Like father, like son(s)

| Michaela Nesvarova

Before moving to the US for thirty years, Ed Jonker studied Applied Mathematics at the UT. Now the alumnus is back in Enschede and, while still telecommuting to his job near New York, he is considering to return to his alma mater – as a student. If that happens, he would be a classmate of his two sons, who have both chosen to study at the University of Twente.

Photo by: Sam Langerak

‘The university itself has changed quite a bit,’ Jonker compares his memories from 1980’s to the modern-day UT. ‘It is so much more international. For the most part, you can’t even study in Dutch. If it comes to the city, there weren’t so many Germans visiting Enschede back then. We still had borders, after all. But a lot of things remained the same. The campus is still very recognizable although new buildings have been added. The landmarks like the Grolsch factory and the FC Twente stadium have moved, but both are still here in Enschede.’

Financial market

Jonker didn’t need to quit his job in the US to move back ‘home’. He still works as a Senior Director at FactSet, an American company providing financial information and analytic software for investment professionals, something that has been Jonker’s bread and butter for more than two decades. His road to the world of financial data and stock markets was rather pragmatic.   

'I wouldn’t mind learning how to be a soldier ... but I was worried they would probably just put me behind a computer'

The alumnus found himself living in New York shortly after his graduation in 1987. ‘At the time, you still had to serve in the army for two years after finishing school,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t mind learning how to be a soldier, but because I studied Applied Mathematics, I didn’t want to join. I was worried they would probably just put me behind a computer to do programming. And it was possible to postpone your service if you worked out of the country.’ Jonker therefore got a job at a company that sent him to the US. ‘I started programming for the financial market. That is when my work got more interesting.’

From New York to Enschede

For the majority of his career, Jonker has been a product manager, dealing with financial data and helping clients all over the world to optimize their stock portfolio. ‘Although – on paper – you don ‘t need any technical skills for this job, my technical background has been very helpful. I’m able to understand how clients work and can ask the right questions.’ And he continues to do so. ‘I still have my clients overseas. My company is very flexible about employees working from home. It is a good way to retain talent, I think. The only challenge for me is that most of the work is done in the afternoon and evening Dutch time.’

Jonker still regularly travels to his office in Connecticut, but his place is now in Twente, alongside his whole family. ‘We have always wanted a house in the US and in the Netherlands and last year we took the opportunity to make it happen. My wife, who is American, is retired and our sons grown up.’ And they have both, independently, decided to study at the UT. Just like his father, Jonker’s younger son Scott has already started the Bachelor’s program of Applied Mathematics; and his older son John opted for a Master’s in Electrical Engineering.

Like father, like sonJohn Jonker

John Jonker (on photo) just obtained his Bachelor’s degree in the US and will start his Master’s at Twente in September. Why even consider a Dutch university? ‘I went to a small liberal arts college. When I toured the UT campus in 2015, the vibe was very similar to what I was used to. The working environment in Twente reminded me of the important reasons why I chose my first college. I met students and teachers at the UT, and I witnessed a lot of faculty engagement. It seems that teachers here really care about the success of their students.’ 

‘Moreover, the class I went to was very good and engaging,’ continues John Jonker. ‘And the facilities at the University of Twente are impressive.’ Was having his entire family in Enschede also an important reason? ‘It was a contributing factor, but honestly not the main one. I mostly care about doing what I’m engaged in and passionate about, and I’m passionate about electrical engineering and especially nanoelectronics.’

Back for more

John might soon be meeting not only his brother, but also his father in the lecture halls. ‘I’ve been thinking about coming back to the university,’ says Ed Jonker. ‘I’m quite interested in the Data Science and Technology program here, so I’m thinking “why not?” Although basic teaching could also be something that interests me. So perhaps I will come back as a student or as a teacher.’

'The biggest thing I learnt here was to not get overwhelmed by giant problems'

What does the alumnus remember the most from his (first) study years at the UT? ‘The biggest thing I learnt here was to not get overwhelmed by giant problems. At the Math program at Twente you learn to breakdown large projects into many small ones, solve the easy parts and then as a last step solve the hard parts. It doesn’t matter what kind of challenge it is, it can be a software development problem or a product strategy challenge. You don’t need to know all the solutions upfront. You will work through it. You learn this state of mind at the University of Twente.’