College News
College News

UK professor celebrates AAPI heritage by creating connections in Lexington

UK professor celebrates AAPI heritage by creating connections in Lexington

UK professor celebrates AAPI heritage by creating connections in Lexington

A hospitality and event management professor who is from China and loves to travel, Tracy Lu shares her international experience with her students and the UK community.


Tracy Lu considers herself to be Lexington’s ambassador.  

As an associate professor in the Department of Retailing and Tourism Management and co-chair of the University of Kentucky Asian and Asian American Affinity Group, Lu is well-suited to welcome new Asian and Asian American colleagues to UK.  

“That’s my field,” Lu said. “I really like Lexington. I try to help new colleagues feel like this is a good place to settle down.”  

Lu began her UK career in 2011, after finishing her doctorate at Purdue University. Before that, she earned her master’s degree from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and her bachelor’s from Beijing International Studies University. She also spent time teaching and working in the hospitality industry in China. 

A love for travel  

When Lu was three years old, her family took a three-day train ride from her hometown of Guilin, in the south of China, to Beijing, the capital. Her family didn’t travel often because of China’s status as a developing country and their own finances. The trip to the capital was a special opportunity. 

“Every family wanted to do that,” Lu said.

She and her family did travel in the region surrounding their hometown of Guilin, which is a world-renowned tourist destination. An art print on Lu’s desk in her campus office shows the area’s mountains and greenery, with the caption in Mandarin and English: “Welcome to Guilin International Tourist Destination.”  

As Lu progressed through her education, her affinity for travel grew—to which she credits her interest in hospitality and tourism. Lu, her husband and their two young children enjoy destinations such as Spain, Germany, Norway and Canada, where her husband is from.  

“I like to interact with different people,” Lu said. “I like listening to their stories and their experience.”  

Preparing future hospitality professionals 

Lu brings her international experiences, in Asia and beyond, into her Kentucky classrooms.  

“Students from Kentucky may not have many chances to go that far to Asian countries. So I like to bring those cases and topics into my classroom,” Lu said. “I will introduce different cultures in different countries that are very different from Western culture.”

At UK, Lu teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses; she teaches two courses per semester and conducts research. Lu frequently shows photos and videos to her classes so they can see different aspects of Asian culture themselves, from natural scenery to the crowded Singapore airport. Many examples are directly relevant to her Hospitality Management and Tourism students. 

“The hospitality of Asian culture is different from the hospitality style here,” Lu said.  

For example, to show respect, a flight attendant in the context of Asian cultures will lean down to talk to fliers at the same level, while flight attendants in the United States will look down while speaking to customers in their seats.  

Being able to work across cultures is crucial to current students’ future success in an international industry that includes workers and consumers from all over the world.  

“We hope for our students to be the managers and industry leaders,” Lu said. “They are going to manage a very diverse team, and the guests will be from all over the world. They will need to be equipped with this mindset and the knowledge of different cultures.”  

Outside of the classroom, Lu’s research focuses on tourism management, specifically event planning, event management and customer service. A 2022 article published in Event Management led by Lu dealt with how meeting size affects the experience and social anxiety of attendees, including practical application for event organizers.  

Hospitality and tourism overlap with other industries, which has given Lu the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across UK, from the Department of Agricultural Economics within the Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment to the College of Communication and Information

Strengthening connections 

Last July, Lu became co-chair of the UK Asian and Asian American Affinity Group—which continues to grow because Lu personally invites Asian employees to join. There are currently about 250 members.  

The group’s mission, according to its webpage, is “to promote a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, engagement and expansion through connection, personal development and continuous learning.”  

The Asian and Asian American Affinity Group creates networking, collaboration and celebration opportunities for its members. Lu said she has met many junior faculty members through this group—allowing her to step into her Lexington ambassador role—and has participated in interdisciplinary proposals and events because of the group. Members are also looking outward, serving students and the broader community.  

“We’re discussing how we can contribute in more ways to academics and research, but also student involvement and international engagement,” Lu said. “We have networks in our home countries to help give our students more opportunities to explore the world.”

Sometimes the group takes on the role of crisis response. Early in the pandemic, a member of the group had a connection to a Chinese factory with extra masks available. The group coordinated to acquire the masks and donate them to UK HealthCare workers.  

Following the tragic shootings at massage parlors in Atlanta in March 2021, Lu helped organize a gathering to mourn the eight people killed and show the UK and Lexington community that the increasing anti-Asian rhetoric was wrong and that “we belong here.” Hundreds of people attended, including representatives of UK leadership.  

“We are so glad to see the support from UK campus and the unity of Asian and Asian Americans,” Lu said in a UKNow article about the gathering.  

In 2022, Lu and other members of the group helped coordinate an art contest celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. The contest welcomed Asian American and Asian diaspora employees to submit photos, drawings, paintings, poems, songs or other art forms that expressed their experience over the two years of the pandemic.  

The 37 received submissions allowed Asian employees “to express their proud empowerment or pain during the pandemic,” Lu said. Winners received a cash prize, and the art was displayed across campus.  

Lu said she appreciates the support shown by the University of Kentucky and is committed to contributing to the community however she can.  

“I hope UK can be better and better,” Lu said. “I really like being here.” 

“Our college continues to embrace our community members and the many backgrounds shared within our communal spaces,” said Kendriana Price, assistant dean in the M-G Gatton Office of Diversity. “In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we honor the voices, stories, and experiences across our college as we strive to uplift their authentic experiences and foster an inclusive environment for all.” 

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Writer: Bailey Vandiver,

The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity. 

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