Thai princess awarded honorary NIU degree

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University awarded an honorary doctorate in a special ceremony Sept. 18 to Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand. The princess was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

The public is invited to view a special exhibit assembled in Room 203 of Altgeld Hall, the NIU “castle,” to coincide with the royal visit. The exhibit features NIU collections of antique maps, Khon performance masks, Buddha images and crafts from Thai cultures. It is open to the public from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18 and 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.”

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

The princess 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 in Thailand.

She has worked in heritage protection, development of traditional Thai music and creation of an electronic system for linguistic analysis of the modern Thai language. In 2007, the princess established the Sirindhorn Thai Language Institute at Chulalongkorn University to promote teaching, learning and assessment of the Thai language.

She is heavily 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.

“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. In recent years, the Thai government awarded several grants to bolster Thai studies at NIU. NIU’s Division of Public Administration has also developed a strategic partnership with Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration and is developing a double master’s degree with Khon Kaen University.

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