernós Program for Puerto Rican students.
  • The leadership of several Mexican states help form the Governors Internship Program.
  • International programs expand to enable students from Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and other countries to participate.
  • The state initiative program begins developing scholarships, with Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and West Virginia creating programs for their students.
  • The National Society for Experiential Education awards the first Partner Award for Experiential Education to TWC.
2000s
  • Enrollment crosses 1000 in semester programs and 500 in summer.
  • Embassy Visit Program begins organizing visits to embassies of Botswana, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, India, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey.
  • The Federal Government Initiative expands partnerships with federal agencies and increases internship opportunities with the federal government, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor.
  • Michael B. Smith, who started at TWC in 1976, is named President (2004).
  • Offices move to 16th Street NW (2007).
  • Campaign 2008 seminar enrolls more than 700 participants from 130 colleges and universities, 47 states and 14 countries for a 10-day series in connection with President Obama's inauguration.
  • Construction begins on new $38 million Residential and Academic Facility (2009).
  • Signature programs with Coca-Cola Foundation, Ford Motor Company, and Prudential Foundation bring students from Brazil, China, India, Ghana, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
2010s
  • The President’s Lecture Series becomes the “Alan K. Simpson – Norman Y. Mineta Leaders Series” focusing on civil discourse featuring speakers with proven leadership and showcasing a diversity of experiences and ideas.
  • Residential and Academic Facility completed and opened.
  • Mexico 100 program brings 220 students over 2 years from public institutions in Mexico.
  • Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship Program, awarded to TWC by the U.S. Department of State.
  • Partnerships with governments from Gibraltar, Panama and Belgium expand international profile.
  • U.S.-Japan Research Institute (USJI) partnership establishes Building the TOMODACHI Generation, a two-week program for japanese students interested in leadership, cross-cultural exchange and entrepreneurial approaches to social challenges.
  • The Washington Center names Christopher Norton as its President.