Cruz Knows About Classroom Challenges From Experience

Rui Cruz speaks to an international group of chemistry leaders.

Teachers have a kindred spirit in Rui Cruz.

Cruz, recently appointed Research & Development director for Dow’s Industrial Solutions business, spent a semester as a high school chemistry teacher in Brazil while he was starting his Dow career.

 “I was still in training, when the public school a few blocks away lost their chemistry teacher, and they were desperate to replace him,” Cruz recalls. “They saw ‘Dow Chemical’ in the phonebook and called the Human Resources department, asking if there were any chemists or chemical engineers who wanted to be a teacher.”

It was the school’s good luck to be connected with Cruz, who agreed to take over for the chemistry teacher, learning the lessons of his new Dow career each day before heading to the school to present chemistry lessons to students.

“That increased my admiration for teachers a great deal, seeing all those challenges,” Cruz said. “The public schools in Brazil, their elementary and junior high education wasn’t perfect, so I had to work to close some gaps. Getting them to be fond of chemistry and spend their time learning about molecules and doing experiments, that wasn’t easy.”

Rui Cruz poses with a teacher at the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association.

The key, Cruz discovered, was to help the students see a connection between science and the real world.

“I tried to make the chemistry relate to their lives. It made it more interesting to them,” Cruz said. “Science is so wonderful. It’s impossible to hate it if properly taught .”

That spirit has remained with Cruz all these years. He’s now based in Freeport, Texas, but maintains ties with his native Brazil and mentors a few Latin American students and Dow employees. At the closing of the International Year of Chemistry in 2011, he spoke to about 250 high school and university students from all over Europe about a vision of a better future thanks to chemistry, and kept them engaged by creating the International Year of Chemistry Young Leaders community on Facebook. For the past four years, he also has taken part in an annual program through which about 200 children of Dow employees visit the Freeport site to learn about the history of Dow and the joys of science.

 “We have a wonderful team who actually does experiments and demonstrations with the kids,” Cruz said. “We all have a blast.”

It’s part of the reason that the Great Minds in STEM organization presented Cruz with its Outstanding Professional Achievement award as part of the 2014 Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference.

Rui Cruz has become a leading voice for the chemical industry.

And Cruz never forgets about the role teachers have in engaging students. Last year he facilitated “train the trainer” sessions through You Be The Chemist, a venture Dow supports in cooperation with the Chemical Educational Foundation. And he represented Dow last year at the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association. An all-expenses-paid trip to the convention was the culminating event in a year of professional development provided by Dow to 155 teachers from around the country.

“Our sponsoring of the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy is one of the most beautiful programs I’ve seen,” Cruz said. “Dow has plenty of programs like this. I’m extremely proud of our STEM advocacy activities.”