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Identifying People at Risk of Social Isolation

When Saghi Khani began working on computer algorithms to identify people most at risk of social isolation, little did she know the world would soon be in the throes of a pandemic making that condition more pronounced.

Khani is a Master’s student in computer science at the University of Windsor. She began working with professors Pooya Moradian Zadeh and Saeed Samet on the artificial intelligence project in January. She looks at networks of people and converts a given community into a social graph, the isolated individuals represented as “outlier nodes.”

“I like to work in this field because of its direct impact on society, improving the quality of life of our community members, reducing the chance of depression, heart diseases, diabetes, and mental illnesses such as dementia among older adults and young people who suffer from social isolation,” said Khani.

“I have always been interested in how computer science and A.I. can benefit healthcare systems.”

Khani's research is funded by the University of Windsor and Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization that creates partnerships among Canadian academia, private industry, and government to provide research and training opportunities. She is one of 107 UWindsor students who are receiving $6,000 research training grants.

In all, the University of Windsor is contributing $471,000 to the $642,000 in research internships. The internships are across all faculties, ensuring students still get training opportunities despite the current pandemic.

Khani said she never imagined how timely her research would turn out to be.

“I was already working on it before COVID-19, and it is crucially relevant now,” she said.

Collaborating on the project is the Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community, a coalition of people and agencies from all sectors of society looking to improve the quality of life for local citizens.

An international student born and raised in Iran, Khani completed her undergraduate degree in her home country.

“I heard of Canada's diverse and welcoming nature, and I wanted to experience a new life and have an education completely different from what I am accustomed to,” she said of how she decided to pursue her Master’s degree at the University of Windsor.

“It was my way of exploring more of what the world had to offer and, at the same time, expanding my horizon and opportunities.”

—Sarah Sacheli

(Originally appeared in University of Windsor Daily News, 2020 08 27)