A US-based scientist was appointed Polytechnic University's next president yesterday after a unanimous vote by the 20 members of its governing council. Timothy Tong Wai-cheung, 55, has been dean of the engineering and applied science school at George Washington University since 2000. The Hong-Kong-born academic was the only candidate to be recommended by a search committee after a year-long hunt in which 52 candidates were considered. Professor Tong, who will serve a five-year term from January 1, 2009, succeeds Poon Chung-kwong, who will retire after 18 years' service at the Hung Hom university. One of Professor Tong's credentials in Washington was having increased the school's annual external research funding by 40 per cent and raising US$50 million in donations. Deputy president Alexander Tzang Hing-chung said the search committee had been impressed by his passion and enthusiasm to contribute to the development of tertiary education in Hong Kong. 'Members are convinced that his experience will be able to develop PolyU as a leading university with an emphasis on application values, and strengthen its role in serving Hong Kong and the nation's development,' Mr Tzang said. Professor Tong said he was honoured to return and lead a university in his birthplace, although he admitted he was not familiar with Hong Kong's education system. 'I will work to familiarise myself with PolyU's system with the help of my colleagues when I take office.' Before council members voted yesterday, Professor Tong met about 70 student representatives and 200 staff representatives for the first time. Staff association vice-chairman Joseph Lee Heung-wing said he was disappointed Professor Tong did not mention the direction in which he thought PolyU should develop. 'For example, as a Hong Kong university leader, topics such as how to step up ties with mainland counterparts should have been touched upon. That he did not is a bit disappointing,' he said. The chairman of the university's students union, Chan Hei-wai, said: 'His academic qualifications are sound without doubt and he promised to listen to our views in his future policymaking. He also pledged to meet students on his first day of taking office and would attend students' forums regularly. These are what we are happy to hear. But one area of concern is his ability to understand the needs of local students.' Born and raised in Hong Kong, Professor Tong received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University in 1976 and a PhD in the same discipline from the University of California at Berkeley in 1980. His research interest is in heat transfer - the study of the passage of thermal energy between objects. He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He has taught at the University of Kentucky, Arizona State University and Colorado State University. He also served as a programme director at the National Science Foundation.