Amazon chooses MCC, Tarleton, Tech as education partners for Career Choice program

Amazon’s Career Choice program has chosen McLennan Community College, Tarleton State University-Waco, and Texas Tech University as education partners for its Career Choice program, which provides Amazon’s hourly employees access to associate degrees, certifications, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees.

Image from Amazon’s Career Choice website.

Career Choice is an education benefit that enables employees to learn new skills for career success. The program allows employees to advance their education through a variety of “upskilling opportunities,” including pre-paid college tuition and industry certifications for in-demand jobs, an MCC release said. It also promotes “foundational skills,” such as English proficiency, high school diplomas, and GEDs.

Amazon is investing $1.2 billion in the United States to “upskill more than 300,000 employees by 2025 to help move them into higher-paying, in-demand jobs,” the release said.

“McLennan Community College is pleased to partner with Amazon for the Amazon Career Choice program, which will provide educational opportunity for our local citizens,” said MCC President Johnette McKown. “We desire to be a catalyst for our community members to invest in a better life for their families and to support economic development.” The program is an example of the commitments by MCC, Tarleton, and Tech to “provide our community with an educated workforce. We look forward to our relationship with Amazon.”

Tarleton President James Hurley said: “We’re proud to partner with MCC to offer flexible academic programming for Amazon employees. Collaborations like this perfectly complement our 123-year commitment to educational opportunity and access for all students. Amazon employees will advance their careers, and North Central Texas will prosper.”

Brian Still, vice provost for e-learning and academic partnerships at Texas Tech, said: “Our partnerships with McLennan and in Waco are strong. It’s because of these strong partnerships that Texas Tech is joining this program in Waco. Amazon employees participating in the Career Choice program in the area can feel confident they are receiving a top-notch education.”

With about 8,000 students per semester, MCC offers more than 140 degrees, certificates, and occupational skills awards at an affordable cost with flexible class schedules on a 275-acre campus adjacent to Cameron Park and the Bosque River. Learn more at

In 2001, MCC established its University Center to offer MCC students opportunities to earn bachelor’s or master’s degrees on the MCC campus through distinguished partners like Tarleton and Texas Tech University. Students take their basic courses at MCC, transfer those credits to a University Center partner, and complete a fully-accredited bachelor’s degree that is no different from the degrees earned at the universities’ home campuses. MCC’s University Center makes earning an affordable bachelor’s degree more attainable without leaving McLennan County. Learn more at

Tarleton-Waco offers degree programs for working adults in a range of fields with classes in the evenings, daytime, weekends, and online. With more than 1,000 students in 30 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, Tarleton-Waco offers degrees in fields like nursing, criminal justice, social work, education, business, computer information systems, and more. Learn more at

In Waco, Texas Tech offers a “student-centered atmosphere of a smaller college with the academic resources of a Carnegie ‘very high research activity university.” Texas Tech, a Hispanic Serving Institution, serves more than 200 students with 16 majors and 27 minors offered for undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs on the MCC campus. Among other degree offerings, Texas Tech’s Waco site offers programs in high-demand fields such as communication studies, digital media and professional communication, sociology, biology, human sciences, education and public administration. Learn more at

Amazon’s Career Choice program has a selection process for third-party partner educators, choosing partners that are focused on helping employees through their education programs, assisting them with job placements, and overall offering education that leads to career success.

“We’re looking forward to MCC, Tarleton State University-Waco, and Texas Tech University coming on board as an education partner for Career Choice,” said Tammy Thieman, global program lead of the Amazon program. Hundreds of “best-in-class offerings available to our employees.”

“We’re committed to empowering our employees by providing them access to the education and training they need to grow their careers, whether that’s with us or elsewhere,” Thiamin said. “We have intentionally created a partner network of third-party educators and employers committed to providing excellent education, job placement resources, and continuous improvements to the experience. Today, over 80,000 Amazon employees around the world have participated in Career Choice and we’ve seen first-hand how it can transform their lives.”

For more information on Amazon’s Career Choice, visit:

Loftin-Conner, Hutchison honored as MCC alumni

The McLennan Community College Foundation’s Highlander Alumni & Friends Association honored Mandy Loftin-Conner and Killian Hutchison recently with two MCC alumni awards. Loftin-Conner received the Distinguished Alumni Award, and Hutchison received the Distinguished Leader Award.

2022 MCC Distinguished Alumna Mandy Loftin-Conner (left) with McLennan Community College President Dr. Johnette McKown

Loftin-Conner is a graduate of China Spring High School and attended MCC as a theatre major 1991-93. She then continued her education at Texas Tech University and has taught locally for 25 years. During that time, she earned 13 trips to the regional UIL One Act Play Meet and eight trips to state.

In addition to teaching and directing, Mandy is an established playwright. She has published the well-received play, “Lafayette No. 1,” which has been produced in 31 states, Canada, and AustraliaShe has also published “AGO,” “Should Not Cause Harm,” “Unclaimed,” “Dirt,” “11,” and “Rue.” 

Most recently, Mandy partnered with Creative Waco to create a pair of life-sized Columbian Mammoth puppets that will be used by Mayborn Museum and the Waco Mammoth National Monument.

“Mandy is deeply grounded in her personal faith and values,” said Creative Waco’s Fiona Bond. “She embodies those values in her work and creative practice, inspiring others, and giving those who feel unseen the opportunity to find their voice and shine.”

2022 MCC Distinguished Leader Killian Hutchinson (left) with McLennan Community College President Dr. Johnette McKown

Hutchison, of Waco, came to MCC as a Presidential Scholar. She maintained a 4.0 GPA at MCC in the nursing program, while working a part-time job, serving on the Student Advisory Committee and volunteering at several Waco nonprofits.

Killian did all of this during the peak of a pandemic. She volunteered to help vaccinate our community. Killian is an all-around incredible person, and is the epitome of McLennan’s drive to build future leaders and heroes. Killian will continue to serve our community as a NICU nurse at Ascension Providence.

MCC campus gets new Watson Arbor; ceremony Jan. 11

By Lisa Elliott

The McLennan Community College Foundation will be joined Tuesday, Jan. 11, by MCC and community leaders to mark the opening of a new outdoor gathering space on the MCC campus. The Greta and Murray Watson, Jr., Arbor will open with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 1:30 p.m. beside the Enrollment Services Center. The ceremony will conclude with hot chocolate and cookies, and the public is invited.

Greta and Murray Watson, Jr., Arbor

The Watson Arbor project was conceived and funded through the generosity of Brazos Higher Education Service Corp., the student loan financing company founded by Murray Watson, Jr., in 1975. Among other gifts, the company and the Watson family have funded more than $579,000 in endowed scholarships through the MCC Foundation to support the McLennan Presidential Scholars program.

To honor its founder’s lifelong support of higher education, Brazos and the Watson family wished to create an outdoor space where students, faculty and staff at the college could gather. The company’s generosity means no college funds were expended for this beautiful campus enhancement.

Watson was a lawyer, rancher, politician, and philanthropist who had a passion for serving others. He was elected to the Texas State House of Representatives at age 24, shortly after graduating from Baylor Law School. He represented Central Texas in the Texas House until 1963, when he was elected to the Texas Senate, where he served until 1973. 

As senator, Watson carried many important pieces of legislation, but he was especially proud of helping create what is now Texas State Technical College (TSTC), and he was a strong advocate for establishing MCC in 1965. Watson passed away in 2018, and his wife, Greta, continues to lead the family’s Mart-based operations, including a cattle company and Watson Feed Store. Their daughter, Missy Larson, also serves on the MCC Foundation Board of Directors. 

“We are so grateful to our friends at Brazos Higher Education Service Corporation and the Watson family for their generous donations to our campus and student scholarships. This space will provide an area where our students are able to relax, study and find tranquility in their busy schedules,” said MCC President Johnette McKown. “This is the perfect tribute to the Watson family that cares so deeply about students and their success.”

The MCC Foundation raises public and private support to fund scholarships, faculty and staff professional development and capital projects at the college. To learn more, visit or contact Executive Director Kim Patterson at 254-299-8606 or [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email the ALW team — [email protected].

Wilbur Ball, MCC’s founding president, remembered

By Lisa Elliott

McLennan Community College’s founding president, Dr. Wilbur Allen Ball, passed away after a brief illness Wednesday morning, Dec. 15. Ball served as president at MCC 1966-1988, when he retired.

Wilbur Allen Ball, Ph.D., founding president of McLennan Community College

“He was the builder who laid the foundation for the college and set the vision to provide an affordable, quality education for students, while supporting the community,” said Dr. Johnette McKown, MCC’s current president.

Ball was born in 1928 in Berclair and graduated from Goliad High School. He served for three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which earned him an affordable higher education through the G.I. Bill. In 1949, Ball enrolled at the University of Texas, earning a bachelor’s degree in education in 1952, followed by a master’s in education administration in 1953. Later, Ball was awarded a W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant and returned to the University of Texas to earn a Ph.D. in higher education administration.

After college, Ball taught high school English and Spanish in New Braunfels 1952-1953 and in Corpus Christi 1953-1955. Ball started his tenure in higher education in the registrar’s office at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi and later as an assistant to the college president. He continued in higher education at Wharton County Junior College in Houston as vice president and dean until he was appointed president of the new community college in Waco, McLennan Community College. 

Ball was one of 30 candidates for the new presidency at MCC. Founding board members said, “Ball had an unbridled optimism that he could hire a staff, set a curriculum, and find a location for the permanent campus within the next 9 months to open for fall classes in September 1966.”

On Feb. 22, 1966, the board unanimously voted to hire Ball, who become MCC’s first president on Mar. 1, 1966, leading the college for the next 22 years. On Sept. 19, 1966, MCC opened its doors to approximately 800 students and was temporarily located in the barracks on John Connally Air Force base. Ball and the board were soon planning the permanent campus location on the former Cameron Estate in north Waco. Upon his retirement, Ball was honored at MCC with the dedication of the Wilbur A. Ball Performing Arts Center. 

According to MCC’s 40th anniversary history book, “The board and Ball agreed to establish an open-door admissions policy and [stressed] the importance of attracting students from all races and cultural backgrounds to the new school as well as providing continuing education courses for working adults.”

“A community college has to have something for everybody,” Ball said.

He left an indelible impression upon the college and thousands of students with his leadership and vision for higher education in McLennan county. 

Retired history professor, Paul Holder, said, “[I] lost a friend today, but the people of Central Texas lost even more – a powerful voice for an affordable quality education and a better life for all.”

Ball is survived by his wife, LaWanda Gersbach Ball; daughter, Christi Lee Ball Nichols; son, Jason Allen Ball; and four grandchildren. Services are pending.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email the ALW team — [email protected].

MCC honored for COVID response

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has recognized McLennan Community College for its outstanding efforts to respond to COVID-19.

MCC and nine other colleges and universities were recognized as Star Award recipients during THECB’s quarterly board meeting. MCC will be recognized again Dec. 2 during the 2021 Higher Education Leadership Conference in Austin.

The annual Star Awards are presented to institutions implementing exceptional contributions in achieving one or more of the state’s higher education goals. This year, awards recognized institutions’ efforts in response COVID-19.

Criteria for the awards were “a clear demonstration of how the institution implemented strategies to ensure the health, safety, and success of their campus and local community, partnerships with community-based organizations, and the innovative and creative nature of one or more of the strategies used,” according to THECB’s webpage.

“The success of our students was due to their resilience, determination, and talent,” said MCC President Johnette McKown. “Every McLennan employee contributed to student success by tapping into their creativity and expertise to ensure our students had access to all the same services offered pre-pandemic. … The challenge is not over, but McLennan will not give up as we stand McLennan Together.”

MCC’s application provided several examples of the school’s efforts:

— Loaning ventilators, hospital beds, and PPE to community healthcare institutions;

— Developing online self-assessments, self-reporting forms, instructions on exposure and testing, and safety practice modules;

— Maintaining an online dashboard of reported, positive, and active cases updated daily;

— Providing the community with free drive-thru testing and vaccination clinics;

— Designing the “McLennan Together” communication campaign in response to student, employee, and community questions on safety protocols, instructional strategies, and student success activities;

— Implementing instructional solutions to ensure safety and success, including providing online, blended, and hyflex course formats, rotating students attending class in-person, collaborating with local partners on solutions for programs requiring clinical work, simulations, internships, and other in-person instruction;

— Providing creative solutions in response to COVID-19 hardships like a curbside food pantry service, a fundraising campaign supporting emergency fund scholarships, free parking lot WIFI, a technology loan program, and virtual mental health counseling;

— Producing virtual commencement ceremonies for all 2020 graduates; and

— Implementing a student debt-forgiveness program to encourage former students to re-enroll.

Other Star Award recipients were the University of Texas at Arlington, Houston Community College, Texas A&M University – Commerce, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Odessa College, University of Texas at Tyler, Sam Houston State University, Texas State Technical College, and Lone Star College – North Harris.

For more information about the awards, click here.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].