Student-Athlete Strong: Zaina Zaki

This graduating women's tennis player, who tried two different majors before settling on finance, says she would advise freshmen that 'It's okay to be unsure of what you want to do for the rest of your life.'

Student-athlete, Zaina Zaki ’18 (BUS) listens to a lecture on financial risk management by finance professor Shantaram Hegde in the School of Business. Zaki tried two different majors before settling on finance. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Student-athlete, Zaina Zaki ’18 (BUS) listens to a lecture on financial risk management by finance professor Shantaram Hegde in the School of Business. Zaki tried two different majors before settling on finance. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UConn’s student-athletes are often lauded for their on-field or on-court achievements, but there’s an equally important – often unseen – dimension to the student-athlete. UConn Today’s Student-Athlete Strong series highlights the academic prowess of selected high-achieving student-athletes and provides an inside look at their lives beyond their sport.

Zaina Zaki ’18 (BUS)

Hometown and high school: West Chester, Pennsylvania; Unionville High School

Sport: Women’s Tennis

Area of study: Finance

Anticipated graduation: May 2018

Why did you choose to come to UConn?
Over the years, the UConn Women’s Varsity Tennis program has been getting stronger and stronger. Prior to my freshman year, our team was granted eight fully funded scholarships, which cover all the costs a student might encounter in college. I was so blessed to be given a fully funded scholarship when I came in my freshman year, because it meant all the money my parents had put into developing my game since the young age of six years old would finally pay off.

I would tell [incoming freshmen] that it’s okay to be unsure of what you want to do for the rest of your life. … You will know when you are in the program you want to be in.  — Zaina Zaki '18 (BUS)

Finance is one of the most popular majors at UConn’s School of Business. What attracted you to this program?
My path to Finance was a little different than most students because I did not know I wanted to be in the Finance program, but the Finance program knew it wanted me. In other words, as a freshman, I started in Engineering because I knew I had a high interest in mathematics. After not liking it, in my sophomore year I pursued accounting, again for my interest in mathematics. Again, I did not like it. However, while in the accounting program, I was taking a financial management class with Lingling Wang. At the start of the course, she outlined most of what financial planners do on a day-to-day basis. As the story goes, I fell in love with the class and the material, which solidified my decision to switch from accounting to finance.

What area of financial management are you hoping to pursue after college?
I actually have a job lined up with McAdam Financial Advising in Philadelphia. Throughout the recruiting process, the CEO continued to call financial advising a hybrid between social work and finance. I knew this would be the perfect combination for me to pursue due to my love for helping others, and, of course, my love for finance.

Did you look for help from UConn’s Center for Career Development?
Through my years at UConn, I explored multiple majors. Starting off in Environmental Engineering, bouncing to Accounting, and then finally landing in Finance, I needed help from the Center for Career Development. I first approached the office at the close of my sophomore fall semester, when I knew I would be applying to the Business School in the coming spring. As a part of my Business School application, I had to submit my resume, which, at the time, was not perfected by any means. The Center for Career Development helped me submit a resume to the Business School, which helped me get admitted.

What do you think about UConn’s new dual degree program, EUROBIZ, which will give students the opportunity to experience business in another country, Germany, first-hand?
Given that our society is becoming more globally connected, I feel working in different countries gives students a more competitive edge before they enter the workforce. Especially in finance, when students have had experience in internships, recruiters trust that those particular students are sure they want to continue working in the same field. In other words, EUROBIZ is a unique opportunity where students can put their love for finance to the test; if they love it – great; if not, they can pursue something else for the rest of their working careers. I’d also like to note that it’s incredibly important for students to explore as much as possible throughout their college careers. Why? I feel that a major reason for young professionals bouncing around from job to job in their early years is due to not loving the field they are in. As the saying goes, “If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

How did you come to specialize in tennis?
Growing up, I played multiple team sports, including basketball, soccer, and lacrosse; but I was always drawn to the individual nature of tennis. I liked having full control over whether or not I won or lost a match. It taught me self-discipline, because I was never quick to criticize or fault someone else when I lost a match. Walking off the court, after putting it all on the line, no matter the result I always knew I did the best I could.

I also loved tennis because every match was different, it never bored me. The game has taught me more than I could have ever learned in a classroom. One lesson was the ability to quickly analyze situations in order to come out on top. And whether it be the weather outside, if I was feeling sore, or if I had an exam coming up, tennis has taught me how to play in the moment. For instance, because tennis is an individual sport, it’s important to play your best during every point. If you play a bad point and continue to think about how badly you played that point and carry that negative energy into the coming points, you will also play those points badly. When you think about it, during a match you play A LOT of points, so it’s important to remember that when you don’t play your best for one of them.

What is one of your fondest memories during your time at UConn?
As a student-athlete on the varsity tennis team, my favorite memory actually occurred in February, when we traveled to Ithaca, New York. Although Rutgers is not in our conference, our coach has always scheduled a match against them every year to give us the competitive experience of playing a Big 10 conference team. Unfortunately, in all of my years of playing on the tennis team, we have never beat them. However, this year was different, and it was the way we beat them that made it so special to me. As a senior on the tennis team, every match was something special, because every time I stepped onto the court it was one of the last times I would be competing at such a high level. Before this match, our coach pulled the seniors aside and said something along the lines of, “Guys, I know we’ve been in a slump the past couple of matches, but let’s make every opportunity we have together count. We don’t have that many left. Be a role model for your teammates, and let’s get out there and leave everything we have on the line. When we leave the court, win or lose, we’ll know we did everything we could.”

That’s exactly what happened. What made it more special was the fact that I and my other two senior teammates were the reason we won. We won the doubles point, I won my match, Lizzy – our number one and fellow senior – won her match, and Summer – our number three and fellow senior – clinched the match! As a team, to get our first Big 10 win ever, we have never been more excited, and that feeling is something I will hold onto forever.

As a senior, what advice do you have for incoming freshmen?
I would tell them that it’s okay to be unsure of what you want to do for the rest of your life. Coming into college, I thought I wanted to be an environmental engineer, and after going through the program I realized I did not want to do that. After that, because of my love for math, I thought I would enjoy accounting. Well, we all know how that ended up, seeing I am graduating with a degree in finance with a minor in business management. Although the process was frustrating to go through, I’m happy I went through it, because now I am confident I am going to love what I will be doing after college. In the end, you will know when you are in the program you want to be in, and there’s no time limit in finding that particular program.

What does being a Husky mean to you?
Friendship. People have always told me the friendships you make in college are the ones that will last a lifetime, and as my time here at UConn comes to a close, those people are absolutely correct. I have been so blessed to have the teammates I have had throughout my four years here. I would not be the person I am today without meeting the people I have met here. They have showed me what it means to be there for someone through the highs and the lows, and I have learned more from them than they will ever know. I’m going to miss the people I have met here, but the friendships I’ve made here will continue to be in my life for now, and forever.