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Roll out the red carpet: NIU prepares to award honorary doctorate to Princess of Thailand

September 11, 2013
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn

Northern Illinois University is gearing up for a historic visit from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, who will be honored for her many good works in science and education and on humanitarian fronts.

Her Royal Highness will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during a special ceremony at 9:40 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, in the Altgeld Hall Auditorium. A number of high-ranking Thai officials also are expected to be in attendance.

The ceremony is open to the public, with parking available in the NIU visitors lot on Carroll Avenue. (The parking attendant can provide directions to Altgeld Hall.)

Additionally, the public is welcome to view a special exhibition assembled to coincide with the royal visit and featuring NIU collections of antique maps, Khon performance masks, Buddha images and handicrafts from Tai cultures. Curated by NIU art historian Catherine Raymond, the exhibition will be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the day of the ceremony in Room 203 of Altgeld Hall, and from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, Sept. 19.

“We’re extremely honored by the visit of Her Royal Highness,” NIU President Doug Baker said. “NIU’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies is known the world over, and for many years has made major contributions in Thai studies. Our faculty nominated the princess for an honorary degree, based on her many good works. She is a highly visible proponent of education, culture and humanitarian efforts in her country.”

Douglas D. Baker

Douglas D. Baker

The NIU Board of Trustees voted this past spring to confer the degree upon the princess.

NIU awards honorary degrees to recognize outstanding individuals whose accomplishments have benefited society. Past recipients have included the likes of astronomer Carl Sagan, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman and Illinois political leaders Paul Simon, J. Dennis Hastert, James Thompson and Tammy Duckworth.

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 in educational development. She 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 is highly involved in the Thai Red Cross Society and in organizations promoting education, cultural preservation, 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.

Lisa Freeman

Lisa Freeman

“Her Royal Highness is involved in an impressive array of projects aiding her country and people,” said Lisa Freeman, NIU vice president for research and graduate studies. “She is also well-known for her interest in applying science and technology for the benefit of her country. Because of her efforts in this area, she is known as the Princess of Technology or as Princess Angel.”

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. Just last week, the Thai ambassador presented the center with a $5,000 award to further develop the Thai language section of SEAsite, NIU’s online interactive learning resource for studying Southeast Asian languages, literatures and cultures.

Additionally, NIU’s Division of Public Administration has developed a strategic partnership with Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration and is developing a double master’s degree with Khon Kaen University.