State Fair offers expanded recruitment opportunities for UMN research

In the last three years, more than 37,000 fairgoers enrolled in University research.

Kathyn Zabloski and Trevor Driscoll participate in University research in the Driven to Discover building at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 31.

Easton Green

Kathyn Zabloski and Trevor Driscoll participate in University research in the Driven to Discover building at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 31.

by Christopher Lemke

Hungry for volunteers, University of Minnesota researchers welcomed Minnesota State Fair-goers into a new building. 

The fair is a chance for researchers to find participants for ongoing studies, but the previous Driven to Discover building was hot, cramped and inaccessible for some hopeful volunteers. Some say the new building is more comfortable, with added space for the public to interact with researchers. 

About 37,400 fair-goers enrolled in over 100 studies at the Driven to Discover building between 2014 and 2016, said University Health Science spokesperson Caroline Marin. This year, sensors tracked the movement of more than 47,000 people through the building’s doors in the first half of the fair alone. 

Finding that many research subjects using other means — like recruiting from University clinics — could have taken anywhere from six months to two years, according to the Driven to Discover building website. 

Some fair attendees take pride in coming to the building, and make their participation an annual tradition, said Sarah McRoberts, a postdoctoral computer science student running a technology use study at the fair. 

This year, McRoberts’ group was halfway to its participation goal after its first of five shifts in the new facility. 

The State Fair presents a rare opportunity to interact with the public in an open setting and to work side-by-side with researchers from different fields, said Eugenia Shmidt, a University gastroenterology assistant professor who built a registry of potential research participants at the fair. 

Matt Kramer, the University’s vice president of University Relations, said the fair lets the University show people how its research impacts their lives. 

The University’s work shouldn’t happen behind the scenes, Kramer said, and this type of research participation shows that research “doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” 

The University used the previous building, the 1953 state fair base for SPAM, for the past three years. It had a range of problems from a leaky roof to poor air circulation, said Logan Spector, co-director of the Driven to Discover building. 

University officials chose to tear down the building and start fresh. This summer, a $450,000 facility replaced the existing one, near the Education Building.

Half the funds came from the Office of the Vice President for Research while the Academic Health Center and colleges of Biological Sciences, Liberal Arts and Science and Engineering covered the rest, Marin said. 

The building aims to keep fair-goers cool with ceiling fans, and  features improved visibility from natural and artificial light, Spector said.

Accessibility was limited in the old building, but now fair attendees in wheelchairs can enter the building with ease. Also, nobody needs to worry about getting wet from a stray raindrop indoors, as the new roof should hold up in adverse weather, he said.

An increase in building size from 1,400 square feet to nearly 2,500 square feet offers more storage and a better flow of people, Spector said.

Spector, who co-led the initiative to replace the old building, said he was proud of the “light-speed” pace of the new building’s planning and construction. 

“I love it when a plan comes together,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Eugenia Shmidt’s name.