A royal finale

It was a celebration 70 years in the making.

While each of the Indiana University events of the past week here in Bangkok brought their own waves of excitement, energy and enthusiasm, members of the IU delegation – from the very start of their trip to Thailand – had Friday on their minds, knowing it was going to be extra special. And it was.

The buzz surrounding us actually began many hours before Friday morning. Slowly but surely our hotel was transformed into a palace-like setting, with purple flowers, flags, drapes, valances and other adornments placed all along the lobby, as well as a staircase leading up to the second-floor event space. There, where there were even more violet decorations, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who is the third child of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit and whose birth color is purple, would grace our presence at a grand gathering of IU’s Southeast Asian and other alumni to celebrate the university’s extraordinary seven decades of engagement in Thailand.

It turns out that purple and IU cream and crimson make for a perfect match, which would surprise no one who knows even a little bit about the university’s long and storied history here.

Amidst all the craziness of the massive preparations for the princess’s arrival, which included more than 200 security staff, there was time to reflect on how IU reached the point of honoring 70 years of this landmark partnership, one of the longest official relationships IU has with an international partner.

We could also take stock of recent university-led activities and initiatives that have strengthened IU’s relations with Thailand and Southeast Asia, more broadly, as IU rapidly approaches its Bicentennial, which will commence in July and which promises to be a truly global celebration.

Spurred by a number of classic old photos framed outside Friday’s event space, one could only wonder what IU’s legendary 11th president Herman B Wells might’ve been thinking when he struck up a friendship with Mom Luang Pin Malakul, then the permanent secretary of the Thai Ministry of Education, when the future minister of education and culture was visiting several Thai graduate students who were studying at IU.

Thai Education Minister M.L. Pin Malakul presents Herman B Wells with the Knight Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant in 1962.

As visionary and worldly as he was, could Wells have imagined that IU teachers and scholars would have such a transformative impact in Thailand, essentially creating the foundation for the country’s current system of higher education? Future IU presidents Joseph Sutton and John Ryan visited Thailand often in the 1950s, at a time when the Royal Highness’ father, His Majesty King Bhumibol, sought better tools and data to inform important policy decisions. Could they have predicted that the fledgling Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University, which IU helped build, would’ve led to another IU-established institute, the National Institute for Development Administration, which is now in its second half-century? Could they have foreseen that IU’s academic partnerships here would blossom across such a wide span of fields, including business, public affairs, law, optometry and dentistry?

And what might have been going through the minds of the first large class of Thai students who touched down in the mid-1950s at the small strip of land in landlocked Bloomington that is now Monroe County Airport? Could they have known they were making history and setting the stage for decades of student exchanges? Could they have ever envisioned a time when there would be over 1,000 Thai alumni of IU living and working around the world? Could they have foreseen a day when IU graduates would be among the most prominent members of Thai society, serving as leaders in business, government, health care and higher education?

IU’s great global ambassadors

Here once again, I’m quite certain I can speak for other members of the delegation when I say that meeting up with and celebrating our international alumni is one of the best parts of any trip, and it’s always nice to save the best for last as we did on Friday.

Before greeting Princess Sirindhorn, Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie, along with several other senior IU representatives and leaders from a number of partnering Thai universities, took time to honor four of IU’s most esteemed Thai alumni for their distinguished careers and for their service to IU and their home country.

After introductory remarks from IU Alumni Association Board of Managers Chair Robert Johnson and a short welcome from President McRobbie, awards were handed out to:

  • Thanpuying Petchara Techakampuch, former dean of dentistry at longtime IU partner Chulalongkorn University, who served as the personal dentist to the late King Rama IX. A 1959 graduate of IU, she is renowned for establishing many innovative medical procedures. (She introduced Thailand’s first porcelain bridge and crown procedure.) She also helped initiate a number of influential educational and research programs and organizations, such as the Royal Dental Unit, which she has directed since 1976. She received the IU School of Dentistry Award. And this week, the IU School of Dentistry is co-hosting an international conference in Thailand.
  • Khun Paiboon Nalintrangkurn, who received an MBA from the Kelley School of Business in 1991 and is a successful entrepreneur working in the field of investment and securities. He is the chairman and CEO of Deutsche TISCO Investment Advisory, the chairman of Investment Analysts Association and chairman of the Federation of Thai Capital Markets Organizations. A member of the Kelley Global Dean’s Council, which is holding its spring 2019 meeting here in Bangkok, he was presented with the Kelley School of Business Dean’s Medallion.
  • Khun Pakkaphon Ngamlak, chief operating officer of Charoen Pokphand Group, Thailand’s largest private company and one of world’s largest conglomerates, operating in agribusiness and food, retail and distribution, and telecommunications. A 2004 and 2005 degree holder from the IU Maurer School of Law, which is also holding a meeting here with its Dean’s Global Advisory Board, he received the school’s William J. Hicks Award for Distinguished International Alumni.
  • Saisuree Chutikul, who received a master’s degree and doctoral degree from the IU School of Education in 1957 and 1962, respectively. As a senator, cabinet minister, representative to the United Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations, advisor to the Thai prime minister and global activist, she has mounted several successful social policies and laws to protect the rights of women and children. Her recent groundbreaking research covers the areas of early childhood care and development, addressing violence against children and anti-trafficking. While at IU she also studied piano under the legendary Menahem Pressler at the IU Jacobs School of Music. She received the Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion for Distinguished Achievement, which fellow School of Education alumna Pusadee Tamthai accepted in her absence.

From left: Khun Pakkaphon Ngamlak, IU Maurer School of Law alumnus; Khun Paiboon Nalintrangkurn, Kelley School of Business; Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie; Thanpuying Petchara Techakampuch, IU School of Dentistry; and Pusadee Tamthai, accepting an award for Saisuree Chutikul, School of Education.

Of course, each of these individuals, who were accompanied by proud family, friends and colleagues, deserves his or her own story for how they have scaled the highest heights, inspired their peers and acted as great global ambassadors for IU in Thailand and across Southeast Asia. For now, I’ll just report that the state of Indiana and its flagship public university are well represented among the most influential people contributing to the economic vitality and quality of life in the region. (But please stay tuned for a forthcoming “IU in Thailand” media project that will bring to spotlight even more of these remarkable people!)

The princess and the power of education

At last, it was time for Her Royal Highness’ highly awaited entrance into the Grand Hall. More than 250 IU alumni, partners and friends, representing an extraordinary 17 countries, gathered in hushed silence as Princess Sirindhorn was escorted by her security detail into the room, followed closely by IU President McRobbie; IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie; IU Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum; IU Associate Vice President for International Partnerships Shawn Reynolds; and Peter Boonjarern, director of the new IU ASEAN Gateway office and IU Thai alumnus. (A royal shout-out to Peter, who spent countless stressful hours in the weeks before our arrival making sure the IU delegation knew where they were going every step of the way during this highly scripted, highly monitored event that would be broadcast on all the Thai news stations later that evening. If you’re reading this now, Peter, please go to sleep!)

For their part in the procedural, McRobbie, Buxbaum and Boonjarern presented gifts to the princess, including a special stole commemorating the princess’s honorary IU alumna status and expressing gratitude for all she has done to foster the longstanding friendship between IU and Thailand, as well as a copy of the book “Indiana University Bloomington: America’s Legacy Campus,” written by former IU vice president and distinguished alumnus Terry Clapacs and published by Indiana University Press.

IU President McRobbie presents a commemorative stole to Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at the IU Is Global Alumni Conference and Reunion.

McRobbie then took to the stage to share a little about the history of the IU-Thai friendship, which is still mind-boggling in its scale and scope no matter how many times I write about it. He also delivered an update on IU’s recent successes, including its record international engagement, the continued growth of the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies and how IU has expanded its presence in the princess’s home country and all throughout Southeast Asia through the establishment of the IU ASEAN Gateway office, which McRobbie formally dedicated earlier this week.

When IU presented Princess Sirindhorn with an honorary degree in 2010, it was in recognition of her efforts, which continue today, to expand and improve public education all across Thailand, especially in remote and rural areas. She truly is a living embodiment of the power of education to improve lives and make a difference. She graduated with honors in history from Chulalongkorn University, the oldest and top-ranked university in Thailand and a longstanding partner of IU, and she has amassed advanced degrees in oriental epigraphy, Pali and Sanskrit, and developmental education. She teaches at the history department of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, where she is the nominal head of the department. In addition to Thai, she speaks fluent English, French and Mandarin Chinese, and she has studied German and Latin. She also translates Chinese literature into Thai and is a skilled performer of Thai traditional music.

In addition to performing daily royal duties, Princess Sirindhorn, 63, has worked on a number of important initiatives in Thailand, including providing basic education for school children in remote border areas, promoting plant genetic preservation and gene bank projects, instituting IT efforts to help the disabled achieve independent living, and developing nutritional campaigns to improve the well-being of Thai people. Some of these projects, which she began when she was in her 20s, continue to this day.

IU senior leaders pose for a portrait photo with Princess Sirindhorn.

One of her active passions is philanthropy. She has established a number of philanthropic foundations, public service organizations and humanitarian charities, including the H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Charity Fund, which supports projects that improve quality of life and help those suffering from catastrophe. She has also supported royal scholarships for students in countries she has frequently visited, such as China and Tibet. Proceeds from her written accounts of her overseas travels support the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Foundation, which was established in 1979 to help needy students in schools, vocational colleges and universities.

Thus it was fitting that the celebratory event included a “Women in Leadership and Philanthropy” panel, hosted by IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie, a master’s degree-holder from the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The panel featured three remarkable women, who, like Princess Sirindhorn, exemplify the ways in which female leaders are shaping the economic and civic landscapes in Thailand today. They included Pusadee Tamthai, a leading figure in government and education in Bangkok who served as deputy governor of Bangkok and director of both Women in Politics and of the Democratic Party here in Thailand, among her other civil society roles; Duangjai Asawachintachit, secretary general at the Office of the Board of Investment in Thailand, where she has performed a variety of roles over 30 years; and Juree Vichit-Vadakan, director for the Center for Philanthrophy and Civil Society at the National Institute for Development Administration, former NIDA president and a longtime advocate for civil society and gender equality. Besides all of their long list of honors and achievements, all three women are IU alumna.

As the princess watched and intently took notes, the panelists had an illuminating discussion on the state of women’s leadership in Thailand, the challenges female leaders face and potential strategies for reducing barriers to women rising to leadership positions and exercising their power through philanthropy. Despite many considerable cultural and political differences between the U.S. and Thailand, both countries have strong traditions of women achieving top leadership positions in business, education and government and exercising major philanthropic giving. As first lady McRobbie noted, Thailand, in particular, has enviable levels of women in chief executive roles compared with other countries, at 40 percent, and it has been among the leaders in women’s higher education.

From left: Pusadee Tamthai, Duangjai Asawachintachit, Juree Vichit-Vadakan and IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie participate in a panel discussion on “Women in Leadership and Philanthropy.”

All three guest speakers talked openly about the major hurdles still facing women seeking a level playing field with their male counterparts, but they said progress is being made.

“Things are changing in favor of women … much slower than we would like, but they are changing,” Tamthai said.

“In high society, in business and education, women are acquiring prominent leadership positions,” Vichit-Vadakan added. “There are quite a few women who are now university presidents, but in politics and other areas we still have had a difficult time. There is still an old boys’ network, and in Thai society, women are still expected to maintain family relations and social relations. But younger women are now much more aware of gender issues because of the internationalization of our society.”

Each of the panelists concurred that building confidence in women at the earliest ages, providing strong female role models and mentorship, and opening more pathways to education are the keys to seeing more women advance and fulfill their career and philanthropic goals.

When the princess finally spoke, she talked proudly of her strong “link to IU” and shared a story about a life that has been transformed by education and the colleges and universities that have played such a major role in her personal and professional development over more than four decades. “What I’m doing now, it is all because of my interest, beginning as a young woman, in education,” she said.

Princess Sirindhorn speaks at the IU Is Global Alumni Conference and Reunion, which celebrated 70 years of IU engagement in Thailand.

With that and a few more words, the princess departed, making way for what has quickly become a fun and exciting tradition at IU international alumni events: the presentation of commemorative stoles to graduates going back many decades. On Friday afternoon, IU alumni from the 1950s and onward, who had been glued to their seats while the princess spoke, raced to accept their stoles from senior IU leaders, catch up and laugh with old friends, take selfies and group photos in front of the large IU banners in the room and completely fill the large grand ballroom with IU spirit.

Just as I was leaving, happily drained by all the festivities, I happened to run into Chris Kusovski, one of our three Kelley School of Business students studying this spring semester in Bangkok, whom we met earlier in the week during our trip to Chulalongkorn University. Though he still has some work to do before graduating, someone had draped a stole over him, causing him to think about what it might be like, many years from now, when he could call himself a veteran alumnus. Chris’ crystal ball might still be hazy – and his career ambitions could take him anywhere in the world, possibly even back to Bangkok – but looking around at all of the proud alumni in the room, the future business analyst had no problem making one strong prediction.

“I know I’ll always stay connected to IU.”

IU alumni and distinguished guests listen as Princess Sirindhorn speaks.

A final postcard

Early Saturday morning, in a much calmer, more casual and more intimate environment, President McRobbie addressed members of the Kelley School of Business Global Dean’s Council, which was holding its spring meeting just a few yards away from where the Her Royal Highness held court just a few hours prior. (In attendance was Patrick Decker, a Kelley alumnus and president and CEO of Xylem, whose company played a major role in the dramatic 2018 rescue of a dozen members of a youth soccer team and their coach, who had been trapped in a flooded Thailand cave.)

After a whirlwind week of meetings with universities, educational institutes, businesses, government agencies, cultural organizations and alumni groups, you might think we had exhausted all of the important information about IU’s continuing international engagement we hoped to leave with our friends and partners this week. But President McRobbie had a few more facts in his data arsenal – highlighting how IU’s Bloomington campus has seen a whopping 43 percent increase in applications from potential students from Thailand and a 28 percent increase in applications from the ASEAN region overall. Around 430 students from ASEAN are currently enrolled at the university, and they hail from eight of the 10 ASEAN countries.

What’s more, McRobbie added, we continue to see dramatic increases in IU domestic students choosing to do a period of study abroad in Thailand and Southeast Asia. These students, many of whom call the Hoosier state their home, are increasingly drawn to an area of the world that is expected to exert enormous influence on economic and geopolitical affairs of the world in the years to come – the years in which they will determine whether we meet humanity’s most vexing problems.

As we prepare to leave Thailand and the kind and wonderful people we have met up with here, including our many loyal, enthusiastic and supportive alumni, I can proudly report that the seven-decades-long story IU continues to write in Southeast Asia is having an extraordinary impact on educating our students, supporting our world-class faculty and strengthening the communities back home in Indiana and all around the globe that we serve as we pursue our core missions.

Thanks to all who have followed our travels, and here’s to the next 70 years of IU engagement in Thailand!

A 1948 news article about Thai scholar Mom Luang Pin Malakul and his wife visiting Indiana University.

Continuing to write an extraordinary story: IU and seven decades of engagement in Southeast Asia

Central to Indiana University’s nearly 200-year history has been a rich tradition of engagement with the world that dates back more than a century. As illustrated in the previous blog post, IU’s now seven decades of friendship and collaboration with Thailand – which IU delegation members are here in Bangkok to honor and celebrate this week – are a major part of that tradition.

IU has written – and continues to write – an extraordinary story in Thailand, and the university’s connections here truly are among its strongest anywhere in the world.

The Faculty of Arts building at Chulalongkorn University.

Over the years, IU’s partnership with Thailand has yielded an entire generation of senior-level Thai business executives, educators, government officials and diplomats who received their advanced education at IU. In fact, at one time in the 1980s, three-fifths of the governors of Thailand’s 72 provinces held degrees from either IU or the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University, which IU helped establish in 1955. By 1986, the IPA and its successor, the National Institute for Development Administration, which IU also helped create, had educated 3,300 master’s graduates and trained 1,500 of the Thai government’s top executives, including the prime minister, and more than a thousand of its diplomats.

Between 1955 and 1962, more than 45 IU faculty traveled to Thailand. They included John Ryan, who became IU’s 14th president in 1971, and who was in Bangkok from 1955 to 1957 conducting research for his Ph.D. thesis. Over that same period, 41 Thai students came to the U.S. for advanced training in public administration. Remarkably, 35 of those 41 students pursued their training at IU.

During the 1960s and 1970s, IU helped develop 16 teacher colleges in Thailand, many of which are now four-year, comprehensive universities. And in the 1990s, IU partnered with Thailand’s dental schools to promote the development of graduate dental education in Thailand. Under this agreement, doctoral students trained at IU and then returned to Thailand to train others.

Of course, IU’s close connections with Thailand also include the university’s friendship with Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to whom IU President Michael A. McRobbie awarded an honorary doctorate in 2010 for her strong commitment to improving the lives of the Thai people through the power of education. Today, Her Royal Highness will host a tea and afternoon program here in Bangkok as part of a special gathering of IU alumni from around the region who will help us celebrate seven decades of relationship-building in Thailand. This latest “IU Is Global” event will include an alumni award ceremony recognizing graduates of IU’s School of Dentistry, Kelley School of Business, Maurer School of Law and School of Education.

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

All of this activity reflects IU’s stature, as the university rapidly approaches its Bicentennial, as one of our nation’s most international universities. These aren’t just marketing slogans. IU truly is global. And the university is indeed everywhere.

More importantly, though, this activity speaks to how all of IU’s international engagement efforts – including our work on this trip to expand our relations with Thailand and the surrounding region – are carefully planned and implemented to maximize its benefits to the university’s core teaching, research and service missions.

This means encouraging IU students to study abroad and creating opportunities for them to do so. It also means continuing to recruit highly qualified international students, who bring unique cultural perspectives to IU and help create campus environments that closely match the increasingly interconnected world in which our graduates will live and work. This also means promoting and supporting global connections for our best scholars and researchers who are addressing some of the most complex challenges facing our local communities, our nation and our world.

Finally, this means engaging in institution-building projects that fulfill the service mission of the university by helping improve the health, prosperity and security of people all over the world. The IU students and faculty who participate in these projects almost always return with greatly enhanced skills, experiences that will enhance their personal and professional growth, and new relationships that will last a lifetime.

The benefits of global partnership

Developing long-term global partnerships with the best teaching and research institutions around the world continues to be a central part of IU’s international engagement. These partnerships provide venues for our students to study abroad, support faculty research and help recruit the best scholars and students from around the world to our Indiana campuses.

IU’s 11th president, Herman B Wells, who was responsible for initiating IU’s engagement in Thailand and who received many of the country’s highest honors during his lifetime, recognized very early on the mutual benefits of these partnerships. In his autobiography, “Being Lucky,” Wells clearly had our Thai friends on his mind when he wrote, “We realized that by taking an active part in these international projects, the benefits would be two-way: while lending whatever help we could to institutions abroad, we would be greatly enriching the store of experience, knowledge and professional competence of our faculty participants, who, upon their return, would bring to the campus a comparative view that would stimulate the atmosphere of learning in the university.”

Wells’ words rang especially true during the IU delegation’s trip this week to Chulalongkorn University, Thailand’s top-rated and oldest institution of higher education. The university’s roots go back to 1899, when King Chulalongkorn opened a school to train royal pages and civil servants at the Grand Palace of Thailand. It was formally established as a public university in 1917 with 380 students and four schools. Today it has 20 faculties, 23 colleges and research institutes, and more than 35,000 students

Members of the IU delegation pose for a picture with their counterparts from Chulalongkorn University. At center are IU President Michael A. McRobbie and Bundhit Eua arporn, president of Chulalongkorn University.

IU has had a relationship with CU going back to the mid-1950s, when former President Ryan worked at the campus on his doctoral thesis on city government and development. In more recent years, a collaborative agreement between the two universities, first signed in 1974, has generated numerous successful teaching and research exchanges, particularly in the areas of business, dentistry, public health and nursing. What’s more, the CU faculty includes about a dozen alums of IU.

On Wednesday, IU President McRobbie and Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum met with CU President Bundhit Eua arporn and other senior university officials on the main CU campus, where they explored how to potentially deepen and broaden an already active and successful collaboration.

The IU School of Nursing and School of Dentistry on the IUPUI campus have had lengthy histories with Chulalongkorn University and continue to expand upon their relations. To this end, IU and CU officials have planned a major conference for nursing schools across Thailand that will begin in a few days.

While here, members of the IU delegation met up with IU McKinney School of Law professor George Edwards, who has been a visiting scholar at the CU Faculty of Law for several periods this past year. Edwards is the founding director of the McKinney School of Law’s Program in International Human Rights Law. In that role, he has facilitated and supervised more than 185 McKinney student summer intern placements at the United Nations and other human rights organizations all across the world.

Recently, Chulalongkorn University began sending a faculty member from its Intensive Thai Language Program to the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies to serve as a visiting Thai language-teaching instructor in Southeast Asia and ASEAN Studies.

And this spring, the Kelley School of Business and the Chulalongkorn Business School launched their first student exchange program, which has provided three Kelley students with the opportunity to live and study in Bangkok.

IU President McRobbie and Vice President Buxbaum had the pleasure of meeting this week with one of the students, Chris Kusovski, a Columbus, Ohio, native who has been studying at CU for the last two months as he pursues a career in finance. Chris, who will be in Bangkok until May, shared how much he has enjoyed interacting with Thai students and getting to experience the local Thai culture.

From left: IU Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum, IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie, Kelley School of Business student Chris Kusovski and IU President Michael A. McRobbie.

In just a few months’ time, he’s also been quick to try new things – like riding to classes and other activities on a motorbike. The most popular mode of transportation here, a motorbike can be a nerve-wracking experience for newcomers, but Chris now does it two or three times each day. He’s also enjoyed exotic new foods, played basketball with his Thai classmates, who somehow “don’t tire in the heat and humidity” like their foreign opponents, and just recently attended a soccer match between CU and rival (and other longtime IU partner) Thammasat University, which he counts as a top highlight of his time here thus far. He’s also made time to explore other areas of Thailand, including the mountainous city of Chiang Rai, which lies near the borders of Laos and Myanmar.

Meeting Chris was absolutely a highlight for us. It was also a welcome reminder of why we do the work we do internationally and, more importantly, the life-changing impact it can often have on the extraordinary students we serve.

IU’s expanding ASEAN engagement

IU has gained much from its international partnerships. It has also given back to communities around the world. As President McRobbie often explains, all of our country’s top public and private research universities are expected – and, in fact, have a responsibility as part of their service missions – to use their knowledge, expertise and other resources to improve the quality of life for citizens of their regions and their countries. And this expertise and knowledge doesn’t stop at our borders. U.S. universities are also expected to use their expertise and the knowledge they generate to contribute solutions to important global challenges.

IU has done this through a wide range of international development projects that span the globe. Many of these projects have involved providing technical assistance to establish new institutions or reforming or strengthening existing ones. Sometimes these institutions have been universities, teacher training organizations or research programs, but they have also included parliaments, government training centers, ministries of education and, more recently, national information technology capabilities. These institution-building projects have often helped bring stability to conflict-ridden areas, improve health outcomes, enhance education and stimulate economic growth through workforce development. Such is the case with many of IU’s institution-building efforts in Thailand and in every corner of the globe.

True to form, today saw President McRobbie lead members of the delegation – who were joined by IU School of Education Dean Lemuel Watson, an internationally known expert in higher education and policy – in a meeting with Thai Minister of Education Teerakiat Jareonsettasin, who was especially interested in IU’s efforts to attract Thai students and scholars to its campuses and help students who want to study in Thailand. At the meeting, we had the pleasure of meeting with Nantanoot “Apple” Suwannawut, a 2013 graduate of the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering. Apple, who is blind, works as a researcher for the Ministry’s Bureau of Special Education Administration, where she is overseeing projects that aim to introduce new technology into special education and engaging with networks of disabled individuals, including those with visual impairments. (Learn more about Apple in this 2015 interview.)

IU Vice President Buxbaum and IU President McRobbie meet with Thai Minister of Education Teerakiat Jareonsettasin.

IU Vice President Buxbaum greets Nantanoot “Apple” Suwannawut, a graduate of the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering.

As part of its national and international responsibility, IU is also committed to educating students to be active and engaged global citizens, helping them to better understand and appreciate cultural differences and to work productively with people from different cultures and traditions.

To this end, among IU’s more recent global initiatives is an effort to strengthen our research and teaching capacity in the study of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, which encompasses 10 countries: Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. The countries that make up ASEAN, which was established here in Bangkok in 1967, have a total population of nearly 640 million people. It’s been said that if ASEAN were a single country, it would be the world’s fifth-largest economy. In 2014, the U.S. and the 10 ASEAN nations traded more than $250 billion in goods and services, representing about 8 percent of all U.S. trade and making ASEAN our nation’s fourth-largest trading partner.

Given ASEAN’s expanding economic and geopolitical importance, our nation’s leaders in government, business, education and the nonprofit sector continue to expend major effort into building positive relationships between the U.S. and ASEAN member nations. And IU has been dedicated to doing so as well.

This academic year alone, IU has more than 400 students from countries that are members of ASEAN, and in recent years the university has had students from every ASEAN nation represented at IU. Earlier this week, we opened IU’s newest international office in central Bangkok, the IU ASEAN Gateway office, which is expected to facilitate more of these student exchanges, while also providing support for research and teaching, conferences and workshops, study abroad opportunities for our students and engagement with IU alumni, businesses and nongovernmental organizations.

Furthermore, IU has increased its research and teaching capacity in Southeast Asia with the recent establishment of the Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies Program, located at the IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, which is dedicated to fostering, through a wide variety of academic opportunities, a greater and more comprehensive understanding of Southeast Asia, its people, languages and cultures.

All of this made IU a very suitable co-host for a panel discussion, held Thursday afternoon in conjunction with the not-for-profit Asia Foundation, on the strategic importance of international engagement with ASEAN. The panel also discussed how international partners, like IU and other top universities, could help support ASEAN to be a steadying force in this dynamic region of the world, one with a long history of discord and volatility given the widely diverse cultural, political and religious composition of its membership.

IU President McRobbie welcomes the distinguished panelists and guests to an event on “International Engagement with ASEAN,” co-hosted by IU and the Asia Foundation.

A distinguished guest panel included IU Maurer School of Law alumnus David Carden, who recently served as the first resident ambassador of the U.S. to ASEAN; Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia and chancellor of the Australian National University, who was named one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” in 2011 by Foreign Policy magazine; and Marty Natalegawa, former ambassador and foreign minister of Indonesia, who is the author of an acclaimed new book on ASEAN titled “Does ASEAN Matter? A View From Within.” President McRobbie offered welcoming remarks to the group of conference attendees, which included at least seven former international ambassadors and representatives from over 20 embassies around the world, further highlighting IU’s position as a leader in the region.

Unfortunately, I pledged to abide by the “off-the-record” protocol of this event. But suffice it to say, it was a timely, honest and often provocative discussion about the future of ASEAN and its relationship with the global community. It also provided enormous insight into a part of the world where IU promises to be vigorously and increasingly engaged, together with its many partners here in Thailand and all across Southeast Asia, for many years to come.

A quick note: For more from our trip to Thailand, visit #IUinThailand on Twitter. Feel free to tag the university in events and activities, and please look forward to an upcoming “IU in Thailand” special project coming later this spring.

Beginning a new chapter in IU’s storied history of engagement in Southeast Asia

In the book “Herman Wells Stories,” published by Indiana University Press in 1992 to commemorate the 90th birthday of IU’s legendary 11th president, Charles F. Bonser – the founding dean of IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs – shares an anecdote about Wells’ uniquely close-knit relationship with Thailand. The story begins when the late Kelley School of Business dean George Pinnell and Bonser, then acting as Kelley’s associate dean, were visiting Bangkok in 1970.

Bonser writes, “The Thai National Institute of Development Administration held a reception and luncheon in our honor. During the reception we were brought over to a tall, distinguished gentleman who was introduced to us as Prince Wan Waithayakon. He was the uncle of the King of Thailand. His first words to us were: ‘How is Herman?’ We responded that he was quite well, thank you. Then he said, ‘And how is his mother?’”

Today, thanks to Wells and the many individuals who have worked to continue the friendships he famously initiated, IU is celebrating 70 years of close and lasting friendship with the people of Thailand. As IU rapidly approaches its Bicentennial celebration, the university’s ties to this historically, culturally and politically dynamic country – and to Southeast Asia more broadly – are as active and extensive as ever, in a way that even Wells – prescient internationalist that he was – would’ve been hard-pressed to fully envision.

The late Indiana University President Herman B Wells, right, and his mother, Anna, with Secretary General of Thailand Dr. Supachai Vanij-Yadahanaand and family in front of IU’s Bryan House in 1960. Photo from IU Archives.

A lasting and ever-evolving relationship

Seven decades have passed since Wells struck up a personal friendship with Mom Luang Pin Malakul, then permanent undersecretary for education in Thailand, who came to Bloomington in 1948 to visit with Thai graduate students who were studying at IU. Since then, the university has maintained a close institutional relationship with the Thai government, while also contributing greatly to the creation of the country’s modern system of higher education.

These educational and institution-building activities have led to a vast array of teaching, scholarly, research and service opportunities for hundreds of IU faculty and students. What’s more, they have helped a landlocked Midwestern public university establish itself as one of the United States’ leading educational institutions engaged in the study of one of the most economically and geopolitically important parts of the world.

Much of our international activity related to Thailand and the surrounding region is centered in our Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, which houses the recently established Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies program. The program is home to new degrees and enhanced language offerings in Thai, Indonesian and other regional languages. It also seeks to foster a greater and more comprehensive understanding of the economies, governance, culture, languages and security of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional intergovernmental organization consisting of 10 countries in Southeast Asia and a growing global power. (Case in point: If it were a country, ASEAN would be the world’s fifth-largest economy. It would also encompass the world’s third-largest labor force.)

The official plaque of the new IU ASEAN Gateway office in Bangkok, Thailand.

IU currently welcomes nearly 60 students from Thailand each year to its campuses, and they are integral members of our increasingly diverse community of scholars. In recent years, an equal number of IU domestic students, spanning a variety of academic disciplines, have traveled to Thailand to pursue study abroad experiences in a country of extraordinary history and culture.

This academic year alone, IU has more than 400 students from countries that are members of ASEAN, and in recent years the university has had students from every ASEAN nation represented at IU.

The university now has more than 1,000 Thai alumni living and working around the world, many of whom have gone on to positions of great distinction in business, education, government, health care, higher education and other important fields.

And IU’s history of institution-building efforts in Thailand is simply unmatchable. As one of the founding members of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, IU was involved in the establishment of the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University in 1955.

A decade later, IU helped guide the development of the National Institute for Development Administration, now one of Thailand’s leading institutions of higher education. Since its establishment, NIDA has trained thousands of the Thai government’s top executives and diplomats for service across the country and around the world, and IU’s close partnership with NIDA continues today through exchanges of faculty and graduate students.

In the 1960s and 1970s, IU also helped establish 16 teacher colleges in Thailand, many of which are now four-year, comprehensive universities.

And in 2016, IU President Michael A. McRobbie stood alongside several of Thailand’s most eminent statesmen, transformative educational leaders and other important figures at NIDA’s 50th anniversary celebration. He was also the only U.S. college or university president asked to give a keynote speech at the special event.

Introducing the IU ASEAN Gateway

McRobbie, accompanied by IU Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum, returned to Thailand on Tuesday morning for another ceremony – the ribbon-cutting and formal inauguration of the new IU ASEAN Gateway office – signaling the newest chapter in IU’s long and storied history of engagement with Southeast Asia.

Located just behind the old Australian Embassy in central Bangkok, the new office will serve as IU’s “front door” to the 10 ASEAN member-nations, including Thailand, linking IU students and faculty to opportunities in the region, while also connecting international students, alumni and partners to IU.

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie, right, prepares for the ribbon-cutting at the new IU ASEAN Gateway office in Bangkok, Thailand. At center is office director Peter Boonjarern.

The office is directed by Peter Boonjarern, a Thai-American born and raised in Indiana and a 2000 alumnus from IU’s Kelley School of Business. Boonjarern, who is also president of IU Alumni Association’s Thailand Chapter, will spearhead IU’s on-the-ground work here in Bangkok to identify ways the new office can help facilitate new study abroad opportunities for IU students, help faculty conduct research on ASEAN and even help fellow IU alumni relocate to the region, as he did, and stay closely connected to the university. (Read more about Peter in an “IU Is Everywhere” feature story.)

Like its sister facilities in Beijing, Berlin, New Delhi and Mexico City, the IU ASEAN Gateway will also be expected to help expand and enhance the university’s global engagement through support for conferences and workshops, distance learning initiatives, executive and corporate training, alumni events and more.

Members of the IU delegation and their counterparts from Thailand’s National Institute for Development.

Meeting with old friends

Like the aforementioned other IU global facilities, the new IU ASEAN Gateway would be put to good use almost immediately.

Fittingly, the first official meeting at the ASEAN Gateway was with IU’s friends at NIDA, led by their newly installed president, Kamphol Panyagoometh, who was quick to praise IU’s new space and suggest that it would result in even greater interaction between the Thai national institute and IU.

IU and NIDA have, in fact, had a very lengthy and productive partnership that has enabled numerous exchanges of graduate students as well as teaching collaborations among faculty, particularly in the areas of business and public affairs. Today’s meeting provided an opportunity for the leaders of both institutions to begin to envision the future of the IU-NIDA partnership. This includes rejuvenating successful existing initiatives, as well as exploring the potential for new collaborative activities in areas of strong mutual interest, such as alumni networking, institution-building, philanthropic giving, public health and online learning.

In its first day of operation, the ASEAN Gateway also opened its doors to NIDA’s former president and another longtime friend of IU, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong. Dr. Sombat, to whom IU awarded an honorary doctorate in 2013 for his contributions to higher education and to the people of Thailand, is now the president of Wailalak University in southern Thailand.

As members of IU’s delegation learned more about today, Dr. Sombat has been working aggressively to develop both the faculty and the physical infrastructure at the relatively new public university, which was founded in 1992, including the construction of a new hospital that will be a regional center. He also recently welcomed a delegation from the IUPUI campus, which was led by Chancellor Nasser Paydar, to explore the possibility of scholarly exchanges and other collaborative activities between IUPUI and Wailalak.

From left: Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, president of Wailalak University, with IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie and IU President Michael A. McRobbie.

A final IU story

Since I began this blog with a story, I’ll end it with a quick one from the IU delegation’s enjoyable lunch with several proud and highly accomplished IU alumni currently living and working in Bangkok.

Seated across from President McRobbie was Caranee Thianthai, who received her IU bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1971, married a fellow IU graduate and went on to become a top executive at Nestle.

Thianthai’s mother was a member of IU’s first class of Thai students, who came Bloomington in the mid-1950s, arriving at what is now Monroe County Airport.

To our delight, Thianthai shared a photograph of that historic occasion, which we all eagerly passed around. As you’ll see below, it was truly a wonderful visual representation of how deep IU’s roots here in Thailand truly are.

IU’s first Thai students arrive at Bloomington Airport.

Alumni chapter takes a giant step, global partnership grows and ‘guardian angel’ sees decades-long dream come true

On their way to Thailand, members of the Indiana University delegation made a quick stop in Taiwan. We arrived here just a few days after the annual Lantern Festival, the first major feast after Chinese New Year. Held on the 15th day of the first month in the Lunar New Year – and dating back more than 2,000 years – the festival marks the final day of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, when people of all ages spend their time playing games, solving riddles, eating glutinous rice balls, enjoying fireworks and lighting red paper lanterns that signify hope and good fortune for the year ahead.

Lantern Festival, sometimes called Chinese Valentine’s Day, is a chance to spend time and reconnect with family, friends and loved ones. Thus, it seemed appropriate that the IU delegation would arrive in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital and largest city, on the heels of this holiday – excited to reunite with several successful members of IU’s ever-growing international family.

Members of Indiana University’s Taiwan Alumni Chapter with members of the IU delegation following the chapter’s official registration with the Taiwanese government.

As with Thailand, IU’s connections to Taiwan run deep. IU has one of our nation’s strongest China studies programs, which includes extensive educational and research programs in the culture and history of China as well as courses in Cantonese, Mandarin and classical Chinese languages.

IU has more than 200 Taiwanese students, each of whom is a valuable part of IU’s increasingly diverse student body, which now includes over 8,000 international students. We also continue to welcome many Taiwanese scholars and dignitaries to our campuses across Indiana each year.

What’s more, today there are nearly 2,300 IU alumni affiliated with Taiwan, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in education, business, arts and culture, and government here in their home country and around the world.

On Sunday afternoon, IU President Michael A. McRobbie, who became the first sitting IU president to visit Taiwan when he last visited in 2013, and Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum met with several of our Taiwanese alumni in downtown Taipei to celebrate the official registration of the Taiwan Chapter of the IU Alumni Association with the Taiwanese government. The official recognition by the government as a nonprofit organization will almost certainly help this already vibrant alumni chapter enhance its reach and impact, making it easier for members to stay actively engaged in university life, recruit new members and help future generations of Taiwanese students follow in their footsteps at IU.

If the chapter’s inaugural conference offers any indication, its dedicated members – led by Spencer Yang, chapter president and professor of political science at Chinese Culture University – will have little trouble meeting their mission. About 40 alumni battled a steady, all-day rainstorm on Sunday to participate in the conference and attend a spirited evening celebration, where President McRobbie delivered an update on the most recent “banner year” at IU.

Among the many highlights McRobbie mentioned were IU’s record levels of global engagement, including more international students and more students studying abroad than ever before in the university’s nearly 200-year history. He also heralded the arrival of the new IU ASEAN Gateway office in Thailand, which he will help inaugurate later this week. And, to the delight of those in attendance, he even shared some hot-off-the-presses news: that IU’s women’s swimming team, led by Olympic gold medalist Lilly King, had just captured its sixth Big Ten championship and first conference title since 2011.

I can safely speak for all members of the IU delegation when I say that I hope we’ll see many of our Taiwanese friends soon and perhaps as early as June 2020, when the university hosts its Bicentennial Global Alumni Conference and Reunion. This highly anticipated event, to be held Bloomington and Indianapolis, will showcase the university’s vast alumni network and the major impact its members have had in the Hoosier state, nationally and all around the world.

An expanding global partnership

On Monday morning, members of the delegation traveled to National Taiwan University, the most prestigious university in Taiwan, one of the top-ranked universities in the world and an important international partner of IU in Asia. By this point, the rain that had fallen all throughout the previous day finally ceased and the skies had cleared just enough so that we could admire, albeit briefly, the colorful flowers, fountains, trees and brick buildings that make up NTU’s picturesque main campus.

At NTU, where a remarkable 29 faculty members, including 16 full-time professors, are graduates of IU, President McRobbie and Vice President Buxbaum met with NTU President Kuan Chung-ming and other senior university officials to discuss renewing a formal partnership agreement between IU and NTU, which dates back to 2004.

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie, left, meets with Kuan Chung-ming, president of National Taiwan University.

IU’s Maurer School of Law continues to enjoy a productive partnership with NTU, which has resulted in a number of student exchanges and faculty research collaborations. Additionally, IU students are able to spend a summer studying at NTU through IU’s Chinese Language Flagship Program, which is one of four federally funded Language Flagship programs at IU Bloomington – more than any other university. The director of IU’s Chinese Flagship program, which is housed in the newly renamed Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, is Chen Yea-Fen, a graduate of NTU and a professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at IU Bloomington.

At Monday’s meeting, officials from IU and NTU also expressed interest in potential new collaborations in medicine, given their respective teaching and research strengths in this area, particularly in cancer-related research, genomics and precision medicine. On July 4, NTU will open a major new cancer research center, funded by a $500 million gift from Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturing company with headquarters in Taiwan. Members of the delegation were given an impromptu tour of the impressive 15-floor, 139,000-square-meter facility, which will be the first comprehensive public cancer medical center in Taiwan and provide such services as hospitalization, stem cell therapy, preventive health care, clinical treatment and cancer research.

Much like IU’s Grand Challenges Precision Health Initiative, NTU’s new cancer center has set some lofty objectives, including establishing new research programs and state-of-the-art facilities dedicated to precision health; bringing new patient-centered therapies and prevention into clinical use; and ultimately developing cures for devastating diseases prevalent among the communities served by the university.


A sculpture within the new Cancer Center at National Taiwan University, which is scheduled to open July 4.

Honoring a ‘guardian angel,’ the great Chi Pang-yuan

 “In Genesis, Jacob dreams of a stairway to heaven. At Indiana University in Bloomington from spring flowers to winter snow, I too had dreamed of my academic stairway, with angels ascending and descending. But just as I placed my foot on the first step, the stairway was withdrawn, which provided me with regrets for many years.”

 Chi Pang-yuan in “The Great Flowing River”

Our time in Taiwan concluded in the most memorable and inspiring way possible: with IU shining the brightest of spotlights on one of Taiwan’s best-known and most beloved contemporary writers, the remarkably accomplished Chi Pang-yuan, who was also a student at IU.

Chi, a former distinguished faculty member at National Taiwan University, has been instrumental in introducing Taiwanese literature to the western world through translations. For these efforts, she has been called the “guardian angel of literature in Taiwan.”

Chi Pang-yuan holds her honorary Doctor of Letters from Indiana University.

Born in 1924 in Manchuria, Chi grew up during what was the most tumultuous time in modern Chinese history. Like other members of the last generation of 20th century China, she had to overcome exile and diaspora brought about by fierce revolution and war.

Today, at an extraordinary 96 years of age, she is renowned as the pre-eminent expert and interpreter of Taiwanese literature. She translated and edited “An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Literature: 1949-1974,” a first-of-its-kind anthology that introduced works by Taiwanese authors to the world. With professor David Wang of Harvard University, she helped edit the series, “Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan,” which has published nearly 30 books by Taiwanese authors. She and Wang also edited the book “Chinese Literature in the Second Half of a Modern Century,” an important contribution to the critical study of Chinese literature from 1949 to the end of the 20th century, which was published in 2000 by Indiana University Press.

From left: Indiana University first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie, National Taiwan University Emerita Professor Chi Pang-yuan, IU President Michael A. McRobbie and NTU President Kuan Chung-ming during a ceremony at National Taiwan University to award Pang-yuan with an honorary Doctor of Letters from IU.

Chi also guided the establishment and development of the study of Taiwanese literature as an educational discipline around the world. She was the founding chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Chung Hsing University, and she served for more than a decade on the faculty at NTU. Over the course of her distinguished career, she also helped establish graduate programs in translation and interpretation at other institutions, and she taught a generation of scholars and translators, who benefited from her mentorship.

Her 2009 memoir, “The Great Flowing River: A Memoir of China, from Manchuria to Taiwan,” is an acclaimed best-seller, and it has been translated into Japanese, German, Korean and English. The book, which several critics have called a masterpiece, is being taught this semester at IU in at least one course that focuses on advanced language practice with texts in humanities disciplines.

In “The Great Flowing River,” Chi fondly remembers her time at IU. She came to the U.S. in 1967 as a Fulbright Scholar and taught at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana. Soon thereafter, she came to IU Bloomington to study English and comparative literature. She writes in her memoir that the literature classes she took at IU “were among the best in the United States.”

Among the professors under whom she studied was the late IU Bloomington Chancellor Emeritus Kenneth Gros Louis, a dedicated scholar known for his writings on medieval and Renaissance literature and history. Chi was also heavily influenced by professor Clifford Flanigan, who was chair of her master’s committee.

Although Chi passed her qualifying exam at IU and was only six credits away from completing a master of arts degree, her plans were cut short when she needed to return to Taiwan to support her family, just as her visa as an exchange scholar was about to expire. Her experience in Bloomington, however, helped build what she called “an academic stairway,” built “book by book, climbing upward with every word and sentence I read.” Indeed, she writes that, while at IU, she took advantage of every “stolen” moment to study, and she counts her time in Bloomington as among the most rewarding in her life.

At a special ceremony Monday afternoon, a crowd of about 150 adoring friends, family members, former colleagues and fellow IU alums gathered, including Nicholas Koss, a frequent translation collaborator whom Chi mentions in her memoir. There, President McRobbie presented Chi with an honorary IU Doctor of Letters degree – the highest academic recognition the university can give – in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the world of literature. McRobbie, who was assisted in the presentation by Vice President Buxbaum and IU professor Chen Yea-Fen, described Chi as a “pioneering and visionary scholar of the highest caliber” and a “great internationalist, who, through her dedicated and painstaking efforts to bring Taiwanese literature to the world, has helped build bridges of international understanding.”

Friends and former colleagues line up to take photos of Chi Pang-yuan after she received her honorary IU degree.

When it was Chi’s turn to speak, a red-carpet-like flurry of camera and iPhone flashes followed her to the podium, where she spoke movingly about her time in Bloomington a half century ago, the transformative impact IU had on her life and career as a writer, editor, translator and educator, and how much it meant to her to finally receive her well-deserved IU degree.

“This is truly a great honor in my life,” Chi said.

In that moment, the stairway that Chi described in her memoir as having been “withdrawn” was properly restored and a scholar who has made such extraordinary and eloquent contributions to world literature, inspired countless students and readers, and truly earned the moniker of guardian angel had at long last been given a day she had always dreamed of.

Thank you, Taipei, for a most memorable detour. And see you soon in Bangkok!

Celebrating one of IU’s oldest – and still thriving – international partnerships

ยินดีต้อนรับ, and welcome to the IU Goes to Thailand blog!

Indiana University’s long and storied history of international engagement dates back more than a century and spans the globe. But few countries hold quite the connection that Thailand does.

For 70 years, IU has enjoyed a rich history of partnership with Thailand, one of the university’s longest official relationships with a global partner. As our university rapidly approaches its Bicentennial celebration, IU’s many educational and institution-building initiatives in Thailand – and indeed, our activities across much of Southeast Asia – continue to translate into numerous student and scholarly exchanges, international service opportunities, faculty research collaborations and genuine friendships that have truly transformed lives both in Thailand and here in the Hoosier state.

Former IU President Herman B Wells, left, meets with acclaimed Thai scholar Mom Luang Pin Malakul and his wife in 1948, the year IU began its relationship with Thailand.

Today, nearly 60 students from Thailand are enrolled at IU. As with all of IU’s international students, we value these students for the valuable cultural perspectives they bring to our classrooms, and the way they enrich our campuses and communities we serve. We have also welcomed many Thai faculty scholars and researchers to IU over the years.

Much of our international activity related to Thailand and the surrounding region is centered in our Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, which houses the recently established Department of Southeast Asian and ASEAN Studies. The department is home to new degrees and enhanced language offerings in Thai, Indonesian and other regional languages. It also supports teaching, research and outreach activities on the economies, governance, culture, languages and security of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional intergovernmental organization consisting of 10 countries in Southeast Asia and a growing global power. (Today, IU has about 400 students from ASEAN nations, and in recent years, we have had students from every ASEAN nation represented at IU.)

Increasingly, more and more IU students are choosing to study abroad in Thailand and experience first-hand its extraordinary culture and history. Currently, that number is around 50 students annually.

IU also has more than 1,000 Thai alumni, many of whom have become prominent members of Thai society as leaders in business, education, government, health care, higher education and other important fields. They are among IU’s greatest global ambassadors and loyal friends of the university.

A lasting friendship

Fittingly, it was a personal friendship that spawned IU’s seven decades of engagement in Thailand. In 1948, IU’s legendary 11th president, Herman B Wells, met with Mom Luang Pin Malakul, then permanent undersecretary for education in Thailand, who was in Bloomington to visit with Thai graduate students who were studying at IU. This began a personal friendship between President Wells and Secretary Malakul, who later served as Thai minister of education and culture, that would ultimately lead to a close institutional relationship between the Thai government and IU and contribute mightily to the development of the country’s system of higher education.

As one of the founding members of the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, IU helped develop the Institute of Public Administration at Thammasat University in 1955 as well as 16 teacher colleges in Thailand in the 1960s and 1970s, many of which are now four-year, comprehensive universities.

IU also played a central role, in 1966, in establishing the National Institute of Development Administration. Thailand’s leading educational institution in the area of sustainable development, NIDA has trained thousands of the Thai government’s top officials and diplomats for service across the country and around the globe. IU’s close partnership with NIDA continues today through exchanges of faculty and graduate students.

And in 2016, IU President Michael A. McRobbie delivered a keynote address in front of hundreds of Thailand’s most eminent statesmen, educational leaders and other dignitaries at NIDA’s 50th anniversary celebration. McRobbie was the only U.S. college or university president asked to deliver a keynote, further illustrating just how highly influential and highly regarded IU is in Thailand and throughout one of the most culturally, economically and politically important parts of the world.

In 2016, IU President Michael A. McRobbie, center, delivered a keynote address at the 50th anniversary celebration of Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration.

Writing a new chapter, where we’re going

Beginning early next week, McRobbie and IU Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum will help write the newest chapter of IU’s successful and continually evolving engagement in the region when they lead a university delegation to Bangkok, Thailand’s capital and most populous city.

First, however, they’ll make a quick stop in Taipei, Taiwan, where they will attend the inaugural conference of the IU Alumni Association’s Taiwan Chapter, a reception for IU’s Taiwanese alumni (around 2,300 IU alumni are affiliated with Taiwan) and the conferral of an honorary doctorate on Pang-Yuan Chi, professor emeritus of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University. Chi is one of the world’s foremost translators of Taiwanese literature, and in her biography, “The Great Flowing River,” she fondly recalls her time as a Fulbright scholar studying on the IU Bloomington campus.

Once in Thailand, McRobbie and Buxbaum will preside over the formal opening, on Feb. 26, of the new IU ASEAN Gateway office, IU’s fifth such office around the world. Like its counterparts in New Delhi, Beijing, Berlin and Mexico City, IU’s new facility in central Bangkok will enhance and expand IU’s global engagement through support for teaching and research, study abroad opportunities for IU students, conferences and workshops, and engagement with alumni, businesses and non-governmental organizations.

As part of IU’s continued effort to expand its teaching and research capacity in Southeast Asia, McRobbie and Buxbaum will meet with the senior leadership of NIDA as well as with administrators and faculty at Chulalongkorn University. IU’s partnership with Chulalongkorn, now more than two decades old, has expanded in recent years and includes scholarly and research exchanges with a number of academic units, including IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences, Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, Kelley School of Business and School of Education, as well as the IU School of Nursing and School of Dentistry on the IUPUI campus. They also will meet with former NIDA President Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, who is the current president of Walailak University in southern Thailand and a past recipient of an IU honorary doctorate. Recently, IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar led a delegation to Walailak to explore possible partnership activities.

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie, right, confers upon Sombat Thamrongthanyawong an honorary degree during a ceremony on the IUPUI campus in 2013. Sombat is the former president of Thailand’s National Institute of Development Administration and current president of Walailak University.

On Feb. 28, together with the Asia Foundation and in collaboration with the Australian National University, IU will host a panel discussion on the strategic importance of international engagement with the ASEAN nations. Among the distinguished panel participants will be IU alumnus David Carden, former U.S. ambassador to ASEAN; Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia and chancellor of ANU; and Marty Natalegawa, former ambassador and foreign minister of Indonesia.

The following day, members of the IU delegation will attend a special gathering of regional alumni to celebrate IU’s 70 years of engagement in Thailand. The event will include an alumni award ceremony recognizing alumni of the School of Dentistry, the Kelley School of Business, the Maurer School of Law and the School of Education. Highlighting the event will be a tea and afternoon program hosted by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to whom IU awarded an honorary degree in 2010 in recognition of her efforts to expand and improve public education all across Thailand, especially in remote and rural areas. The program will include a panel on women in leadership, moderated by IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie. In conjunction with these activities, the Kelley School of Business will host an alumni reception and convene a meeting of the Global Dean’s Council.

Your guide

And I’ll be there for each of these activities and more – serving as your eyes and ears to our time in Thailand and delivering first-hand, real-time reports of the delegation’s daily travels. I’ll also post information about our many historic, expanding and evolving ties to Thailand and share insights into IU’s ongoing effort, as it rapidly approaches its Bicentennial celebration, to strengthen its engagement efforts in Southeast Asia and around the world.

I hope you will follow along with me, and please feel free to reach out to me directly with questions at rpiurek@iu.edu.