Sen. Jerry Moran met with Emporia State University faculty and administrators Wednesday afternoon to discuss pandemic response and some of the university's academic programming.
Moran said, as an appropriator for the U.S. Department of Education, he was on the committee that authorizes legislation related to education spending on the federal level. While he said his focus was to keep the government from "further intruding" on education in the state, there have also been important conversations regarding the possibility of expanding Emporia State's cyber security program.
"There are so many cyber security companies that visit with me in my other roles as a United States senator about the need for educated and trained cyber security experts, and it seems to me that if we had the workforce that these companies are looking for, companies would locate here, improving the climate and opportunity for Kansans," Moran said. "Emporia State, halfway between Wichita and Kansas City, plus just businesses here in this community, can utilize that workforce."
In an era where the U.S. is "under attack constantly" Moran said cyber security was in demand more than ever.
"The reason that cyber security companies are visiting with me is because the demand for their services are so great," he said. "That is in the private sector; but in the federal sector, there is a great need for individuals who will work within law enforcement, within the military, within our national security system to provide cyber security."
Moran said Garrett had informed him that even ESU had been the target of a number of hacking attempts.
"Our law enforcement national defense now depend upon a much more secure cyber system than what we have and the Chinese, the Russians and others have a concerted effort," Moran said. "Part of it is the defense of our nation, the safety of our nation, the other part is how do we protect our private and personal information from those who want to gain access to it and use it in ways that would be very detrimental to us?"
President Allison Garrett said ESU offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in information systems technology as well as a minor in data security.
"We do have a minor in cyber security which is a wonderful complement for any number of majors, but particularly for those students who are majoring in computer science or information systems," she said. " ... One other degree program ... that I think is important, and this is not a full degree but a number of courses in a minor for us, is geospatial information systems, which is a wonderful complement to almost any degree because it teaches you how to use giant datasets and overlay those to use information to make good decisions."
Moran also received an update on ESU's response to COVID-19, a response that he was observing to be successful despite the "difficult and challenging circumstances" presented to the university while providing education to students. Moran said he was impressed that ESU had been able to keep in-person classes going for much of the pandemic, something he felt was important for the overall college experience.
"... I don't know how you experience college life by the internet, by distance learning," he said. "If we want to make sure Emporia State and our other regional universities — and even our private colleges — have a future, we need to make certain we're in a position to provide in-classroom education in most circumstances."
While Moran said there will be instances where online and distance learning is appropriate, he felt nothing will ever replace that in-person experience. However, that in-person learning is only possible if Kansans come together to stop further spread of COVID-19.
Moran encouraged Emporia State students, and Kansans in general, to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"If there's not a reason that you shouldn't get the vaccine because of your particular circumstances, we do not have the capabilities to continue to provide the amount of resources, the dollars that have been provided to Emporia State or other institutions — K - 12 — and other universities in Kansas," he said. "A lot of federal money is coming to Kansas, a lot of federal money has been spent and that is not an endless well. We need people to cooperate to get themselves in a position in which they are health and remain healthy."
Garrett thanked Moran and his colleagues for their support of ESU and other higher education institutions in the state.
"I want to make sure you all know how deeply grateful we are to the senator for his relationship with Emporia State and the fact that he's taken time out of his busy schedule to come here and listen to the things that we view as challenges, the things that we would like to see help our students and our faculty and staff," she said.