The center's classes are "real-world relevant and practical" in nature, Burkett says. In keeping with the rest of the AUAF curriculum, classes are taught in English by a diverse group of international business experts, both men and women. The classroom focus is on building students' skills for immediate business applications—not necessarily on working toward an academic degree.
AUAF opened in 2006 with an initial enrollment of 50 students and now serves more than 1,700 full- and part-time students. It is a private, not-for-profit, non-partisan and co-educational university. The campus offers both day and evening classes. Students return home each day after classes because there are no on-campus residential facilities yet.
Interest in the new business center is extremely high among Afghans.
"These women are so intense and determined," Burkett says. "Their desire to learn is like no one you've ever met in your life."
The center itself was envisioned by former First Lady Laura Bush and supported through its development phases by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Burkett says the AUAF conducted an intensive national search to find an international women-owned architectural firm that had already done work in Central Asia and the Middle East. Burkett Design had opened a full-time office in Dubai a few years before the recession hit, mostly designing multifamily, health care and educational facilities.
The firm has worked across the Mideast and northern Africa, including in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Ethiopia. Then the recession hit, and it was "like a light switch was turned off," Burkett says. The work fell off sharply, and the firm pared down to a bare-bones operation in Dubai. But Burkett had made many contacts there over the years. The firm did not chase the women's center project, Burkett says. The opportunity came to Burkett as a cold call from AUAF. She had no previous contacts at the university, she adds.
"And fortunately, we had the international requirements, company values and experience they were looking for," she says.
Burkett Design maintains its ongoing presence in Dubai and will soon be opening an office in Saudi Arabia. Burkett spends about 25% of her time out of the country and manages Colorado and U.S. projects the rest of the time. The new women's center in Afghanistan has been a major design milestone for Amy Burkett and Burkett Design.
"For me, this is a career-fulfillment project. There's nothing to equate this with in terms of making a difference," Burkett says. "It has been a transformative project."