A Year Abroad Reveals Career-Shaping Connections

In just two semesters at Widener, Daniël van der Spoel ‘24, an exchange student from the Netherlands, found a second home with the Pride and a new partnership with a powerhouse engineering research team.

Daniël van der Spoel
Daniël van der Spoel
Class of 2024
Computer Science
  • College of Arts & Sciences
Career Plan: Software Engineer

The opportunity to study in a foreign country appeals to many college students. Daniël van der Spoel ’24 is no exception. 

“The idea of study abroad has always been interesting to me because it's really cool to learn different cultures and ideas; see different countries, meet different people,” said van der Spoel.

The computer science major is enrolled at Windesheim University located in the Netherlands, one of the many universities that Widener partners with for student exchange and study away programs. As an international student looking to study in the United States, Widener stood out to van der Spoel as a perfect fit for its size, location, and powerhouse programming.

His experience at Widener introduced him to new friends and mentors and even gave him hands-on experience developing software that supports breakthrough research in the School of Engineering. 

Immersed in the Pride

As a new member of the Widener community, van der Spoel immersed himself in the campus culture. He tapped into Widener’s wide offering of clubs and organizations such as the computer science club and Pride Activities Council and even connected with the Office of Civic Engagement to support office programming. 


When he wasn’t on campus, van der Spoel took advantage of Widener’s convenient location just outside of Philadelphia to explore popular destinations including Washington, D.C., New York City, and Miami. 


In just one semester, Widener quickly felt like a second home to van der Spoel. That sense of belonging led van der Spoel to extend his exchange program from one semester to the entire school year. 


I decided to stay for a second semester because I thought I could learn a lot and grow here as a person.” —Daniël van der Spoel

Cutting-Edge AI Innovations

Shortly after arriving on campus, van der Spoel was invited to join the interdisciplinary team of student-researchers in the NanoBio Lab led by Sachin Patil, professor of chemical engineering. The NanoBio Lab investigates treatment paths for some of the world’s leading illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. 


Van der Spoel’s background in computer science and software development complimented the chemical engineering-based research which requires lab members to search and compare drugs using large data sets. 


According to van der Spoel, “[the lab] has so much data that they want to analyze it but it’s too much to do with the current tools, so Dr. Patil asked me if I would be able to write a program that could do it for him.” 


Working in partnership with Patil, van der Spoel developed a state-of-the-art computer program equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to discover novel drugs against cancer and Alzheimer's disease quickly and efficiently. 

Discovering New Career Paths

Working with Patil and the NanoBio team gave van der Spoel a hands-on tutorial on how to apply computer and data science in the health care and medical research fields. 


“This was my very first interaction with chemical engineering and the medical side of things,” said van der Spoel. “I really like this and I want to look into seeing if I can get a job in the future in this area.”


According to van der Spoel, Widener gave him the flexibility to explore new fields and identify different career paths. 


This year really opened my eyes to other fields. I was really able to explore and bridge into different areas to see what I like and see what I don't like. I learned a lot about what I want to do in the future.” —Daniël van der Spoel

A Continuing Collaboration

Van der Spoel returned home to the Netherlands at the end of the 2022-23 academic year and is preparing to graduate with a degree in computer science from Windesheim University. 


Although he is no longer stateside, van der Spoel remains connected with Patil and the NanoBio Lab and continues to support the research and update his software as needed.


“Even though I'm home, I will continue to work and help with the research,” said van der Spoel.

Career Plan: Software Engineer

You May Also Like