Research Uncovers "True Guts"

  • Nihan Kaya
    Nihan Kaya
    The Chappell Summer Research Fellows Program for Undergraduates, established by R. Harvey Chappell Jr. '48 and his late wife, Ann Callahan Chappell '48, has awarded nearly 80 students with fellowships to assist faculty in research. One such fellow is Nihan Kaya (right), who worked with Associate Professor of Sociology Kelly Joyce (left).

Inspiration often comes from personal experience. When Nihan Kaya ’10 was 12 years old, she learned of a family friend’s struggles with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the digestive system and can cause frequent pain.

“The symptoms of Crohn’s are very uncomfortable to discuss,” says Kaya, a premed student majoring in neuroscience and sociology at the College. “What interested me was the prolonged period of time it usually takes to diagnose this disorder as well as being able to understand the sociology behind the disease.”

Last summer, Kaya discovered an opportunity to contribute to Associate Professor of Sociology Kelly Joyce’s research on Crohn’s disease. Kaya’s work was supported by a Chappell Summer Research Fellowship, which provides undergraduates with stipends to assist faculty in ongoing scholarship.

Kaya analyzed the cultural factors that contribute to the diagnosis and treatment of Crohn’s. She interviewed about 20 people in the Williamsburg area who have the disease, and added her own perspective to the project to include physicians and patients in Turkey, where she traveled over the summer.

“There are a lot of factors that impact the timeframe for a diagnosis to take place,” says Kaya. “Those include culture, perception and socioeconomic status.” For example, in Turkey many people won’t talk about the disease. This perception may prevent those with Crohn’s from seeking diagnosis.

Kaya says that it is important to address the physical aspects of the disease, as well as the psychological and emotional factors.

“I think people feel that once they’re in a comfortable setting, they can talk about it,” says Kaya. “In fact, a lot of people will say things like they have ‘true guts,’ or they’ll show their battle scars from undergoing surgery.”

During her research, Kaya discovered online support groups, formed in places such as Facebook, that help young people live with Crohn’s. Ultimately, she would like to start a Web site that links people with the disease to such groups.

Attracted to the College because of its strong liberal arts curriculum and premedical track, Kaya, who plans to attend medical school, says she has found all she was looking for — and then some. In addition to her studies, she is active with the Tae Kwon Do Club and the Health Careers Club, which brings medical professionals to speak on campus.

Vital to Kaya’s positive undergraduate experience at William and Mary has been the bonus opportunity of conducting original, mentored summer research through the Chappell Fellows Program.