Without real passion for our environment, it's hard for someone to describe landfills and experimental pig farms as "inspiring" and "fun," which were exactly the words Dr Kenneth Mei Yee Leung used. As a student, he stank from head to toe in and out of smelly places, but he seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
Dr Leung is currently an Associate Professor of The Swire Institute of Marine Science and School of Biological Sciences in The University of Hong Kong. Yet, things haven't been smooth sailing all his life. Born to a grass-roots family of 11, Dr Leung once studied in a Band 5 secondary school, failed his first HKCE exam, repeated Form Five and retook the exam. His HKHL results didn't qualify him for university admission. It was the late 1980s when the government was keen to advocate environmental protection. It dawned on Dr Leung that "contributing to society" was a righteous cause and he chose to enrol in the diploma programme of environmental studies (pollution control), a newly offered programme in the VTC Technical Institute (currently IVE).
Dr Leung seized the opportunity and enrolled himself in this unique environmental science programme which was still an emerging academic stream then. With the excellent team of teachers, interesting and well-designed curriculum, and state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities, he was transformed into a proactive student, and turned out to be a top student in his class. During the summer 1989, a job placement in the Shatin sewage treatment plant provoked his profound interest in and concern for water pollution. He deeply understood there were solutions to most environmental problems and he was determined to devote himself toenvironmental study and research, for the betterment of society.
After graduation, Dr Leung went on to study for a higher diploma from the City Polytechnic of Hong Kong (currently City University of Hong Kong) and a B.Sc. degree in Applied Environmental Sciences from the U.K. with first-class honours. Coming back to Hong Kong, he briefly worked as a casual worker at the Environmental Protection Department and was responsible to collect water samples from bathing beaches and quantify the count of E. coli in the samples. Subsequently, he joined VTC’s Chai Wan Technical Institute as a lecturer for the diploma programme in environmental studies. Owning to his passion in environmental research, he decided to go back to the City University of Hong Kong where he earned his master of philosophy degree. His professor encouraged him to pursue a PhD degree overseas and apply for a scholarship. Dr Leung's application was not successful in the first time, but he didn't give up. As he was always "up for new challenges no matter winning or losing," he kept on applying for various scholarships. Finally, his efforts paid off as he won the Swire's James Henry Scott PhD Scholarship financing his doctoral study at University of Glasgow in Scotland, U.K. He was awarded his PhD degree in marine environmental toxicology in 2000, after which, he was also awarded a post-doctoral fellowship from The Croucher Foundation for an 18-month study assessing the ecological risk of antifouling chemicals at University of London, U.K.
Dr Leung then returned to Hong Kong and has been committing himself to teaching and research specializing in water pollution and its impact on marine ecology. Having achieved outstanding results in his specialized disciplines, Dr Leung is currently an expert member on a number of advisory committees of the Hong Kong SAR government, giving invaluable environmental advices to various departments in shaping environmental policies. Dr Leung was awarded as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons in 2010 and a VTC Outstanding Alumnus in 2012.
Pollution and ecological problems concern everyone on earth. Experts and scholars spare no effort in striking a balance between economic development and environmental conservation. Dr Leung is now considered an authoritative figure in marine pollution control and he ascribed his success in part to VTC. He explained, "Studying in the VTC institute was a turning point in my life where I started to develop a strong interest in environmental issues. I could never have achieved that much without the encouragement and help from my mentors there." As a VTC Outstanding Alumnus, Dr Leung promised to give back to his alma mater, supporting and promoting the development of VTC. Apart from sharing his experience and insights on scientific research with VTC students, he also encouraged them to join environment-related professions. Dr Leung looked forward to offering his opinions on the programme planning of VTC to enhance the curriculum.