25 Years Creating Life-Changing Internship Experiences

Urban Alliance has been a catalyst in creating life-changing internship experiences for young adults of color in the Greater DC area, Baltimore, Chicago and Detroit. 

For those who may not know our story, it started 25 years ago at Anacostia High School in Washington DC when six students were connected to paid internships. Founded by Andrew Plepler, the focus of Urban Alliance is to put students first always, and to bridge the gap between education and workforce development for young people. 

To help students dream big and achieve economic mobility that means exposing them to opportunities including paid internships, mentoring, professional development, and skills training. Since 1996, Urban Alliance has connected more than 6,000 high schools students to internships through its flagship High School Internship Program and trained 23,000 more young people with intensive skills training to help them  thrive and excel in school or the workforce across our four regions.  

“This program has greatly increased my confidence. Urban Alliance took me out of my comfort zone,” Urban Alliance Alumna Blanca Zelaya said. Blanca interned with Hilton DoubleTree in Washington DC. Her job site mentors were so impressed with her growth that they hired her to work part-time while she attends Northern Virginia Community College.   

Alumnus Eddie Amoah said that Urban Alliance does not give up on students and that was important for him. “The opportunities are endless. They can help you get a job [and] they also open a lot of different doors for you. They’ll always take care of you and look out for you,” Eddie said. 

Throughout the course of our history Urban Alliance has achieved many milestones they were celebrated at our 25th anniversary celebration on October 13 at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC.  The celebration of our 25-year journey included former President Barack Obama, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch, III, and 350 of our outstanding students, partners, mentors, alumni, current and former staff, board members, and other stakeholders. 

President Obama recognized our five-year partnership of the Obama Youth Jobs Corps (OYJC) which has provided more than 1,700 students from Chicago public schools with job skills training, intensive workforce readiness training and paid internship experience. Our partnership will now expand to impact 4,500 more students across 10 Chicago public high schools.  

At the celebration, President Obama shared how fortunate it has been for the Obama Foundation to partner with the Urban Alliance in Chicago for the past five years. “We have created opportunities for young people to get job skills training, to get paid internships, to get a sense of what it’s like to pursue professions that they might not have previously imagined,” he said. 

At the event, two OYJC alumni had the opportunity to lead a panel discussion with President Obama. Austin Washington and Imani P. Muse reflected about what this opportunity meant for them. Imani said, “Urban Alliance has given me a multitude of essential skills and experiences, however, the opportunity to interview a legend I have admired…was beyond anything I could have ever imagined.”  

Austin recalls that “in elementary school every kid is required to write a letter to President Obama pertaining to what you would say to him. However, I had the opportunity to actually do it and it was in person no less. I will forever count my lucky stars for the lovely opportunity Urban Alliance has given me. Being able to talk to him and experience his wisdom both on and off stage has truly impacted my life.” 

Obama stated that “when I’ve had a chance to meet each of these young people, what has struck me is number one, how much smarter they are than I was at their age, number two, how willing they are to, how open they are to new experiences and their interest in making sure that they squeeze every last bit of the experience that the Urban Alliance affords them.” 

At the celebration, Bank of America announced its partnership with Urban Alliance and the Smithsonian to form an internship program designed to support and increase youth employment. Named in honor of Urban Alliance founder, the Andrew Plepler Internship Program will provide paid internships at Smithsonian museums and locations for 45 high school students from communities of color across Greater Washington, DC starting in the fall of 2022. 

“Andrew has built a career that combines his professional expertise with his passion for creating meaningful opportunities for young people to build their own careers,” said Larry Di Rita, President, Bank of America Washington, DC. “As a leader at Bank of America, Andrew has been instrumental in shaping programs to enhance economic mobility, and the Plepler Internships recognize his long-time commitment to that.” 


Check out more highlights and alumni profiles from our 25th Anniversary Celebration here