TWC's History

TWC's History

: William M. Burke, Founder

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The late William M. Burke, founder and president of The Washington Center, was an inspiration to students, colleagues, and countless other individuals worldwide. His conviction and passion to develop tomorrow’s leaders was evident in his relentless spirit. He believed that all young people inherently possess the ability to lead, and he created The Washington Center to cultivate and transform the younger generation into civically minded citizens.


Bill passionately believed that it is important for young people to act as leaders in every aspect of their daily lives. He was committed to providing equal access and opportunity for all students, and he knew that exchange between individuals from diverse communities was essential for personal growth and civic responsibility. To Bill, the world was full of possibility, promise, opportunity and optimism. He envisioned a new generation of leaders working to better communities throughout the world.


Bill was successful in his vision. The institution that he built and nurtured for nearly 30 years of his life has earned a lasting place in higher education.  Just as Bill was committed to his vision, The Washington Center is committed to honoring his memory by proudly continuing his legacy and mission of developing young leaders.

The Washington Center Timeline

The Washington Center, founded in the fall of 1975, has grown from a program of 51 students from a handful of colleges to a global network of thousands of students and hundreds of universities.

Through the Decades


  • The Washington Center for Learning Alternatives is founded in Washington, D.C., by William M. Burke and Sheila Ann McRevey, with a staff of four. Operating out of a one-room office in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, The Washington Center recruits 51 students from 35 colleges to participate in internships during the fall of 1975.
  • The Exxon Education Foundation provides The Washington Center with its first major grant, enabling the organization to increase its staff to eight and to move operations to DeSales Street in Northwest. RJR Nabisco funds the first Presidential Lecture Series, featuring prominent speakers from government, the media, business, and associations.
  • The first three-week academic symposium, “Politics–Domestic and International Affairs,” is held in January, launching The Washington Center’s academic seminars department


  • New scholarship opportunities are created over the decade including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s grant for students studying science, the Minority Scholarship Fund, a grant from the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Scholarship Fund.
  • Public Policy Dialogues on Capitol Hill, currently funded by the Verizon Foundation, is established, providing students with the opportunity to meet and interact with members of Congress.
  • Seminars become a staple of The Washington Center’s programming. The Women as Leaders Academic Seminar is created as well as the first two-week academic seminars at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions are conducted, and are the only national academic programs available to college students at the conventions. Additionally, the first Inside Washington: Presidential Inauguration is launched with over 500 students in attendance.
  • The Washington Center for Learning Alternatives is renamed The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars in 1986.
  • The International Business School of Sweden begins an internship program in collaboration with The Washington Center.


This decade brings new programs and relationships with companies and agencies committed to investing in future generations, including:

  • The Environmental Internship Program and a related relationship is forged with the EPA
  • The Diversity in Congress, formed with funding from the Ford Foundation, the Ford Motor Company Fund, the Carnegie Corporation and AT&T
  • The Hearst Endowed Scholarship for Minority Students
  • The Women’s Leadership Internship Program is established
  • The College Plus One Internship Program for recent college graduates
  • The Córdova & Fernós Program for Puerto Rican students, formed in partnership with the Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly
  • The NAFTA Leaders Program
  • The Mass Communications Program
  • The Governors Internship Program, formed with the leadership of several Mexican states
  • The Washington Center expands its international programs to enable students from Canada, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and other countries to participate in the internship program
  • The Washington Center’s state initiative program is formally organized to develop scholarship funds for students from participating states; Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and West Virginia create programs for their students
  • The National Society for Experiential Education awards The Washington Center the first Partner Award for Experiential Education


  • A number of new programs are created, expanding the academic depth and reach for students attending TWC’s programs.
  • Enrollment surpasses 1,000 in the regular semesters, and the summer term enrollment passes 500 for the first time.
  • The Embassy Visit Program is established organizing visits to embassies of “nations in the news” such as Botswana, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, India, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey.
  • The Federal Government Initiative is established, providing students with increased opportunities to intern with the federal government. Partnerships with federal agencies are expanded, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor, providing additional funding for interns.
  • Michael B. Smith is named President of The Washington Center in 2004; he started at TWC in 1976.
  • The Washington Center moves to its new permanent location on 1333 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C., in 2007. Construction of a $38 million Student Residential and Academic Facility in Washington, D.C., begins in 2009.
  • The Campaign 2008 seminar series enrolled more than 700 participants. The Washington Center partnered with 130 colleges and universities to bring their students to President Obama's inauguration. More than 700 college students from 47 states and 14 countries participated in a 10-day inauguration program.
  • The Washington Center develops signature programs with Coca-Cola Foundation, Ford Motor Company, and Prudential Foundation to bring students from Brazil, China, India, Ghana, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, and Vietnam.


  • The President’s Lecture Series is renamed the “Alan K. Simpson – Norman Y. Mineta Leaders Series” in order to reflect the desired theme of a civil discourse between students and a group of speakers with proven leadership and a diversity of experiences and ideas.
  • The Washington Center opens its first Residential and Academic Facility in Washington, D.C.
  • The Washington Center celebrates its 35th Anniversary.
  • The Washington Center brings 220 students over the span of 2 years from public institutions in Mexico under the program Mexico 100.
  • The Washington Center administers the Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship Program, founded by the U.S. Department of State.
  • The Washington Center's International Deparment has partnered with governments from Gibraltar, Panama and Belgium to bring students from their countries to Washington, D.C.
  • The Washington Center partners with the U.S.-Japan Research Institute (USJI) to bring together a program called Building the TOMODACHI Generation, a two-week program designed for japanese students with interest in leadership training, cross-cultural exchange and entrepreneurial approaches to addressing social challenges.
  • The Washington Center celebrates its 40th Anniversary.
  • The Washington Center names Christopher Norton as its President after Michael Smith retired.

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