Dr. R. Joseph Childs will soon be adding to his collection of academic degrees, only this time he didn’t expect to receive one.

Dr. Childs, dean of the College of Business & Legal Studies at Southeastern, recently received word that he will be awarded the first honorary doctorate from Agora University in Oradea, Romania. The date hasn’t been set, but Dr. Childs plans to travel to Romania to receive the honorary degree.

He said the honor was unexpected, as has been the impact of his time spent in Romania.

“I’m surprised how much it inspired them,” he said.

Dr. Childs first went to Romania in the early 1990s through connections with Assist International, which was conducting relief work in the country. He did consulting for a U.S. firm and also was hired as a professor at the state university in Oradea, which is where he met fellow professor M.J. Manolescu. Dr. Childs led workshops on leadership and how a market economy works, topics relevant to the Romanian people after their revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union after the Cold War.

“At that time Eastern Europe’s view of America was the way it was before the Iron Curtain. They had little flow of Western information,” Dr. Childs said. “Economic freedom and political freedom was equated with religious freedom. They saw it was great that America had all of those; they had none of those.”

After leading the workshops, Dr. Childs was invited to return and teach economics, which he did the following academic year. He wrote a curriculum and taught a course that Manolescu translated. He also led a weekend workshop that counted members of the Romanian parliament as some of its attendees. The course was modeled after Southeastern’s Foundations of Business course.

Dr. Childs left lecture notes and textbooks behind, and the Romanians consumed them. They translated the books, and many became scholars on free market economies. Manolescu and others then began the process of starting Agora University, which comes from the Greek word meaning “marketplace.” While it is not a Christian university, Manolescu told Childs that the Judeo-Christian faith is a part of the university’s philosophical foundation.

In order to be accredited, Agora University first had to have each of its degree programs evaluated and approved. The Romanian parliament then had to act to give the university official accreditation, a process that is both time-consuming and rigorous.

But the university succeeded.

Dr. Childs later created a model to offer Southeastern’s MBA program to Agora students in 2009. The model hasn’t reached many students yet, but he plans to work to improve and expand it when he visits to receive his honorary doctorate. Dr. Childs believes that his connection with Romania is positive for Southeastern University, and SEU students have been going to Romania for mission trips for a number of years. He said he hopes the relationships between the two countries and the two schools continue to grow, and he looks fondly on his time teaching in Romania and leaving a legacy.

“I had some moments of, ‘Why am I here?’” he said. “But my relationship with (Manolescu) yielded fruit.”