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‘Northeastern empowered me.’
Leading female data scientist in Saudi Arabia credits university with making
her an ‘overachiever’

Headshot of Kholoud Khateeb.
Kholoud Khateeb, who self-designed her PhD program at Northeastern University, credits the school with her success as a leading data scientist. Courtesy photo

Northeastern University graduate Kholoud Khateeb admits she is a bit of an overachiever. 

As a Husky, she self-designed an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program combining engineering and finance. Then after her father had a stroke, Khateeb revised her program to focus on health care rather than banking. 

During her time as a postdoctoral researcher in Switzerland, Khateeb helped develop content and an informatics framework for a digital weight-management tool and coordinated its international and multidisciplinary business team. 

And now Khateeb, 46, is a mentor and a mother who is helping lead a Saudi government organization transforming health care in the country, advising the Saudi government on artificial intelligence and big data standards and serving as a mentor to female Saudi scientists. 

She says she owes it to Northeastern.

“The beauty of me joining Northeastern was that Northeastern empowered me,” Khateeb says. “It allowed me to open many doors and allowed me to be an overachiever.”’

Kholoud Khateeb wearing a cap and gown at Northeastern graduation.
Kholoud Khateeb at her graduation from Northeastern University. Courtesy photo

Khateeb earned her undergraduate degree in computer science at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia, then came to the United States for a master’s degree in computer science from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. 

She returned to Saudi Arabia to work as a project manager at a bank when she realized there “was a gap” in her skill set. 

But Khateeb was not interested in just one area of focus. She wanted a “multi-disciplinary Ph.D.,” as she described it, where she could study how to use scientific tools for investment decision-making in the banking sector. Khateeb outlined areas of study including industrial engineering, strategic finance, telecommunication management and production systems. 

Just after finishing the qualifying exams for each of those disciplines, however, Khateeb’s father had a stroke. She decided to shift her focus from finance and banking to health care.

“People don’t need to be wealthier,” Khateeb says. “People need to be healthier.”

So, Khateeb set out to change her focus and develop new opportunities. 

Khateeb connected with the Center for Connective Health at Mass General Hospital. The meeting resulted in a two-year fellowship focused on using technology to provide at-home care for patients who have experienced cardiovascular events.

She graduated with a doctorate in industrial engineering in 2015, also earning a graduate certificate in advanced management along the way. 

After her postdoctoral work at the Nestle Institute of Health Sciences in Switzerland, Khateeb returned to Saudi Arabia with an interest in using technology to address chronic health conditions and diseases, including diabetes. 

She consulted and taught classes in such subjects as AI, machine learning and information systems at Effat University.

“I tried to mimic the interdisciplinary collaborations that I was used to at Northeastern and bring it back to our campus,” Khateeb says, describing her work at Effat University. 

Khateeb was also recruited by Stanford University to be an ambassador for Women in Data Science, a program that establishes worldwide events for women in the data science field. Kholoud brought the program to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, launching four events between 2019 and 2022. She also led two WiDS events in Riyadh: a “datathon” (similar to a hackathon but focused on data science); and a forum on AI in medicine. She became a member of the Ambassador Advisory Board in 2021. 

“I’ve seen how having such platforms could empower and help more people to join the field and create networking opportunities,” Khateeb says. “It has a great impact on the network and population of ladies interested in data science in Saudi Arabia, which has increased.”

And Khateeb has done all this while raising two young children — they were 5 and 1 when she came to Northeastern. 

“You can go through engineering, and you can go through engineering with kids — it’s a little difficult,” Khateeb says. “But Northeastern accommodated me and was flexible.”

Her appreciation for the university continues, as Khateeb reconnected with Northeastern and shared her story at a 125th anniversary event in Riyadh. 

“It felt like it was a coming home for me,” Khateeb says. “I am so happy and so grateful I joined Northeastern and was taken care of by all the good people.” 

She’s also taking care of Northeastern, helping organize a Women Who Empower event in Riyadh on Feb. 28.

And she is helping take care of her fellow Saudi citizens, as head of data analytics and business intelligence at a government organization transforming the delivery of health care in the kingdom. 

“I could not save my father,” Khateeb says. Her father died in 2021. “But now I have this passion to save others and prevent the premature death that my father experienced.”

Again, she credits Northeastern. 

“It’s happening again,” Khateeb says. “Northeastern is taking care of me.”