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Heather H. Kitada talking about her research poster

Statistics student excels in data-driven research, teaching

By Srila Nayak

Heather Kitada, Ph.D. graduate in statistics

Ph.D. graduate Heather H. Kitada enjoys working in both statistics and the wider world of science communication, outreach and advocacy. A native of Pasadena, a third-generation Japanese-American and the eldest child of a dentist couple, Kitada grew up learning and performing Japanese dance in Pasadena’s Buddhist temples with her younger sister, competing in science fairs and taking part in girl scout activities.

Kitada achieved her cherished dream of teaching at a liberal arts college, landing a visiting assistant professor at Reed College following graduation.

She came to Oregon in 2008 to study for an undergraduate degree in mathematics at Lewis and Clark College in Portland and stayed on to pursue a Ph.D. in statistics at OSU.

Passionate about undergraduate teaching, Kitada amassed tons of teaching experience at OSU, teaching statistics courses at OSU and at OSU Cascades in Bend. She enjoys connecting with students and watching them master the material.

Heather Kitada in front of grey backdrop

Heather Kitada, Ph.D. student in statistics

“I really appreciated the experience of teaching a group of people who are interested in learning,” Kitada said.

Alongside her doctoral research, she earned a Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching (GCCUT), a two-year program which she completed in a year. She served as a graduate teaching assistant for the GCCUT program and was the lead fellow at OSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning where she developed curriculum for training new graduate teaching assistants from all disciplines in pedagogy and school policies.

Kitada received prestigious national awards for statistical research. She led her team to victory and was awarded the first place in the ResearchHack 3.0 competition at the 2017 annual conference of the American Association of Public Opinion Research. She wrote a Shiny App that provided innovative and useful insight on employing data from several sources to help non-profits in planning future fundraising endeavors. The competition was hosted by the U.S. Census Bureau, who also provided data for the contest.

Kitada received the 2015 Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM) best poster presentation award in the Survey Research Methods Section for her poster, "Adjusting for effects of survey model differences across a longitudinal mixed-mode study." She also awarded the Rose Hill Foundation Statistics Fellowship for academic achievement.

Her graduate research focuses on sampling and survey methodology. With her advisor Sarah Emerson, Kitada explored statistical methods to correct for biases that stem from different modes of collecting surveys (telephone, mail and web) as well as different models to estimate bias.

Her decision to study for an advanced degree in statistics, she says, owes a lot to Emerson’s support and guidance.

“The reason I am so excited to work with her is because she is a great researcher and she has this drive to find answers. She is also very creative,” Kitada said.

Kitada enjoys disseminating statistical knowledge and illuminating its many uses outside the classroom. She has done a lot of statistical consulting for other scientists and for different companies, and authored a paper with area physicians after they reached out to her for statistical assistance on a patient study.

Kitada, who wants to make the most of her experience at OSU, has also served as an OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) Science Communication Fellow, participating in STEM outreach events for young children.

“It is very important for OMSI to show children, especially young girls, that scientists are diverse. Children see us and they realize that there are so many different types of people who can be scientists and it broadens their horizons,” she noted.

Kitada wants to continue her mission of teaching and outreach in the area of statistics. She looks forward to making a difference in the lives of many more students going forward.