McLennan Community College will expand its presidential scholars program through a new gift from the Brazos Education Foundation.

The nonprofit group gave the college a $25,000 donation to support the long-standing program, which covers tuition, books and fees for up to 20 students. Those students must reside in McLennan County and have a minimum high school grade-point average of 3.0.

Murray Watson Jr., the agency’s president and director, also sits on the board of directors for the MCC Foundation.

“I grew up over in Marlin on a family farm, and you kind of learn pretty quick that you want to leave the property in better shape than when you found it to be a good steward of the land,” Watson said. “That’s with just about anything you do.”

MCC President Johnette McKown said the college still will support only 20 students per year for the program, but the additional gift will help create new learning experiences for scholars.

The students typically now take a group trip together each year, for example.

For the upcoming school year, MCC is creating a political science class for the presidential scholars that will include a trip to Washington, D.C., as well as lectures with U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan; state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; and Baylor President and former U.S. Circuit Court Judge Ken Starr.

“It’s a great program for these students and they spend a lot of time with me and they’ll be volunteering in the community,” McKown said. “The main thing is we have a goal that they all finish and they all graduate. . . . We try to give them a lot of intensive help so that they can be very successful.”

The Brazos Education Foundation also gave the college $10,000 to support the college’s upcoming 50th-anniversary celebrations.

MCC is planning a series of events to kick off August 2015, 50 years from the month a county bond was passed to create the college, and conclude in September 2016 to mark the first class day at the college.

Planned events include a distinguished lecture series speaker, a scholarship gala, and a concert with acclaimed piano duo Anderson & Roe and the Waco Symphony Orchestra.

The college now has $220,000 in donations and pledges for the celebration between 22 sponsors, said Harry Harelik, executive director of the MCC Foundation, which is spearheading the anniversary events.

“When we began looking at funding the 50th anniversary, we knew we did not want to impose or burden the institutional budgets, so we made up our minds that we wanted all of the 50th anniversary celebration to be raised by donors,” Harelik said.

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