Rachelle Karstens, PhD, JD
President of Briar Cliff
Department: President's Office
Phone: (712) 279-5400
Office Location: Noonan Hall 103
• BA, Psychology, Wartburg College
• JD, College of Law, University of Iowa
• Doctor of Philosophy in Education, Drake University
Dr. Karstens is a compassionate and proven leader with a background in higher education, law and fundraising. She most recently served as interim president of Briar Cliff University and has also served as chief of staff and executive vice president since arriving on campus in the spring of 2017.
An Iowa native and one of nine children, Dr. Karstens graduated from Clinton High School in Clinton, Iowa, where she was involved in vocal music, band and mock trial. She then went on to receive a B.A. degree from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, after which she continued her education and received a law degree from the University of Iowa. A lifelong learner, Ms. Karstens is proud to be a first generation college student in her family, as well as the first to receive an advanced degree.
She received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education from Drake University. After nearly four years of pursuing this degree, Karstens successfully defended her dissertation on April 29, 2020. Her research explored the experiences of college and university presidents as fundraisers while leading private, nonprofit institutions of higher education.
Dr. Karstens began her career as an assistant prosecutor and associate attorney before establishing her own legal practice in Montezuma, Iowa. During this time she also served on the Wartburg College Board of Regents and participated in their presidential search. Being a part of this process helped her determine that she wanted to work in higher education in a leadership role.
This new passion for higher education eventually led Dr. Karstens to philanthropy roles at the University of Iowa Foundation and Indian Hills Community College, where she served as executive director for philanthropy and alumni relations in charge of the college’s endowment and administration of scholarships. Her demonstrated success in securing transformational gifts and compassion for connecting donors’ generosity with their passions will be an asset she brings to her new role as president of Briar Cliff University.
In addition to her success as a lawyer, business owner and university executive, Dr. Karstens is also a lifelong believer in, and practitioner of, volunteerism. An example of this is her involvement with the Mercy Medical Center Child Advocacy Center’s Angels in Blue program. Likewise, she has served on numerous other boards and committees for communities, schools, hospitals, organizations and professional associations during her successful career.
The mother of two college-aged children, Clara and Grant, Dr. Karstens exemplifies Briar Cliff’s Catholic Franciscan values, demonstrating service and openness to all, both personally and professionally. She has received accolades for her collaborative leadership style, an approach she has practiced since her days in the courtroom, so she understands the value of fostering strong relationships through collaboration.