ISU signs agreement with one of Thailand's fastest-growing universities

December 5 2007

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Music is sometimes known as an international language. For Indiana State University, music led to an agreement with one of Thailand’s fastest-growing universities on the heels of a faculty member’s extended visit.

“While we have many alumni in Thailand, our relationship with Thailand has grown because of faculty engagement,” said President Lloyd W. Benjamin III.

Current faculty members Karen Lui, College of Education; Brian Kilp, music department; Jean Kristeller, psychology department; John Conant, economics department; and Al Czyzewski, College of Business have visited the country over the years presenting, performing and conducting research.

“One of the real languages of exchange that has developed has been music,” Benjamin said.

Kilp, an associate music professor at Indiana State, whole-heartily agrees.

“You don’t need to understand language to enjoy music. Music is a way to get the doors to open and other things will follow,” he said.

Kilp, who returned in late September from teaching and performing in Southeast Asia, has made five trips to Thailand since 2002. During his most recent trip, he gave Wabash Valley residents and students a birds-eye view of his intensive experience, including lessons in Thai food and culture through his blog ( ).

Kilp's three-month stay was intensive. While abroad, he taught a freshman music theory class, an English discussion and debate class and a graduate level English for Tourism class while studying the Thai teaching technique at Maha Sarakham Rajabat University. He also taught a conversational English class for nursing deans, faculty and administrators.

“My experience was very challenging in many ways - culture, language, background, tradition and understanding male-female mores,” Kilp said. “I had to erase most assumptions and try to understand the way they think, what motivates them, and their prior educational experiences.”

“I found myself having to "dig deep" within myself to find new ways to teach and explain concepts,” he added.

Then there was the music-making.

Together with fellow ISU music department faculty members Randy Mitchell and Robert Waugh, Daniel Kelly, a former ISU music faculty member teaching at University of Southern Mississippi; and Brian Dobbins, University of Oklahoma, Kilp formed a quintet called The Ambassador Brass to play a tour in the region. For all but Kilp, Thailand was a new cultural experience.

During a two-week time period, The Ambassador Brass visited seven Rajabhats and 15 other schools during their trip. Along the way, they performed a series of concerts, conducted clinics with students and made many new friends. The group also performed at the American Embassy in Bangkok for their 4th of July celebration.

“We had many challenges, including constant schedule adjustments, a great variety of venues and food, various levels of audience sophistication and students all in very warm weather,” Kilp said. “But the Brass endured. I am very proud to be a part of this group and I hope it was the first of many experiences.”

In fact, the group has invitations from the Thai Army and Navy bands, Maha Sarakham Rajabhat University and Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University for the summer of 2008.

While in the region, Kilp, Mitchell and Conant visited Suan Sunandha, which is located in Bangkok, to discuss how the two institutions could work together.

“Their discussions paved the way for November’s visit by an 11-member delegation,” Michael Chambers, interim executive director of ISU’s International Affairs Center, said.

In a delegation comprised of deans and academic department directors, one member came from a family with Indiana State ties.

Siri-orn Champatong is currently a lecturer at Suan Sunandha in management science. Her father, Saiyut Champatong, formerly served as secretary general of Thailand’s Rajabhat Institute Council. Saiyut, who graduated from ISU with a bachelor’s degree in 1956 and a master’s degree in 1961, was presented with the Jones Medal during his visit to campus in 2000.

The Indiana State tie helped, but according to a member of the delegation, it was really music that opened the doors of cooperation.

“Brian [Kilp] paved the bridge between ISU and my Rajabhat by visiting us the last two years,” Somdech Rungsrisawat, deputy dean of Suan Sunandha, said.

The recently-signed agreement is the first formal agreement between Indiana State and Suan Sunandha, but it builds upon the foundation laid during an October 2000 cooperation agreement.

The agreement provides formal opportunities for visits, exchanges of faculty and students, facilitation of graduate school admission and collaborative programs in the areas of business, education, nursing, English as a second language and fine and performing arts.

“This agreement encourages collaboration in teaching, training and research,” Benjamin said.

President Chuangchote Bhuntuvech said the agreement will help both universities, who have a common mission, deal with globalization.

“This sets a concrete platform for us to work together for a mutual benefit,” he said.

This isn’t Indiana State’s first agreement with Thai higher education institutions. In November 2006, ISU signed a collaborative international exchange agreement with a consortium of 12 Rajabhat universities in northeast Thailand.

The agreements are a sense of pride for Kilp, who served as Indiana State’s musical ambassador.

“It’s been very rewarding and exciting seeing Indiana State reach out to the Thais through these agreements. We can learn a lot from each other,” he said.

Contacts: Michael Chambers, interim executive director of ISU’s International Affairs Center, (812) 237-4391 or

Brian Kilp, associate professor of music,

Writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, (812) 237-3783 or

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Story Highlights

Music is sometimes known as an international language. For Indiana State University, music led to an agreement with one of Thailand's fastest-growing universities on the heels of a faculty member's extended visit.

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