Physicist Uses Speed Dating Technique to Promote Science

Jaap den Doelder uses bread to illustrate a point about packaging while speaking to a class at Zeldenrust-Steelant College in Terneuzen, The Netherlands.

STEM is not a term universally understood around the world.

Speed dating, apparently, is.

So Jaap den Doelder and other Dow employees in the Netherlands have modified the modern dating technique to help students develop connections to the world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, though they don’t use the term STEM.

“We want to give students good information and help them to develop interest in careers in science,” said den Doelder, a physicist in Performance Plastics Materials Science at Dow Benelux BV in the Netherlands.

A school’s students travel to the Dow site and go on a tour. Rather than follow up with a speech, den Doelder uses his speed dating activity. The students are divided into groups of about six students each, and a Dow employee sits down with each group for a 10-minute chat.

“What we talk about is all up to the students,” den Doelder said. “We are not delivering a talk. They dictate what we discuss.”

The result is a free-wheeling conversation that gravitates toward areas that engage and inform the students in that particular group. Then the employees rotate to a new group and start over.

In addition to welcoming students to the Dow site, den Doelder also travels to area schools for guest lectures designed to show 15-year-olds how cool science is, using a format crafted by Jet-Net. Dow is one of several partners in Jet-Net, a joint venture between Dutch companies and pre-college schools in the Netherlands. “Jet-Net companies help schools enhance the appeal of their science curriculum by using a great variety of activities and also allow students to gain a better understanding of their future career prospects in industry and technology,” the organization’s website explains.

den Doelder also works with post-secondary students as an associate professor at Eindhoven University of Technology.

It’s part of a relationship between Dow and EUT that benefits both. The school and its students get access to Dow experts and technology, and the company builds relationships with promising students as well as university researchers.

As a member of the local school board, den Doelder also advocates for programs that help prepare students for a career in science and encourage them to move in that direction. After 15 years working for Dow, he can offer first-hand testimony of the advantages of such a career.

“It’s a beautiful job,” he said.