Role models

Alumnae that lead by example

For students and alumnae having a role model can be a source of inspiration. Their stories can help future generations of women in science prepare for life in what is still mainly a man’s world. In this article, we present and honor some of the women that lead by example. 

Manuella Wilts
Senior Director of Operations & Board Member of Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. She studied Industrial Engineering at TU/e.

 In March of 2022, Manuella announced on LinkedIn that she would be changing her first name to “Peter”. She did so to make a point about underrepresentation of women in positions of power. Her trigger to do so was the fact that there are more CEO’s named Peter than there are women CEO’s in the Netherlands. 

The massive number of reactions to this action strengthened her drive to pave the way for other women. “That is my responsibility, and not just as a mother of three daughters.”, she says, “Me and my husband tell them to keep their horizons as broad as possible, to make their own choices and follow their own star.” Manuella also helps other young women to stand up for themselves. She is an active member of the RoundTable Network for
women in leadership. 

Aukje Doornbos
Managing Director of Covestro Netherlands, a German chemical company. She studied Chemical Engineering & Chemistry at TU/e.

No matter how focused on gender equality your (future) employer is, there will always be topics you can’t discuss with your male colleagues. Aukje was glad she could go to the women in higher positions when she joined DSM in 2004. “They were happy to help me. But also, hesitant to discuss subjects like combining children and work openly, fearing it might harm their career. I, on the other hand, am in favor of discussing it normally, even if it’s only to show it can be done.”

According to her, role models don’t have to be miles ahead of you: “One step is enough for them to have the experience that benefits you. And if you can: find a sponsor. Someone to help you, someone that understands you.” She also has some advice on the prejudices that you will encounter: “Take a deep breath and answer with humor. Don’t let it get to you. Most of the time it’s not a deliberate attempt to dismiss you.


Sandra Heuts
Managing partner of Risk Advisory at Deloitte. She studied Mechanical Engineering at TU/e.

Becoming a role model is not something you strive for. At a certain point you just are one. “Once you realize that, you can actively take on that role”, according to Sandra. She did not have a role model herself, but a “fantastic boss who let me do things my way.” 

That boosted her self-confidence tremendously. Now she is happy to support other women in her organization, by listening, by giving advice and by actively supporting her protégés. She calls them regularly to nudge them in the right direction: “I’m part of an informal network and I’m glad I can bring something to it. Not just by giving advice, but also in helping other women find their passion.”


Ellis ten Dam
Commercial director of Buildings at Royal Haskoning DHV. She studied Real Estate Management at TU/e.

Ellis is an advocate for a direct approach in finding a sponsor: “They don’t just fall into your lap. Be bold, put yourself out there, find someone that is connected to what fires you up. Let you passion show, and you will get noticed.”

Just like Aukje, she makes herself available for female students: “By sparring one on one, or on a platform that matches demand and supply. I’m always curious to find out what students need to get ahead.” 

She is convinced that the real power of connection lies in scale: “We need to become a group and help each other. Strong connections need time. You are not going to share much with someone you just


Want to get in touch with Beatrix, Manuella, Aukje, Sandra and/or Ellis? E-mail us at and we’ll provide a connection. And please visit our alumni platform to stay informed and connect with many more alumni.