Alum Evan Kodra Is Driven to Make a Difference
His own entrepreneurial success inspires him to support future change-makers
Evan Kodra, who earned his PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering in 2014, is determined to create positive change in the world. One aspect of that commitment is his role in co-founding risQ, a start-up company that factors the impacts of climate change and social equity into municipal investment decisions—which helps to encourage sustainable development. Another aspect is his decision, at the relatively young age of 35, to establish a graduate fellowship for future climate-change researchers in Northeastern’s College of Engineering.
Kodra credits his success in co-founding risQ—which was acquired by Intercontinental Exchange in January 2022—in large part to his relationship with Professor Auroop Ganguly of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE). While at Northeastern, Kodra and Ganguly conceived the idea for the start-up, along with fellow alum Colin Sullivan, based on their collaborative research in Ganguly’s Sustainability and Data Sciences Laboratory.
Supported by more than $1 million in funding from the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program, risQ uses data and physical science to help investors make informed decisions about backing municipal bonds. By applying data science to help quantify the future risk of flooding, wildfires, and other impacts of climate change in a given city, risQ assists both communities and their financial backers in making more sustainable choices.
“I’ve always been interested in data science and numeric models,” says Kodra, who holds a BS and MS in Statistics from the University of Tennessee. “When I met Auroop, I realized that I could combine my passion for statistics with my desire to advance social and climate justice. He inspired me by demonstrating how data science can help solve some of the most urgent social problems we face today.”
While Kodra was not familiar with the workings of the municipal bond market before meeting Ganguly, he soon realized that adding sustainability as a decision criterion for investors could have enormous impacts.
“A great example of the power of sustainable investing is Virginia Beach, which has 40 miles of shoreline that’s subject to beach erosion and flooding,” explains Kodra. “Based on an extensive cost-benefit analysis, the city’s residents voted to approve more than $500 million from the sale of municipal bonds to make much-needed improvements. That’s a financial win, a social win, and an environmental win. One of our team’s main goals is to scale these kinds of cost-benefit assessments and make them more accessible to underserved communities.”
Supporting those kinds of local efforts, on a global scale, inspired Kodra to become the Chief Executive Officer of risQ and to remain as Senior Director of Climate and ESG at Intercontinental Exchange. “Financial markets can be a powerful force for incentivizing social change and making enormous progress on pressing issues like climate change,” he says. “Every day I help turn data into climate change action, and that’s incredibly rewarding.”
With the sale of risQ earlier at the end of 2021, Kodra seized another opportunity to make a difference by creating a fellowship for future student researchers in the Sustainability and Data Sciences Lab. Each year Ganguly will lead an effort to identify a student to receive the funds, beginning this fall and continuing for the next five years. “It’s my way of acknowledging the huge impact that Northeastern and Auroop have made on my life and my career,” notes Kodra. “I know most alums wait until they’re older to think about giving back, but I wanted to start that process now.”
At his request, Kodra’s scholarship is named for another student researcher in Ganguly’s research group, Lizzy Warner, who passed away in August 2021. Kodra hopes that the Mary Elizabeth “Lizzy” Warner ’22 Fellowship Fund will keep Warner’s memory alive, while also benefitting future students and advancing sustainability research, which Warner was equally passionate about.
Kodra encourages other successful alums to think about how they can also give back to the Northeastern community. “The Advancement Office was extremely supportive in helping me direct and name my fellowship — so it reflects my intentions and achieves my personal goals for the gift,” Kodra emphasizes. “From advancing climate-change research and thanking an important mentor to honoring a beloved member of our team, my scholarship is creating the greatest possible impact, which was my objective when I reached out to the College of Engineering.”