Penn President Amy Gutmann welcomed Professor Dr. Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand to campus on Thursday, April 5, at a meeting aimed at linking scientific resources on campus with those at Chulabhorn Royal Academy, where the princess serves as president.
“Bangkok and Philadelphia are approximately 14,000 kilometers apart in distance, I know that’s a long way to travel, but we really are very close, our two countries,” said Gutmann, greeting HRH Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol and a delegation from Thailand in the light-filled Kleinman Center for Energy Policy in the Fisher Fine Arts Library. Gutmann noted the 45 Penn students from Thailand, the 500 alumni who make Thailand their home, and the “countless” examples of the University’s research and outreach involving Thailand.
HRH Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol has a doctorate in chemistry and has since 1985 served as a professor of chemistry at Mahidol University, with research interests in the chemistry of natural materials. She has long used her royal position to promote the sciences, including establishing the Chulabhorn Royal Academy in 2016. The institution offers degrees in medicine, public health, nursing, and other health-related fields, and includes a hospital.
Joining Gutmann in welcoming the princess were representatives from each of Penn’s four health schools: Dana Graves, interim dean of the School of Dental Medicine; Joan Hendricks, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine; Caryn Lerman, vice dean for strategic initiatives for the Perelman School of Medicine; and Wendy Grube, interim director for the Center for Global Women’s Health in the School of Nursing. Each gave a brief overview of their school’s stand-out strengths, as well as connections and commonalities with Thailand and the Chulabhorn Royal Academy.
The nursing school, for example, has for 20 years taken students to Thailand on an annual trip. “We greatly admire and have learned so much about nurses’ role in the prevention of major health disorders,” Grube said of the visits.
HRH Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol expressed interest in developing a memorandum of understanding with Penn to expand opportunities for learning and exchange between students and faculty at Penn and Chulabhorn Royal Academy alike.
The group discussed ways that the two institutions might be able to translate academic knowledge to confront challenges on the local and global scale. As an example, HRH Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol noted that her country is struggling with a rabies outbreak, the problem continuing despite efforts to contain stray dogs and administer vaccines.
Students from Penn Vet have traveled to Thailand to neuter stray dogs and cats, Hendricks shared, acknowledging that Pennsylvania has similar challenges containing rabies in wildlife populations. “We look forward to increasing our role working with your country,” Hendricks said. “We need to continue this conversation.”
Over the next several days, HRH Princess Chulaborn Mahidol and her delegation will tour facilities and take in the expertise of faculty and clinicians from Penn Medicine, Penn Vet, Penn Nursing, and Penn Dental. Her visit will conclude April 11, following a send-off from Penn Global leaders Ezekiel Emanuel and Amy Gadsden and Thai and Thai-American students at Penn.
“The mission of Penn Global is to bring Penn to the world and the world to Penn,” Gutmann told the princess. “You have honored us by bringing part of the world to Penn, and we would like to honor you by bringing Penn to Thailand, in any way we can help…. We can put the knowledge from our great health schools to work, starting in our local communities and radiating out into the world.”