Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Relationships, Communication and Snacks Drive Student Concussion Study Recruitment

December 4, 2017

Moderator’s Note: When it comes to convincing parents and busy students to take part in a five-year research project on the effects of concussions, the CIRP@CHOP concussion research team has learned to think on their feet. Today, we introduce you to a new blogger for Research in Action. Ronni Kessler, MS is a clinical research project manager at CIRP who is overseeing participant recruitment for this project as well as other CIRP concussion research studies.

Concussion research with pupilometer
CIRP Research Coordinators Shellie Sharma and Olivia Podolak demonstrate a pupilometer exam, which measures pupil light reflex and size.


The concussion research team at CIRP is evaluating novel tools for diagnosing concussions in children and assessing short- and long-term outcomes. Our goal of this research project is to enhance the accuracy of sports-related concussion diagnoses for student athletes. Study participation requires that student athletes complete one-hour pre- and post-season assessments that measure vision, balance, and brain activity. If these student athletes experience a concussion, these assessments are performed throughout their recovery time course.

Our Study Population

Our dedicated team of 3 research coordinators are enrolling student-athletes from the Shipley School, a coeducational institution with approximately 850 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Ultimately, we aim to enroll enough athletes to have 750 athlete seasons represented over the span of the study.

Led by CIRP@CHOP’s co-principal investigators, Kristy Arbogast, PhD and Christina Master, MD, the study focuses specifically on developing quantitative assessment tools to enhance the accuracy of sports-related concussion diagnoses. Our research team will examine the role of factors such as repeated exposures, direction of head motion, and sex-specific data to see how prevention and diagnosis strategies need to be tailored differently for boys and girls.

But first, we need to get students and parents on board.

Attracting Students

Recruitment began this summer as student athletes headed back to campus for pre-season soccer training at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA. Our recruitment strategy is to leverage our strong existing relationship with the school administration, develop a comprehensive communication plan with parents, and provide snacks for students— lots of snacks.

We meet the students where they are, literally. We are on-field with teams at the beginning of each sport’s season to explain the study and the participants’ role. We set up a table at the entrance of the Shipley gymnasium so that we are accessible and provide the continuity of familiar faces and to answer questions. We are lucky that the school already requires student athletes to wear head impact sensors during games in certain sports, so students are familiar and comfortable with the extra gear needed for data collection.

As anyone who knows growing student athletes can understand, food plays a large part in getting their attention and winning them over. We throw every snack you can imagine at the challenge, including pizza, soft pretzels, chips, and water ice. (What Philly area kid could resist that line-up?!)

We constantly try new ways to encourage participation. Since students are not given financial incentives, we are in the process of offering another type of incentive: the Shipley administration has agreed to allow students to log study participation time as volunteer hours, a graduation requirement.

Convincing Parents

To leverage the existing relationship between the school administration and parents, information about the study and encouragement to participate in the study comes directly from the headmaster, the athletic director, and the coaches via email. Other communication and promotion strategies include using Twitter and flyers for busy parents to be able to read and learn about the study.

We have become a familiar presence on campus by conducting enrollment activities just about every day, working with the teams to ensure the sensor equipment is on the field, videotaping numerous games, and attending school-sponsored events whenever possible. Additionally, CHOP Sports Medicine provides athletic training room support for concussion care. These activities have given us the opportunity to make valuable connections with families.

We accommodate concerns about the time it takes to participate in the study by offering time slots during the summer pre-season and around practices during the school year. We allay concerns about use of and access to research data through one-on-one conversations with the parents.

Shipley has embraced the work by our team and has really made us feel as though we are a part of the school. This collaborative environment makes conducting a five-year research project possible. We are very excited about how the project has progressed so far and look forward to a long and successful relationship with The Shipley School.

Learn more about the Objective Translational Multi-domain Early Concussion Assessment Study

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