Christy Cheung — Associate Engineer, Public Works – Development Services, City of San Jose
Christy Cheung’s work as an associate engineer focuses on transportation policy within development for the City of San Jose. Her transition into the public sector has sparked her interest in how thoughtful transportation planning and policies have the ability to preserve our environment and improve overall health and safety – particularly that of our most vulnerable communities – while simultaneously boosting our economy, for a brighter more sustainable future.
What is the educational and career path that led to your current career?
Growing up I was drawn to math and science, so I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering. I have always been more of a generalist than a specialist though, which has led me to pivot to a number of different professional paths. After trying various engineering industries, I realized I lacked a sense of connection to the roles I was in, so I decided to move to the public sector which has been the most rewarding job I’ve experienced thus far. Working for the local government has allowed me to feel more connected to the local community and see my work come to life within San Jose.
How did you become interested in environmental work?
I spent a lot of time outdoors growing up in a small Kansas town which cultivated my love for nature early on in life. This appreciation has increased over time as I’ve grown to see how pieces large and small serve a unique purpose and function in the natural world. It has also opened my eyes to how we as people disrupt this balance in overt and unconscious ways. It’s overwhelming to hear of and personally experience the natural disasters that are increasing year over year and to realize that many of the beautiful parts of nature are disappearing. Similar to many in this group, I feel a great sense of obligation to ‘do my part’ in preventing this slide. Our environmental issues are far-reaching and collaboration is a necessity to building a sustainable future. As someone who really enjoys working with a team, achieving a more sustainable future is in my opinion the ultimate collaboration.
Discuss any mentors that have helped or inspired you to reach your aspirations.
One of my biggest mentors is my former boss from the City of San Jose, Karen Mack. I remember the first time I met her was during my interview process and knowing that the only place I wanted to be was on her team – learning and working for her. Even after retiring from the City of San Jose after 30 years of service, she went on to help four other cities update their own transportation policies within a one year span!
The confidence Karen instilled in me taught me that your presence can be pivotal to those around you and knowledge is exponentially more powerful when shared and spread to others. Karen’s abilities to elevate those around her and model true leadership in speaking up and challenging the status quo are skills I still work to emulate today. We all have to envision and carve our own careers, but Karen taught me that knowledge is fruitless without passion and passion without people is boring – no matter what job you’re in.
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