Humans of Fung: James Cheney, MEng ’21 (ME)

On his hope for the future of engineering and his hobbies of surfing and dancing.

James Cheney is a current Berkeley MEng candidate studying Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in control of autonomous systems and robotics. Here, he shares his goals as an engineer and his hobbies outside of the MEng program.

Why did you choose to study engineering?

Engineering is all about applying an understanding of the physical world to enhance our lives. This is a fascinating process that blends concrete application of physics with creative design in innovating solutions and improvements. Creating controlled systems is the next level — a kind of meta-engineering where we create something that regulates itself to perform in a way beyond the capability of a human operator, yet is created by humans. I find it fascinating and the potential of it is amazing — it can and will change the world in impactful ways, solving important and urgent problems. I am optimistic that this melding of software and physical engineering is ushering in a golden age of human flourishing at a critical time, and I want to help innovate these solutions.

“Creating controlled systems is the next level — a kind of meta-engineering where we create something that regulates itself to perform in a way beyond the capability of a human operator, yet is created by humans.”

What are your professional goals?

First, I want to establish in my own mind that I am a successful engineer. This will look like finding a suitable position and gaining experience and confidence. Beyond that, I want to find the best way to apply my own unique talents — innovative ideas, seeing the big picture, finding creative solutions — to improve the way things are done. This will look like finding a good fit in an experienced position and moving into leadership roles. Ultimately, I would like to actualize my own ideas — whether they are starting a company, doing research, or just inventing things and bringing them to market.

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

I want to help make things safer, more efficient, and more enjoyable. A lot of pressing problems are going to be solved with a blend of physical and software engineering, and I want to help advance those solutions. I am particularly interested in working with autonomous vehicles, whether it is ushering in an era of safe and efficient personal mobility akin to the automotive revolution or enabling human exploration beyond the earth.

What are some of your hobbies and passions?

I surf and body-surf! Surfing taught me the value of acknowledging fear, analyzing it, and if the risk versus reward analysis warrants it, going hard at it anyway. “If you don’t go, you’ll never know.”

I also swing and blues dance. It was the first thing I really sucked at but was determined to learn anyway. It’s a rich part of my life now. Dancing taught me that I can become proficient at something that may seem hopeless by just constantly chipping away at it and not stopping.

“Dancing taught me that I can become proficient at something that may seem hopeless by just constantly chipping away at it and not stopping.”

Finally, I really enjoy traveling. It gives me an understanding of how different life experiences truly impact perspectives, and has taught me how to better see things from another’s point of view, rather than just the point of view I would have if I was standing in their position.

Is there something you are currently working on/interested in that you would like to share?

I am continuing to work on the Robot Open Autonomous Racing (ROAR) project. My autonomous vehicle agent won the simulated race series twice this year by a large margin, and I am interested in implementing it in the 1/10 scale physical car to see how well these results in a simulated world translate to the real world.

Favorite quote:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

Fun fact:

I am approaching two decades being vegan! It is one way I try to have a positive impact in the world around me — by demonstrating the joyful and positive aspects of a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle that minimizes my impact on others enjoying their own lives (animal and human).

Connect with James.

Edited by Danielle Valdez.

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Berkeley Master of Engineering

Berkeley Master of Engineering

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