Raj Karim, professor and scientist who inspired students at the University of Minnesota Duluth, dies at 83

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DULUTH – On Saturday evening, Raj Karim was cooking.

Students gathered at the home of University of Minnesota professor Duluth for korma, dal, biryani – and conversation.

They would become researchers, vets, doctors – and thanks to Karim’s mentorship, exceptional humans.

“If a student struggled personally, he knew he had to come to us,” said his daughter, Maryam Becker. “He has mentored and coached so many people throughout life, and he instilled that in me too. He was amazing. He will be truly missed.”

Karim died on October 8. He was 83 years old.

UMD science students in the 1990s and early 2000s no doubt remember the microbiology professor handing out fruit after exam weeks.

“Everyone knew Raj,” Becker said. At one point, Karim was counseling more students than anyone on campus.

“His passion was really working with students,” said Julie Etterson, head of the biology department at UMD. “He had a disproportionate impact on our department and on our community.”

Karim has been guided all his life by the advice of his father: “Human dignity, honesty and integrity are the gifts of God. Let’s share it with others to make this place a better place to live.

Muhammad Reza-ul “Raj” Karim was born in Noakhali, Bangladesh on November 1, 1937, to Sikander and Mani (Begum) Karim.

His path to Duluth began after earning his bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Karachi, Pakistan, where he was arrested during a student protest against rising tuition fees.

Karim attended the University of Minnesota and received a master’s degree in veterinary microbiology in 1966 and received a doctorate. in Microbiology from the University of Montana before embarking on an academic career that took him to South Dakota, Pennsylvania and, in 1989, to UMD. Karim was first hired as Deputy Vice Chancellor, but soon returned to his passions of teaching, consulting and research.

“He’s taught virology and immunology, and in this time of COVID he’s probably trained some of the scientists who are actively engaged in this research today,” Etterson said.

His work on Helicobacter pylori and the herpes simplex virus has led to patents. Karim welcomed international students and helped UMD recruit a more diverse faculty and student body. He was also a big fan of the Vikings.

“He had such an impressive life. He was a renowned scientist, also an immigrant and a war survivor,” Becker said. “He had a lot of courage. He went through a lot of adversity, as we talk about race and discrimination. He kept going. It didn’t stop him.”

After retiring from teaching in 2008, he started working at the Mani and Sikander Science Center in the rural village of Bangladesh where he was born. Karim had previously built a toilet at a local girls’ school to reduce the dropout rate. The laboratory opened in 2018.

“His dream was that in his village the pupils would learn science,” wrote nephew Sajjad Mojumder Saju in a tribute to Karim, whom he called “a very kind and wonderful person as a teacher, tutor, friend and sympathizer “.

His four daughters were above all his achievements.

“I watched him do all of this growing up,” Becker said. “He was one of my greatest role models.”

Karim is survived by his wife of 44 years, Mary, and four daughters: Allex Johnson; Sarah Karim-Alford; Maryam Becker; Ayesha Karim Kessler; and six grandchildren.

The services will take place in June.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496

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