For UCF senior Ariel Dansky, a childhood love of international culture and affairs was the starting point toward a prestigious national scholarship.

From a young age, she developed a love for how people in other countries lived. She has traveled the globe, studying abroad in Spain and visiting the various concentration camps in Poland and Hungary with the March of the Living, an annual educational program where students from across the globe explore the remnants of the Holocaust.

She visited Israel on three separate occasions, experiencing daily life in the Middle East. From these trips, Dansky developed a desire to make a difference and make other Americans aware of what goes on in the midst of conflict through her honors thesis about the small town of Sderot, located less than a mile from the Gaza Strip.

On October 22, Dansky will be recognized nationally for her research, having been named as a Portz Scholar by the National Collegiate Honors Council. She will receive the award at the council’s annual conference in Kansas City, Mo.

Each year, the NCHC selects four honors students per year to receive a $250 stipend and complimentary registration to the conference. The award, which was established in 1990, is handed out based on an essay and a nomination from a school’s dean. Dansky is the first UCF student to earn the scholarship.

Since 2001, Gaza militants have assaulted Sderot, a town of just 19,500 citizens, with more than 8,600 rockets, killing 13 citizens. However, her research suggests that the true devastation in this small Israeli town can be found in the minds of the citizens.

“About 30 percent of adults are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Ms. Dansky said. “They are constantly reminded of a fight-or-flight mode.”

According to Dansky, the number of reported cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in Sderot triples the national average.

She attributes her knowledge of PTSD and its side effects to her father, a psychiatrist. He worked on an Air Force Base in Grand Forks, N.D. before moving the family to Boca Raton to be closer to his parents. When she considered majoring in psychology, Dansky shadowed her father at work.

“He works with veterans, so most of his patients have the disorder from the trauma they experienced in war,” Dansky said.

She also gained experience from her trips to Israel in her high school years. She was part of an Israeli political advocacy program and wrote grants for immigrants while volunteering in Tel Aviv.

“She’s educated our family about all of the different cultures,” said Sherry Dansky, her mother. “One of the unique things about Ariel is that she has friends from all over the world. It’s very inspiring.”

Dansky applied for the scholarship before the summer semester and was delivered a special message while taking a break from Arabic class.

“I went to go take a water break and saw the dean in the hallway. He told me to check my mail because there was some good news,” Dansky said.

Burnett Honors College dean Alvin Wang, who nominated Dansky for the award, felt that she had a good chance in winning.

“I wasn’t so much surprised but more proud that she was recognized as a 2010 Portz Scholar,” Wang said. “She is a good writer in addition to being a top-notch researcher.”

Dansky will be graduating in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and wants to pursue a Ph.D. in Middle East politics. To better prepare herself, she is currently learning the Arabic language, which will be the fourth language she can speak conversationally, after English, Spanish and Hebrew.

Source: The Orlando Sentinel, October 22, 2010, UCF honors student named 2010 Portz Scholar. By Chris Boyle, a UCF journalism student.