Purdue students' work to help town prompts gift from Thailand

April 9, 2015  

Anon fish

This sculpture of the Anon fish will be presented to President Daniels and Purdue students working on the Baan Tawai project in Thailand. (Photo provided)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue President Mitch Daniels and dozens of Krannert students involved in a multi-year project to help a community in Thailand will accept the gift of an intricate work of art Tuesday (April 14) in recognition of their efforts.

Narong Chavasint, president of North-Chiang Mai University, will present a two-foot wooden sculpture of an Anon fish to Purdue and the students who have been working to preserve the woodcarving heritage of Baan Tawai.

Located in northern Thailand, Baan Tawai has been known for its woodcarving for centuries. The Purdue students, in collaboration with North-Chiang Mai University, are working with the artisans in their efforts to adapt to globalization and a technology-driven business world.  

After taking his family on a vacation that included a visit to the community, marketing instructor Chad Allred was moved to help the region by incorporating related projects in his classes.

Eventually, that led to a student organization that is run like a consulting firm with one mission: to help Baan Tawai thrive in the modern business world. Students donate their time to help with everything from logistics and sales and marketing to social media.  Ultimately, the team would like to expand their work to other clients in Southeast Asia.

"Our goal is to keep this culture going and to save the beautiful artwork that the area possesses," said Xavier Thompson, president of the Baan Tawai Student Organization. "We are helping the community develop a 'brand' that will not only make it a destination for visitors but also will provide a way for the artists to display and sell their work using the Internet and social media."

Last summer, some of the students conducted research in Baan Tawai, meeting the people and studying the needs of both artists and consumers. 

During this academic year, the students have built on that work, especially in developing a website and social media presence.

A new group of students will travel to Thailand in May and June to continue the work, including producing videos and photos to be used in brand communications.

"We truly believe that Baan Tawai's culture and heritage are a treasure that must not be lost," Thompson said. "We are working to help Baan Tawai rejuvenate and reinvigorate its remarkable past and its economy."

As an educator, Allred sees the student involvement as much more than a worthy cause.

"One of the Purdue Moves initiatives is to increase international experiences and, at the same time, there is more emphasis on mentoring students and helping them to use their classroom knowledge in extracurricular activities," Allred said. "I can't think of a project more aligned with that vision than this." 

In the time that Thompson and about 200 others have been working with Baan Tawai, Purdue and Gallup released findings that suggest student involvement in such projects increases the likelihood that they will graduate on time and later thrive in work and life. According to the findings, students who are able to apply what they learned in the classroom through real-world experiences are twice as likely to thrive at work. The survey reached a similar conclusion for students who worked on a project that took more than a semester and who had a mentor and extracurricular activities. 

The Anon fish depicted in the carving Chavasint will present to Daniels symbolizes trade, representing endurance and the struggle to go against the current.

Chavasint will present the sculpture during a private reception in Westwood, the Purdue president's home. It will be displayed in a public area there. 

Media contact: Judith Barra Austin, 765-494-2432, jbaustin@purdue.edu

Sources: Chad Allred, 765-494-4460, crallred@purdue.edu

Xavier Thompson, xthompso@purdue.edu 

Note to Journalists: The sculpture will be presented to President Daniels during a reception at Westwood from 4-5 p.m. Tuesday (April 14) with remarks at 4:30 p.m. The reception is not open to the public but media are invited to attend. Media wishing to attend are asked to contact Judith Austin, Purdue News Service, 765-494-2432, jbaustin@purdue.edu 

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