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The Cambodia connection: AUPP students making the most of NIU opportunities

July 5, 2021

Northern Illinois University and its Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) have a long history of working with universities across Southeast Asia. This includes Cambodia, which began sending students to NIU after the country’s reopening to the West following the United Nations intervention in 1993.

Helping solidify this connection is the most recent of five collaborations between NIU and Cambodian institutions: the 2017 memorandum of understanding with the American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP).  Founded in 2013, AUPP is relatively new on the scene, but in a short time it has become a premier higher education institution in Cambodia, offering well-rounded preparation for postgraduate school in Western countries. The NIU collaboration has resulted in a steady stream of AUPP alumni coming to DeKalb as graduate students, the next generation of Cambodians who began coming to NIU in the late 2000s.

Limeng Ong

Limeng Ong  (AUPP class of 2017) and Rithiya Serey (AUPP class of 2018) are currently pursuing their doctoral degrees in political science, Limeng in comparative politics and Rithiya in international relations. Two more AUPP alumni — Socheata Meas and Sopheachanboramey Tuon — will join the Political Science department in fall 2021.

The quality of AUPP graduates has been impressive, according to faculty members who have worked with them. “Limeng Ong and Rithiya Serey are among the best Ph.D. students in the political science Ph.D. program at Northern Illinois University,” said CSEAS associate and former department chair Scot Schraufnagel, noting that both regularly attend department-sponsored extracurricular activities. Limeng and Rithiya have already had classroom experience teaching American students.

The skill set that Limeng and Rithiya received at AUPP, said Assistant Professor Aarie Glas, “equipped them with the foundational knowledge and learning skills necessary to navigate and thrive in higher education in the United States. Both students have developed thoughtful, important, and rigorous research programs building on these foundations.”

This past spring, Limeng was selected by the NIU Graduate School as the department’s 2021 Outstanding Graduate Student Award for Research and Scholarly Activity. “It is clear that Limeng’s education at [AUPP] prepared him well with language, mathematical, and critical thinking skills that have enabled him to be so successful in graduate school,” said Assistant Professor Ches Thurber.  

In addition to his strong scholarship,” Professor Kheang Un said in his nomination letter for Limeng, “Limeng is also a good citizen of the political science department’s graduate student body. I have heard from a number of our graduate students discuss Limeng’s willingness to help them in their quantitative courses.” 

Since coming to NIU, Limeng and Rithiya have also presented their research at professional conferences. “I have full confidence they will go on to have successful and impactful careers once they leave NIU,” said Professor Colin Kuehl.

Associate History Professor Eric Jones, acting CSEAS director, is confident that Rithiya and Limeng will join the ranks of successful NIU alumni from Southeast Asia, including their fellow Cambodians and other NIU alumni who have played prominent role in government, civil society, multilateral institutions, and higher education institutions across the region.

Some of noteworthy NIU/Center for Southeast Asian Studies graduates include:

  • Anies Basweden (Ph.D. political science, 2004), named by Foreign Policy magazine one of the world’s Top 100 Public Individuals in 2008, was elected Governor of Jakarta in 2017.
  • Panitan Wattanayagorn (Ph.D. political science, 1993), professor of political science at Thammasat University, is Deputy Secretary-General to the Prime Minister, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Security Advisory Committee, and an adviser to the National Security Council and a member of Thailand’s National Cyber Security Committee).
  • So Sokbunthoeun (Ph.D. political science, 2009) is Senior Public Sector Specialist, Governance Global Practice, at the World Bank.
  • Nico Harjanto (Ph.D. political science, 2010) is Special Staff of the Minister of State Secretariat, Office of the President of Indonesia.
  • Datuk Ahmad Ruzman Ruzman Ahmad Razali (M.B.A, College of Business, 1986) is CEO, Tabung Haji’s Travel Firm, Malaysia.