From the UConn Foundation's Our Moment newsletter (November-December 2012)
Joseph '69 '12H and
Elizabeth '70 '76 Polisi during their
time in Rouen, France in 1973-74.Their 1967 Junior Year Abroad experience introduced Joseph '69 '12H and Elizabeth '70 '76 Polisi to French culture and more importantly, each other. More than forty years later, the couple has now contributed a major gift to create a scholarship for today's UConn students to study in France.
Joseph Polisi, president of The Juilliard School in New York City, recalls meeting Elizabeth on their 10-day ocean crossing. As part of a cohort of 35 UConn students, the couple spent six weeks in the Latin Quarter of Paris and then travelled to Rouen, where they were paired with French families and immersed in local culture.
The couple married in 1970, worked on their own advanced degrees, and then found themselves back in France as a couple in 1973, when Elizabeth had an opportunity as a graduate assistant to accompany that year's UConn cohort to Rouen.
"It was a spectacular experience," Joseph recalls. "We had our own small apartment, and I was able to study in the Rouen conservatory while Elizabeth continued her French studies."
The gift comes through the Irene Diamond Fund, where Mr. Polisi serves as a director. The fund was established in 1994 by philanthropists Irene and Aaron Diamond to support the performing arts and AIDS-related research. The contribution to support UConn was made in honor of Gene J. Barberet, an influential faculty member in Elizabeth's education, and builds on the couple's passion for international studies that was fostered in those early trips.
"We both strongly believe in study abroad, and particularly in studying a foreign language," Joseph adds. "It expands students' views of themselves, expands their view of the world, and makes them more understanding and empathetic of other cultures. In doing so, it also makes students understand and appreciate their own culture as well."
Joseph '69 '12H and
Elizabeth '70 '76 Polisi
Coming to Storrs in the first place was a bit of a cultural shift of its own for Joseph. Growing up in Queens as the son of a noted musician, and a gifted bassoonist in his own right, he found that he longed to leave the city for his college education. His father was invited to teach a master class in Storrs when Joseph was in high school, and Joseph joined him to see the campus. Finding musical opportunities for himself at UConn, Polisi decided to apply and attend.
Although Elizabeth was a Connecticut native, she transferred to UConn when a friend told her about the new French program in Storrs.
The couple says that part of the desire to contribute in support of the University comes from their appreciation of the public higher education they each received.
"A public university provides opportunity for students who wouldn't otherwise have the resources to attend higher education. It's a vital part of the American education system."
They hope their giving inspires not only the students following their path to France, but other donors.
"More people should see the benefit of giving to support UConn and its students, and we hope that in some way, our giving contributes to that."
To support study abroad, please contact the UConn Foundation's development department.
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