Fung Feature: Dennis Zhang, MEng ’20 (BIOE)

On living around the world, healthcare innovation, and making STEM accessible for all

Dennis is an MEng student studying bioengineering. He has lived abroad in Germany and China, and is looking forward to exploring the innovative environment of the Bay Area. Dennis is passionate about work that bridges gaps, whether they be between engineers and the public, or different technological disciplines. We had the chance to ask him some questions about his journey to MEng and his goals for the future.


Portrait of Dennis crossing his arms. He is in an outdoor setting.
Portrait of Dennis crossing his arms. He is in an outdoor setting.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I then returned to Germany for my undergraduate degree, receiving a B.S. in molecular biotechnology from Heidelberg University. As a tech-savvy person, I have always been drawn to the charm of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, which is why I ultimately decided to enroll in the MEng program at Cal and see the forefront of innovation for myself. This year, I hope to learn more about the intersection between life science and technology, as well as explore the startup scene in the San Francisco Bay Area.

What inspired you to study bioengineering?

Coming into high school, I turned out to be very much an all-rounder in STEM. Be it mathematics, physics, chemistry or biology, I was fascinated by each of these subjects in both theory and their respective applications. Due to my broad interests, I was looking to further my education in a field that applies knowledge from multiple disciplines of science, to which engineering was the obvious choice. Bioengineering caught my eye particularly, as it directly relates to living beings and follows a human-centered approach in its application. Given the emerging challenges in the health and sustainability space, I believed that the intersection of biology and engineering will be of utmost importance in the future. That is why I became a bioengineer.

“Given the emerging challenges in the health and sustainability space, I believed that the intersection of biology and engineering will be of utmost importance in the future.”

Dennis standing in front of a lake with mountains in the background.
Dennis standing in front of a lake with mountains in the background.
Dennis trekking in Yading Nature Reserve in Sichuan, China, during his gap year.

Why did you choose the MEng program?

At the same time, I became aware of my affinity for startups, as I deeply appreciated the dynamic and fast-moving environment that enabled and translated innovative solutions like nowhere else. Following this experience, I decided to shift from a research-focused background to a more application-focused degree that combines STEM education with elements of teamwork and communication.

I was beyond excited to find out that Berkeley, one of the top educational institutions in the world, offered a program that reflects all of these skill sets and combines all aspects into a hands-on Capstone project, while providing exposure to the highly entrepreneurial and innovation-driven culture of the San Francisco Bay Area. Given these perks, the Berkeley MEng was an easy decision.

“I realized that I wasn’t only interested in quantitative and analytical work, but more so in communicative and collaborative tasks that involved working in a team setting with other people.”

Can you tell us about your Capstone project?

What’s something you’re passionate about?

However, going into science made me realize that it is a discipline plagued by a lack of communication. People working in STEM tend to overuse scientific jargon and technical terms, relying on unnecessarily complicated words to assert authority and elevate the status of one’s own work. This leads to a huge disconnect between scientists and their wider audience: having worked in an academic setting before, I have seen first-hand how great research failed to translate into tangible applications due to miserable communication, as financial stakeholders were unable to understand the potential of an idea.

I believe that effective communication is key to bridging this gap between basic research and real-world applications. As a future engineer, I want to reconcile my personal passion for talking and listening with my professional responsibility for effective science communication to increase the accessibility of STEM and thereby foster innovation as a whole.

“I believe that effective communication is key to bridging this gap between basic research and real-world applications.”

Five people pose for a photo beneath balloons that spell out “Health Hacks”
Five people pose for a photo beneath balloons that spell out “Health Hacks”
Dennis and his team at the Health++ Hackathon at Stanford University

Can you tell us about a cool project you worked on recently?

This experience was incredibly inspiring: I never thought that I would be able to build something from scratch in this short amount of time, with teammates that were complete strangers to me before the event. During the weekend, I learned about so many previously unheard-of innovations and connected with wonderful people from all sorts of backgrounds, all united by the passion to create purposeful solutions for advancing human health. This will not be my last hackathon for sure.

What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?

“In the future, I hope to contribute to a holistic form of impact: one that improves the health and wellbeing of our planet and its inhabitants on as many levels as possible, in an ethically-conscious and sustainable fashion.”


Connect with Dennis // As told to Lauren Leung

Fung Features is a series dedicated to showcasing the Fung community from various cohorts and backgrounds and learning more about their lives and their stories. If you’re interested in being featured, email funginstitute@berkeley.edu!

Berkeley Master of Engineering

Content hub for UC Berkeley’s Master of Engineering Program. Explore the many ways our students, alumni, and faculty are contributing to thier field.

Berkeley Master of Engineering

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Master of Engineering at UC Berkeley with a focus on leadership. Learn more about the program through our publication.

Berkeley Master of Engineering

Content hub for UC Berkeley’s Master of Engineering Program. Explore the many ways our students, alumni, and faculty are contributing to thier field.

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