[All in the family] ‘Sometimes it appears that it’s in the family genes’

Generations of students in one family have studied at TU Delft. In this series we speak to grandparents, parents and children about their student time.

From left to right: Joris, Frits and Martijn van der Jagt. (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

There are three generations of TU Delft students at the table: Frits van der Jagt (Aircraft Engineering, graduated in 1961); Martijn van der Jagt (Aerospace Engineering, graduated in 1987); and Joris van der Jagt (Mechanical Engineering, graduated in 2018). Much has changed since Grandpa Frits started his Aircraft Engineering degree in 1954. “In my time, there was no such thing as aerospace engineering,” he laughs. His class started with 55 first years. “It was a lot for those days.”

How different it was in 1979 when Frits’ son Martijn took his seat in the lecture hall for Aerospace Engineering with more than 100 other first years. “Not only had the name changed, but the number of first years had doubled,” says Martijn. “With 100 people, in the last year we were even considered a small year. These days there are a lot more in a year.”

Professor Wittenberg
It wasn’t a matter of course that Martijn took the same degree programme as his father. “Even more so, I didn’t even want to have anything to do with aeroplanes.” He wanted to do something with computers and started doing Electrical Engineering. “But I soon realised that it wasn’t my thing. After a few discussions, I realised that it in fact was Aerospace Engineering that had the most to do with computer sciences.”

So he switched programmes. Martijn laughs as he recalls the moment that he announced his graduation project at home. “I told my father that I would graduate from Flight Performance, the module taught by Professor Wittenberg. My father said that it must be in our genes as he too graduated under Professor Wittenberg.”

‘It must be in our genes’

At that point his father had had a successful career at Fokker, working his way up to the Director of Marketing & Sales. By coincidence, Martijn also ended up there. “For my graduation project I was looking for a place where I would be working among people. I wanted to go down the business route.” Professor Wittenberg phoned around and Martijn ultimately found a graduation project at Fokker. “The first thing I heard was ‘that’s a coincidence, the last person in that spot was Frits van der Jagt’. We will never know if Professor Wittenberg knew.”

After graduating, when Martijn was toying with the idea of working for Fokker, his father stopped the idea. Frits explains that “It would not have been good for either of us. I believed that Martijn should pave his own path.” In the end Martijn entered the information technology world. He worked at Philips for a long time and now works as a business architect for Hot Item, an IT company. Father Frits worked for Fokker until he retired. After retiring, he was a Board Member of the University Fund Delft for nine years.

Harry Potter and the sorting hat
There may be three generations of TU Delft alumni at the table, but not a full hand. Joris van der Jagt, Martijn’s son, studied Mechanical Engineering instead of Aerospace Engineering. That he chose TU Delft was not a given, says Joris. “I grew up in the area around Amersfoort so I also visited the other universities.” But his strong interest in engineering – and you really feel that passion – led him to choose TU Delft. He started doing Mechanical Engineering but after six months, changed to an HBO (higher professional education) course. “The university degree programme was really wide. There was little supervision and a lot of pressure to earn credits. I didn’t like it.” After getting his bachelor’s he returned to TU Delft for his master’s, graduating in Offshore Engineering in 2018. He now works for All Seas on the biggest ship in the world, the Pioneering Spirit. 

When Joris started his TU Delft life, he too opted for different things than his father. “My father was a member of Sint Jansbrug and my mother of Virgiel so I thought I would join the Delfts Studenten Corps.” But when he visited Sint Jansbrug during the OWee, he immediately felt at home. “In the end, I even became a member of the same guild as my father.”

“It is a little bit like Harry Potter and the sorting hat,” laughs Martijn. “The living hat on Zweinstein that magically decides which of the four departments each new student best belongs to.” Joris says “Oh well. Sometimes you think you should resist something but it then appears that it’s in the family genes.”

In the attic
The club building was never far away from both members of Sint Jansbrug as both Martijn and Joris lived a stone’s throw away for a while. Frits and his wife had bought a house on the Oude Delft in 1976. Martijn grew up there and Frits and his wife still live there. “It looked terrible when we bought it,” says Frits. “It was worn out and dilapidated. A couple rented out rooms there to 10 people.” They entirely renovated the house and when they removed the hardboard panelling, they found original Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles tiling.

Martijn still remembers the small cooking corner in the attic. “Exchange students from China lived there. They had a small kitchen with plastic coverings. The layer of grease was just as thick as the shelf holding the gas cooker.”

When the house was renovated he got a room in the attic. “It really felt like I was living like a student. I ate at Sint Jansbrug on weekdays and came home at weekends to do my wash.” It was even grandson Joris’ (Mechanical Engineering) first student room. “I could not find a room to rent straightaway and in the end lived there for five months. It was good, even if I wasn’t supposed to have friends round.”

The stories of Josephus Jitta
The three come up with one memory of their student time after the other. Grandpa Frits remembers the lectures on labour law by Prof. Josephus Jitta well. “Apart from the Professor of Labour Law, he was also the Chief Editor of the Haagsche Courant newspaper. His lectures were wonderful and the students wanted to be there just to hear his stories, even if they had nothing to do with labour law. Professor Josephus Jitta did not think that the module was being taken seriously so he made it compulsory for students to go to his house to do oral exams. He had a discussion with them and afterwards everyone got a seven. Except students from Indonesia who got an eight because ‘they have to study a foreign law’.

‘It was like a cabaret artist telling stories. It was fantastic’

Grandson Joris still remembers a surprise visit from Sinterklaas during a lecture on calculus by Joost de Groot. “Sinterklaas, accompanied by two Piets, gave a speech. De Groot thought it was silly and as a joke threw his shoe at Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas picked it up and walked away. De Groot had to continue his lecture with just one shoe and only found his other shoe in the break.”

Professor Ghesel Grothe made an impression on son Martijn. “He taught a module whose exams consisted of simple calculations that you could learn in a couple of minutes. He then spent the rest of his lectures on famous accidents in aviation. He explained as expressively as he could all the mistakes that were made. He was like a cabaret artist telling stories. It was fantastic. It was the only lecture in the whole year that was full to the brim.” Martijn still enjoys those stories. “Air Crash Investigation – a series on Discovery Channel – is my guilty pleasure. The format may be clichéd, but the investigation into why an aircraft crashes is fascinating.”

News editor Marjolein van der Veldt

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