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New Face: Zihui Ma

From the Silk Road to the Strip, this assistant professor has made a journey of the mind and soul — using the pursuit of happiness as her guide.

People  |  Jul 3, 2017  |  By Caitlyn Lopez
UNLV professor Zihui Ma

Zihui Ma, assistant professor in residence at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services) 

When Zihui Ma began exploring hospitality principles in the senior living space, she approached her research with the same inquisitiveness that led her to pursue an academic career far from her native China. Now an assistant professor at the Harrah Hotel College, Ma brings her curiosity to the classroom.

What about UNLV strikes you as different from other places you have worked or where you went to school?

First, the Hotel College offers more opportunities for students and faculty and provides a strong relationship with the hospitality industry. Second, the university is so diverse and daring. I went to our fall commencement ceremony in December, and it was so different from what I’ve experienced before. It was really inspiring.


In comparison to other hospitality schools, our Hotel College is one of the best. As I mentioned, we have a strong bond with the industry that helps nourish our teaching and research, which in return helps our students.

Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I grew up in Lanzhou, China, which was an important stop on the trade route to Europe known as the Silk Road. It’s a town where traditional life meets the modern world.

What inspired you to get into your field?

I became interested in hospitality because I’ve always wanted to live a happy life and share that happiness with others. It motivates me to find ways to better serve people. The education field is also rewarding as I get to help others be successful.

What is the biggest challenge in your field?

Understanding the differences in generations and lifestyles is difficult. As we teach in a traditional way, we’re now competing for attention as newer generations have more access to the Internet and other technology. In addition, people change what they want as their lifestyles change, so the industry is constantly trying to change with them in order to best meet their needs and desires.

Tell us about a time in your life when you have been daring?

My most daring moment was when I decided to come to the U.S. for my master’s degree (at Virginia Tech). At that time, I had never left my home country before, but I was determined to experience something new and study abroad. It’s been almost eight years since I left China, but I visit regularly.

If you couldn't work in your current field, what career might you like to pursue?

I would want to be a surgeon or a pilot. It’s far from what I’m doing now, so I’ve always had these fantasies of what it’d be like. However, it’s all curiosity-driven. Teaching is still my passion.

Tell us about someone you admire and why.

If I have to pick only one, it would be Professor Larry Killough from when I studied at Virginia Tech for my master’s degree. He knew how to motivate people in order to get them to the next level and always gave great advice.

Proudest moment of your life?

I went on a spontaneous 10-day trip by myself to celebrate my 24th birthday. I took a Megabus from Virginia and traveled to Washington, D.C., New York, and Boston. I really found myself in those 10 days, and that’s something I’m proud of.

Who is your hero?

My father. He is a dedicated person who never gives up, and I really admire that in him.

Any tips for success?

Help others to be successful. You earn things by helping rather than by asking. If you can learn to be happy for others, then you have the ability and spirit to be successful.

Pastimes or hobbies?

I’d love to start playing badminton again. My parents introduced it to me as a child, and I fell in love with it.

Tell us about an object in your office that has significance for you.

We took a funny college group photo during a holiday party, and I really love it. It reminds me of how happy I am to work here. So, I decided to draw each person in the photo on the whiteboard in my office. I’ve never drawn before, but I did it because it’s a great group of people to work with. They all inspire me to serve our students better.