Genuine teacher-scholar passes away



Rex Karsten (center), pictured here receiving the Iowa Board of Regents Faculty Excellence Award, passed away on Dec. 11 of last year at age 67.

JACOB MADDEN, News Editor | [email protected]

Dr. Rex Karsten, a professor in the department of management, passed away on Dec. 11, 2017. After studying psychology and teaching at a community college in Wyoming, Karsten became interested in the field of management information systems, a field that was new at the time of his studies that specifically focuses on the effects of computer software and application on business processes. Karsten joined the UNI College of Business in 1994.

“There were just so many good things about Rex,” said Mary Connerley, the management department head. “The way he interacted with students and engaged them in the classroom and interested them in MIS as a major, in a way that other faculty do, but he would just take it to another level.

“A lot of times, there would be a female student in his information systems class who never considered MIS as a major,” Connerley said. “He would say, if she was doing a good job, ‘Hey, have you thought about this?’”

According to Connerley, Karsten focused some of his research on self-efficacy related to computers. Karsten also worked on such research with associate professor of MIS Robby Roth.

“Historically, around the country, MIS programs are very short of women,” Roth said. “I talk to some of my colleagues and they bemoan, ‘Oh we only have 10 — 20 percent women in our program,’ and we’re sitting here at close to 50 percent.”

According to Roth, that positive disparity comes from the impact Karsten had on the department. Karsten also reportedly welcomed women into MIS and tried to make the major more approachable to women in the College of Business.

“It was never a show for him,” Connerley said. “It was a true passion.”

Betsy Ratchford, an instructor in the department of management, was a student of Karsten’s and later became a colleague of his. Ratchford commented in an email that she felt lucky to have Karsten as a professor, mentor, colleague, office neighbor and friend.

“What I will miss most is his noise,” Ratchford said. “This may sound funny, but when he was on leave, I would email him regularly and tell him that it was too quiet around here without his noise.”

Ratchford was also thankful for Karsten’s character and his encouragement as a professor.

“I will never forget his encouragement to stay with the MIS major, encouragement to get into teaching, and his constant encouragement as his colleague for the past 15 years,” Ratchford said. “I will miss him greatly.  He definitely left a lasting impression on many he encountered — students, friends, colleagues, etc. — and I am lucky enough to have been one of those.”

Dennis Schmidt, professor of accounting, is a long-time friend and colleague of Karsten’s.

“He was an absolutely wonderful teacher,” Karsten said. “He was a great teacher before he came here. He taught in the community college — he and I were roommates back then, back in the 70s and 80s — in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was a psychology professor and he had waiting lists to get into his classes back then, because he was such a good and popular teacher.”

According to Schmidt, Karsten was the first — and possibly only — professor in the College of Business to receive all six awards that can be awarded to a professor within the college.

“We spent thousands — maybe 100,000 — miles together in a car, just the two of us, telling old stories and going on pheasant hunts,” Schmidt said.

When asked if there were any standout stories from all the pheasant hunts, Schmidt commented that he had “thousands.”

“His stories kept getting better year after year,” Schmidt said. “He would embellish a little more every time he told the story.”

Karsten also founded the Ethel M. Karsten MIS scholarship, which is named after his mother who was a role model for Karsten and has survived her son. The scholarship is specifically targeted at young women in the field of MIS.

Connerley, Roth, Schmidt and Ratchford together painted a picture of a man who achieved his aspirations in life: to be a passionate and genuine scholar and teacher; and one who will not soon be forgotten in death.