The United States government has designated Fort Hays State University as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance. Dr. Edward H. Hammond, FHSU president, announced the designation this morning at a news conference in Sheridan Hall on the university campus.
"The federal government realized some years ago that the future security of the nation's commerce, health care, utility systems and even the military depends upon having a workforce of highly educated people who can protect networks and electronic data," President Hammond said. "At the direction of Congress, a group of federal agencies banded together to encourage universities to create programs in a new specialty called 'Information Assurance.' Those who meet a very stringent set of accreditation standards may earn designation as a 'National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance.' Fort Hays State University has earned this accreditation for 2009-2014.
"Three and a half years ago when we set the goal of creating a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri all lacked centers and the sole center in Colorado was located at the Air Force Academy, which does not work with private businesses," the president explained. "We proposed the concept of creating an educational center that would meet the highest national standards and to make this an engine for the Kansas and regional economies."
He said FHSU received initial political support from Congressman Jerry Moran and Senator Pat Roberts.
"The Kansas Board of Regents, then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Kansas Legislature supported the idea with state resources and we began to develop this academic program, building on our nationally recognized Department of Information Networking and Telecommunications," President Hammond said. "Our strategy has paid off. Even in this economic recession, we have employers from Kansas and as far away as Silicon Valley who are contacting us seeking to hire our Information Assurance graduates. There are more job openings than we have graduates to fill them. The Department of Defense, the National Guard and several other federal agencies offer large scholarships to students attending National Centers of Academic Excellence if they will commit to working for them. We are strongly encouraging high school students and those returning to college to consider this as a career option."
Mark Bannister, chair of the Department of Information Networking and Telecommunications, also talked about the new designation during this morning's news conference. "We are extremely pleased to earn this designation," he said. "We know of universities that have sought this designation multiple times and failed. In fact, we had more than one institution tell us that we should expect that it may take more than one effort to be designated. Our success reflects excellent faculty, outstanding facilities, more than a million dollars of industry contributions of equipment in 2008, and support of a multitude of people and offices on campus. Designation has required commitment and effort of faculty from multiple academic areas and key support areas such as the Computer and Telecommunications Center and Forsythe Library."
Bannister said the National Center of Academic Excellence designation was important to Fort Hays State University for several reasons. "It provides a clear message to students and employers that this program ranks among the best in America," the INT chairman said. "Therefore, the designation should be an important asset in recruitment. It signifies to equipment manufacturers and software companies that their significant donations to our program have been worthwhile and will encourage future support. Additionally, there are several federal agencies that have pools of grant funding that are available only to recognized centers. These include the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense. FHSU will pursue funding from these programs."
Bannister pointed out that the FHSU Department of Information Networking and Telecommunications was named the "Undergraduate Program of the Year" by the International Telecommunications Education and Research Association. "This year we earned the Center of Excellence designation," Bannister said. "We are extremely proud to have earned these two major honors in consecutive years."