DULUTH – On Saturday nights, Raj Karim would cook.
Students would gather at the University of Minnesota Duluth professor's house for korma, dal, biryani — and conversation.
They would go on to become researchers, veterinarians, doctors — and through Karim's mentorship, exceptional humans.
"If any student was struggling personally, they knew to come to our house," said his daughter, Maryam Becker. "He mentored and coached so many people through life, and he instilled that in me too. He was amazing. He'll truly be missed."
Karim died on Oct. 8. He was 83.
UMD science students in the 1990s and early 2000s no doubt remember the microbiology professor who gave out fruit after exam weeks.
"Everyone knew Raj," Becker said. At one point Karim was advising more students than anyone else on campus.
"His passion really was working with students," said Julie Etterson, biology department head at UMD. "He had an outsized impact on our department and on our community."
Karim was driven all his life by his father's advice: "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 Nov. 1, 1937, to Sikander and Mani (Begum) Karim.
His path to Duluth began after receiving his bachelor's in microbiology from the University of Karachi, Pakistan, where he had been arrested at a student protest against tuition increases.
Karim attended the University of Minnesota and received a master's degree in veterinary microbiology in 1966 and earned a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Montana before embarking on an academic career that led him to South Dakota, Pennsylvania and, in 1989, UMD. Karim was hired first as an assistant vice chancellor but quickly moved back into his passions of teaching, advising and research.
"He taught virology and immunology, and in this time of COVID he probably trained some of the scientists who are actively engaged in that research today," Etterson said.
His work on Helicobacter pylori and herpes simplex virus led to patents. Karim made international students feel welcome and helped UMD recruit a more diverse faculty and student body. He was also a big Vikings fan.
"He had such an impressive life. He was a renowned scientist, also an immigrant and a survivor of war," Becker said. "He had a lot of courage. A lot of adversity he experienced, as we talk about race and discrimination. He kept going. It didn't stop him."
After he retired from teaching in 2008, he started work on the Mani and Sikander Science Center in the rural Bangladesh village where he was born. Karim had already built toilets at a girls school in the area to reduce the dropout rate. The lab opened in 2018.
"His dream was that in his village, students will learn science," nephew Sajjad Mojumder Saju wrote in a tribute to Karim, whom he called "a very kind and wonderful personality as a teacher, guardian, friend and well-wisher."
Above all his accomplishments were his four daughters.
"I watched him doing all of this growing up," Becker said. "He was one of my biggest 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.
Services will be held in June.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496