The Department of Construction Management and Interior Design has welcomed a visiting scholar from Turkey to study with Shireen Kanakri, PhD, in the Health Environmental Design Research Lab she runs.

Merve Kavaz is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Interior Architecture and Environmental Design at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, who received a scholarship to study in the US for nine months. Her dissertation is “Designing Educational Interiors for children with autism who are between the ages of 5 – 11 in order to provide physical and psychological wellbeing.”

Researching that topic, she came across Dr. Kanakri’s work and contacted her. It’s a natural pairing: not only is Kanakri a well-published scholar, but the lab she runs is unique in the field.  In it, a parent or student plays games with a child while Kanakri monitors them outside. She is able to change the room’s colors, lighting, sound, and more as the child plays.  In addition to behavioral observations, the professor and her students monitor brain activity, blood pressure, and heartbeat.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates 1 in 54 children is on the autism spectrum, showing the importance of the work the scholars do to study the best spaces for children to learn.


We asked Merve to share more about her hopes for her time at Ball State.

What kind of research will you be doing at Ball State?
I am researching how to design educational spaces for children with autism who are between the ages of 5-11.

How did you find out about Dr. Kanakri?
When I started my research, I noticed that too often we only gain as researchers the theoretical knowledge of designing for children with autism. I was thinking that there is more to learn on this topic. I knew that design is a significant issue that can affect a human’s health and wellbeing. I found Dr. Kanakri’s research on the topic. I started to read her articles then I contacted to her and expressed my interest on the topic. Dr. Kanakri is a person who is really helpful and ready to teach. I am really glad that I contacted her.

Will you be working with Ball State students while you are here?
I started my research here very recently, and it will be a great experience if I have a chance to work with students while I am here. I am really open to new experiences, and I really like to share what I learn.

What was it like to travel during the pandemic? Did you consider postponing your research because of it?
I can say travelling during the pandemic is not the easiest thing, but it is also not as hard as I thought it might be. Sometimes the fear of a situation in the mind is worse than the actual situation. If we take precautions, wear masks,and be careful about hygiene, traveling is fine. I was supposed to join Dr. Kanakri in July 2019, but we needed to postpone because of the pandemic. (2020?)

What do you hope to learn while working with Dr. Kanakri? How will working in her lab benefit your research aims?
I hope to gain experience in the lab. In Turkey it is not easy to find a lab that does the type of research Dr. Kanakri does. Also, I want to have a new perspective on the field.  It will benefit my research, since I don’t want to have only the theoretical knowledge.  I want to see the tangible results of the elements of design and how it really affects the individuals. For me, application of knowledge is a big part of learning.

What do you hope to do when you complete your studies?
I want to share the knowledge that I have learned. I want to design better environments for people with autism. I believe it is needed and that we can do more for people in need. At the end of the day, designing for the people with autism will also benefit everyone. This is the aim of universal design that I want to reach.

Will you take any time to sightsee in the states, assuming the pandemic ends while you are here? What would you like to see?
I really want to see other parts of the USA when the situation is better. I want to see natural places to understand the geography and museums to perceive the history and culture more.