Heather Ridolfo is a senior survey statistician at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). Prior to the EIA she was a survey statistician at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. She received her PhD from the University of Maryland in 2010. She served as President (2018-2019) and Secretary (2013-2014) of the Washington-Baltimore Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. She was also elected to serve as the 2022 Membership and Chapter Relations Chair of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Her research interests include questionnaire design and pretesting, usability testing, measurement error, response burden, and respondent-interviewer interactions.
At UMD, her research focused on self-concept and identity development. She co-authored a book based on her dissertation research, Mobility Impairment and the Construction of Identity (First Forum Press, 2013). As a sociologist working in federal statistical agencies, Heather has been able to apply sociological social psychological theories and qualitative methods to understand how respondents interpret and respond to survey questions and the impact of the response process on data quality. From this work she has published many journal articles and methodological reports that are used by federal agencies and survey methodologists that work on designing surveys.
At the USDA, she conducted a large scale qualitative research study for the redesign of the demographic section for the quinquennial Census of Agriculture, a census of 2.1 million farms in the United States. The goal of the redesign being to better capture women-owned and operated farms that have historically been undercounted in the census due to measurement error and nonresponse. At the USDA and CDC, she also conducted numerous research studies on measurement of sexual and gender identities and disability status on federal surveys, which continue to be cited and influence how federal surveys collect data on these topics.
My professors in the sociology department, in particular Melissa Milkie and Jeff Lucas, as well as my professors in the Joint Program in Survey Methodology, prepared me well for my work in the federal government. Understanding individuals’ social positioning and how this shapes peoples’ identities and self-presentations, as well as how they interact with others, has been essential to my work. I have been able to draw on this many times in my career to understand response patterns in survey data and to improve survey questionnaires to ensure they capture diverse experiences. During my time at UMD, I was also required/forced to take many statistics courses. Although I struggled through them all, I now appreciate having that skillset. It opened up many doors for me and allows me to sit in rooms with high level statisticians and have conversations to better improve federal data and statistics. Finally, I credit my successful career to the guidance of John Pease who told me many times over the years to “find a job that you love, and it won’t feel like work!”