There is a chemistry between Howard University and E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., and the bonds are likely to become closer, Du Pont Chairman Edward G. Jefferson told a group of Howard students and faculty yesterday.

Jefferson spent the day at Howard as university officials undertook a low-keyed campaign for Du Pont's support for the school's $100 million fund-raising drive.

There was no immediate promise of support from Du Pont, and Jefferson noted that his company prefers to make direct grants year by year rather than large, long-term donations to universities' capital funds.

But Du Pont, which has contributed $300,000 to Howard over the past 10 years, has a "strong interest" in the university and will continue support and probably increase it, he said. This week, a $20,000 grant to Howard's undergraduate engineering program arrived from Du Pont, and Conoco Inc., now a Du Pont subsidiary, has pledged $50,000 in aid over the next five years.

Part of that interest is reflected in the recruiting of Howard engineering and business graduates.

Sam Hall, Howard's director of career planning and placement, said that Du Pont last year made 40 job offers to Howard's graduating class and has hired 147 Howard graduates in the past 12 years. "It is probably the most consistent employer of Howard University graduates over the years. I was astonished at the numbers," Hall said.

Jefferson said that Du Pont's commitment to hiring more women and minority-group engineers and scientists continues. "We haven't relaxed our affirmative action programs at all," he said.

However, affirmative action goals aren't the only reason for Du Pont's support, Jefferson said. A significant increase recently in enrollment of women and minority-group students in engineering schools is helping to cut the shortage of engineers that confronts U.S. industry, and Du Pont is supporting basic education at the high school level to improve preparation of engineering students, Jefferson said.

Howard's briefing for Jefferson pointed out several areas where the interests of the university and the company coincide. Howard's new development program seeks support for research focused on the particular medical problems of black people, including sickle cell anemia and high rates of kidney disease and specific types of cancer.