Jessica Polsky, a 1998 graduate who turned her degrees in Italian and dance into an acting career that’s stretched from Broadway to Milan, is the College of Humanities 2021 Alumna of the Year.
Midway through her dance degree, Polsky took a semester off for a study abroad trip to Florence, where she took language immersion courses and performed with a local dance company. Back at the University of Arizona, she added Italian as her second major.
“These crucial months formed my deep love for Italy, all things Italian, and my proficiency in the language,” she says. “I had formed a real relationship with Italy and I wanted very much to expand what I had started in Florence.”
The late start on her Italian degree didn’t deter Polsky, who completed both programs Magna Cum Laude in four years. After graduation, she moved to New York to begin her career as a Broadway performer, but she still traveled often to Italy and worked to keep her Italian skills current.
Her Italian proficiency ultimately combined with her performing career when Polsky was invited to Italy and direct a musical and then received an offer to move permanently to Italy to star on a hit Italian primetime sitcom, Camera Café.
“The first thing people noticed was my Italian was really sophisticated,” she said. “But what sets me apart in the entertainment industry in Italy is the rest of my Italian studies, the history, literature, art and politics. Beyond the language, all those other components of the degree offer a sophisticated education about the place and its culture. I can hold my own and it knocks everyone’s socks off.”
That role earned Polsky recognition as Best Actress of the TV Season (a U.S. Emmy equivalent) and led to many other highly visible and successful TV, film and theatre projects. In 2017, she was awarded a Cultural Ambassadorship from the Italian Parliament in recognition of her role in strengthening the ties and “bridging” the two countries through her work and positive role model celebrity.
“Jessica Polsky is the first to acknowledge and eloquently recount the many instances when her background in the humanities advanced her projects and career,” said Alain-Philippe Durand, Dorrance Dean of the College of Humanities. “She understands how the breadth of the skills we teach in the humanities apply to the global workforce and demonstrates it in her successful career as a performer in both the United States and Italy.”