Arriving in the land of opportunity in 1996 as a refugee, Maja Zelihic went through several challenges across her personal and professional aspects of life. Being an immigrant, she had to get used to the American culture and a new way of living. Maja began her career in the finance industry while simultaneously attending school as a non-traditional student, balancing her life as a mother and career-oriented woman, working 2-3 jobs, trying to climb the corporate ladder to achieve her goals and dreams.
While working in the finance industry, Maja developed her interest in corporate training. As time passed, she discovered her passion for teaching through the lectures in the corporate training setting. From 2010 to 2013, Maja taught part-time and made her shift in the world of academia full-time later, embarking on a new chapter of her life.
Today, as the Interim Dean, Forbes School of Business and Technology® at the University of Arizona Global Campus, Dr. Maja leverages her passion for teaching, conducting various research to contribute to the unique large-scale study of cultural practices, leadership ideals, and interpersonal trust.
Dr. Maja defines herself as a global researcher and lecturer first and foremost and then a professor. When Dr. Maja found her passion for implementing e-learning and development, she started working on research ventures across the globe, including Haiti, Cuba, and the Balkan region, from former Yugoslavia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Jordan, and Zambia funded by different university grants.
Maja is also a Fulbright researcher. She also participated in a comprehensive study across 160 countries studying cultural practices, in which she contributed from the Southern African region, particularly Zambia. Her primary focus in research ventures is studying the small enterprises and every obstacle surrounding them and how they prevail to be successful against all the odds.
Ahead of the Norm
In Maja’s opinion, digitalization has accelerated the pace in the education sector during the pandemic. However, the University of Arizona Global Campus was ahead of the game, providing online classes to its student from the get-go. She shares, “A lot of traditional universities were resisting digitalization quite a bit. When I was working on the e-learning implementation worldwide before COVID, you were encountering resistance because the traditionalists in the world of education were deeming online education to be less-than, not as worthy, not as quality-driven, not as content-driven, which as we all know that to be false.”
“Therefore, now the universities are more open to embracing the pillars of online education. They are actually in a hurry to learn how to utilize online technology and deliver all their courses and content online. I think that pandemic accelerated digitalization. We see it in every single industry sector,” explains Maja.
Shifting Tides, Embracing Changes
Maja states that brick-and-mortar schools will always have a place, but they won’t be as significant in the world of education as they once were. She expects an acceleration of the degree programs in many different fields. She notes, “The concept of Nanodegrees is the way to go because sometimes you start with a particular study program and by the finish, your skills are obsolete because the industry has already moved on at a rapid pace. I think there will be many opportunities for the certificate market and professional development.”
Beyond the Horizons
Maja eagerly anticipates for the world to completely open its arms to continue her research and complete her Fulbright project. She is at the final stages of negotiating with a university in the Middle East.
As far as her full-time job, Maja aims to continue to serve the student, ensuring that they are provided with the best curriculum and content. She mentions, “We are also having a very robust center for women’s leadership that is delivering amazing content monthly. We work on a community chat and the main event’s panels; we also work on the workshops. “
“There’s an immediate focus on what I can do within my full-time job, also what I can do in the world of research. And of course, I’m always writing something. Recently, I was doing a chapter contribution in the International Handbook on Research that Francis and Taylor published. My chapter contribution has been published, so I always like to collaborate with other colleagues on articles or books, but I would like to emphasize one thing. We published Dr. Diane Hamilton, behavioral expert, and also, she’s a host of the nationally syndicated radio show. And we wrote a book on perception.”
Maja’s biggest focus is raising awareness of the research and working with the companies on the Perception Index –research that focuses on all the variables impacting human perception as it correlates to the concept of global leadership, effectiveness, motivation, and productivity at the workplace. “I want to consistently promote awareness of our research on perception and the Perception Index and to collaborate even further with the companies that are interested in using this index and applying it,” clarifies Maja.
A Guiding Light
Dr. Maja Zelihic advises emerging educators to find their passion. She says, “Have your goals, have your dreams; it’s not a cliché because I’ve discovered my passion working in the developing world. I thought I’d discovered my passion once I first became a professor. That was a wonderful experience. But my passion was discovered during global research. To define what your goals are at first. You may have three, four, five goals as a young person. And ultimately, you will find your passion and make a difference within your little area of influence.”
“Also, be very adaptable. You may have several goals right now in a particular field. That field may not exist five years from now, or that field may completely change. So your goals are not aligned with the movements within that field. So make sure that you are consistently able to adapt and change. Make sure that you’re a lifelong learner. Always educate yourself in the field of your passion. And also, be brave to try a few things. And it is okay if you’re not successful. At least you know that you’ve tried something and you were pursuing your path. And also, as I said, make a difference. And don’t always think big picture. All of us want to change the world. Don’t think big at first. What difference can you make within your little area of influence? Can you make lives better around you, those loved ones around you or people in your neighbourhood, in your community with the work that you do?” Maja concludes.