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
As Briar Cliff University’s 11th President, Dr. Karstens was appointed in 2018 and is a compassionate and proven leader with a background in higher education, law, and fundraising.
An Iowa native and one of nine children, Dr. Karstens graduated from Wartburg College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, after which she earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Iowa College of Law. A lifelong learner, Ms. Karstens is proud to be a first-generation college student, as well as the first to receive an advanced degree. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education from Drake University. 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 law firm. During this time, she also served on the Wartburg College Board of Regents and participated in their presidential search. It was during this process that she determined 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 as their Director of Planned Giving, and then at Indian Hills Community College as their Executive Director for Philanthropy and Alumni Relations.
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. She is currently involved with Leadership Siouxland, UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, Girls Inc. of Sioux City, and Mercy Medical Center Child Advocacy Center’s Angels in Blue program.
The mother of two adult 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, fostering strong relationships through collaboration.