NIU will welcome royalty to campus this fall.
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand is scheduled to visit the university Wednesday, Sept. 18, when she will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during a special ceremony at Altgeld Hall.
“Her scheduled visit brings great honor to NIU,” says Deborah Pierce, NIU associate provost for International Programs. “I think it recognizes the university’s record of excellence in Thai studies.”
The NIU Board of Trustees voted unanimously in March to confer the degree upon the princess, in honor of her work in higher education in Thailand and her extensive humanitarian efforts. NIU awards honorary degrees to recognize outstanding individuals who excel in their disciplines and whose accomplishments have benefitted society.
Her Royal Highness holds a bachelor’s degree in history; master’s degrees in Oriental epigraphy and in Pali and Sanskrit languages; and a doctorate degree in educational development. She currently serves as head of the Department of History at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, the military academy of the Royal Thai Army.
As a scholar, she has worked in heritage protection, development of traditional Thai music and creation of an electronic corpus of the modern Thai language. (A corpus, or computer-stored collection of writings or recorded remarks, is used for linguistic analysis.) In 2007, the princess established the Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute at Chulalongkorn University. The institute promotes teaching, learning and assessment of the Thai language.
Her Royal Highness also is highly involved in the Thai Red Cross Society and in organizations dealing with promotion of higher education, preservation of Thai culture, support for disabled veterans, development projects and environmental preservation. She serves as president of a foundation awarding prizes annually to members of the international community for outstanding contributions to medicine and public health.
“On her visits around the country, she is often pictured taking notes on what she sees, so that she can later apply this knowledge to national development issues. It has been reported that in recognition of her support for scientific inquiry, Thai scientists have named plant and animal species in her honor.”
NIU boasts one of only a handful of federally funded Southeast Asian Studies centers in the United States and has long been devoted to Thai studies. Both faculty and students conduct research on the country.
In recent years, the Royal Government of Thailand awarded several grants to CSEAS to bolster Thai studies at NIU. Additionally, NIU’s Division of Public Administration has developed a strategic partnership with Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration and is developing a dual master’s degree with Khon Kaen University.
“Her Royal Highness is accomplished on so many levels, including as a linguist and advocate for Thai language studies,” Barbe says. “But the common thread running through all is of her achievements is her unwavering support for education. She inspires others, both through her words and actions.”