UAHS students advance to the National History Day finals.

By Clare Driscoll, ’19

On Saturday, April 27, Defne and Kaya Ceyhan brought their documentary about the polio crisis in the United States to the National History Day competition and won the title of the best documentary in the state of Ohio.

According to Joe Endras, the National History Day advisor, this win is complete because of the Cayhan’s hard work.

“It’s your project. You do it to the best of your ability and I am your backup.’ I did very very little. In the case of Kaya and Defne, I did next to nothing. It’s a testimony to them. It was all them,” Endras said.

Starting Out

The first step for any National History Day Participant is to pick a topic. Whatever they choose must fit the theme of that year. This years theme was Triumph and Tragedy.

Kaya and Defne have both participated in National History Day before so they felt confident that they could use the restrictions of a theme to their advantage.

“The themes are different for each year, but they’re pretty vague so it’s easy to finagle what you want to go into the theme,” Defne said. “It’s a requirement for projects to be at least twenty years in the past so we couldn’t talk about any of the recent developments.

After learning about the theme, Defne and Kaya thought that doing a project about the polio vaccine would give them a topic that fits the theme well and that they felt that they could do well with.

“The theme for this year was Triumph and Tragedy, and with just a quick glance at the whole topic of the polio vaccine, you can clearly see that there’s lots of tragedy with the epidemics.  The triumph is the vaccine and the eventual medical advancements because of that vaccine so we thought it fit the theme well so we went for it,” Kaya said.

Another big inspiration for their topic was their parent’s professions.

“Both of our parents are pediatric and infectious disease specialist so it was kind of my mom’s idea because I didn’t know that much about polio and she gave us the idea and we rolled with it,” Defne said.

After a topic is selected, competitors can pick from one of six mediums to do their project; Documentary, Exhibit, Paper, Performance or Website.

Making The Project

With the regional competition happening on March 9, Defne and Kaya only had seven months to assemble their work because documentaries have to be turned in a few weeks early to avoid technical errors.

“We started interviewing and researching in August and we went to the medical heritage center at OSU like right when the school year started so we were kind of reasurching bit by bit for months,” Defne said.

Kaya believes that one of the things that put their documentary above the rest were their interviews with polio survivors.

“We had first-hand accounts that were pretty good. One of the upsides to producing this documentary was that there are a lot of polio survivors that we could interview, which is also a downside and shows the tragedy of this epidemic,” Kaya said. “We got interviews from doctors and when it was time to assemble the documentary we used clips from the interviews and stories in our documentary and then we just wrote out a script based on our research.”

According to Defne and Kaya, the research took the longest but because of all of the information they had, it was easy to put all the pieces together.

“The actual creation of our documentary was probably within the last few weeks of the first round of the competition,” Defne said. “If you have a strong outline and a pre-planned script you can probably make it in like six hours. It’s not going to be that great but you can have like a decent documentary together.”

The Competition Process

Once the documentary is done, the competitors have to attend the competition. Currently, Defne and Kaya have made it through the regional and state competitions and are on their way to the national one in at the University of Maryland in June.

Students who go far in the competition can earn a lot of different awards according to Endras

“If you win [at the national competition], you get some big scholarship money,” Endras said.

But for Defne and Kaya, the best part about the competition is the experience.

“The actual competition day itself is actually really fun because you got to see everybody else’s project like you can watch other documentaries and they open up this giant exhibit hall and you get to see their projects too. It’s also fun because the judges interview you and you get to just have a conversation with them about your topic and how it is important today,” Defne said.

Before the next round of competition, Defne and Kaya have the opportunity to fix parts of their film.

“I’m not exactly sure what changes we will make. I know there’s a lot of surface level problems like audio issues or just some clips that are a little choppy. I don’t know if we’ll make any drastic changes to the content,” Defne said.

Thinking Like Historians

Endras believes that the reason that Kaya and Defne’s documentary was picked as the best in the state was because of their ability to really show how the poliovirus and vaccine impacted the whole nation.

“Aside from the accolades, what they did what all great historians do which is capture the human experience. They told the story of the Polio vaccine and they really did that with historical accuracy and incredible storytelling in a way that moved the audience,” Endras said. “You really felt like what it was like to get diagnosed with Polio in the 1930s. You also get the other side of the story with the drama of the science of trying to get rid of a horrible disease that kills millions.”