Montana State University

MSU statistician receives honorary doctorate from Thailand university

September 10, 2013 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

MSU statistician John Borkowski, right, receives his honorary doctorate from Maha Vajiralongkorn, the crown prince of Thailand. (Photo courtesy of Thammasat University).    High-Res Available

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BOZEMAN – A Montana State University statistician who didn’t see it coming has received an honorary doctorate for his “tremendous” contributions to a Thailand university.

John Borkowski, a professor in MSU’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, has done much to build and sustain the doctoral program in statistics at Thammasat University. For that, he received his honorary doctorate during the university’s Aug. 2 graduation ceremony. He was handed it by Maha Vajiralongkorn, the country’s crown prince.

“It’s just an honor to be considered for such an award, especially since I’m not Thai. It’s quite special,” Borkowski said.

Members of the royal family traditionally hand out diplomas at a handful of major universities in the country, Borkowski said. He added that Thammasat University primarily gives honorary doctorates to Thais. His was also the first honorary doctorate given to anyone in Thammasat’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

“It’s nice to be acknowledged for something I did not expect to be acknowledged for, that I enjoy doing,” Borkowski said.

He didn’t know he had been nominated until June when he made his annual summer visit to Thailand, Borkowski said. Kamon Budsaba, associate dean and in charge of the Ph.D program in statistics at Thammasat University, had gathered the necessary information.  Borkowski, Budsaba and other statistics faculty have worked together since 2005 to establish and sustain a doctoral program in statistics at Thammasat University.

Supranee Lisawadi, assistant professor in Thammasat’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, said by email that Borkowski has benefited the university in many ways.

“He has co-supervised many of our Ph.D. graduates,” Lisawadi said. “The new research he and his students had established not only benefit Thammasat University, but also the Statistical Society. Moreover, John is a main coordinator of the Ph.D. program in statistics, which is the first Ph.D. program at the Faculty of Science and Technology, Thammasat University.”

Borkowski first visited Thailand in 2005 after two MSU graduates from Thailand – Boonorm Chomtee and Kamolchanok Panishkan -- recommended that he teach statistics at Thammasat University. Since then, Borkowski has returned several times to teach, mentor students, form collaborations, present research seminars, and give invited and keynote talks at conferences. In 2007, he joined the editorial board of the journal, “Thailand Statistician.” In 2008, he received a Fulbright Lecture Award to teach in Thailand during the summer and fall. Borkowski has since brought Thai students to MSU. He currently has a doctoral student and postdoc from Thailand. Borkowski said a couple of visiting students from Thailand could attend MSU next year.

Borkowski said his latest trip revealed some differences between college graduation ceremonies in the United States and Thailand. Parents, for example, don’t attend college graduations in Thailand. Since the crown prince was involved, the ceremony where he received his honorary doctorate was broadcast across the country.

Borkowski also noted that he couldn’t just walk up to the crown prince, but he had to be summoned. He could never turn his back on Vajiralongkorn, and his head always had to be lower than the crown prince’s. During the ceremony, Vajiralongkorn was seated on a dais, and Borkowski had to reach upward to receive the honorary degree. When posting for an official photo with the prince, Borkowski and all award recipients had to approach him on his knees as a traditional form of respect for the royal family. 

 

Evelyn Boswell at (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu