May 19, 2022

Karl Pister, former MBARI board member and UC Santa Cruz chancellor, has died

Karl Pister, former member of MBARI’s Board of Directors. Image: Peg Skorpinski.

A former member of MBARI’s Board of Directors, Karl Pister, died on Saturday, May 14, at his home in Walnut Creek at the age of 96. Pister was an engineering professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley and a former UC Santa Cruz chancellor. With a career spanning 70-plus years, Pister was a collaborative academic leader who worked diligently to expand educational opportunities for students.

Born in Stockton, California, on June 27, 1925, Pister was the son of two high school teachers. According to an interview published in California magazine in 2006, Pister said that while he “wasn’t educationally disadvantaged,” entering UC Berkeley in 1942 as a civil engineering student was a “cultural shock.” He explained that this experience guided his work with students throughout his career and led to his advocacy for assisting first-generation and underrepresented students on their path to a college degree.

Karl Pister, front right, with members of the MBARI Board of Directors in 2009. Front row, from left: Curt Collins, Julie Packard, Walter Munk, Marcia McNutt, Barbara Wright, and Karl Pister. Back row: Joel Birnbaum, Lynn Orr, Bruce Gilman, Eric Hartwig, Ross Heath, Dean Morton, and George Somero.

Pister joined MBARI’s Board of Directors in January 1992 and was a tireless champion for advancing David Packard’s vision of creating an equal partnership between scientists and engineers. “Karl was a kind friend, a wise mentor to me throughout my career, and a strong advocate who supported and helped shape MBARI during its formative years. He will be missed,” said MBARI President and CEO Chris Scholin.

Pister continued to work into his 90s, stepping down from MBARI’s board in November 2018 at the age of 93. Additional details about Karl’s life and career can be found here.