Robert D. Kersten, dean and professor emeritus at the University of Central Florida, founding director of the Florida Solar Energy Center, and an ASCE distinguished member, has died. He was 95.
He pioneered joint efforts with major Florida universities to enhance the impact of engineering education and research. It led him to devote many vacations to volunteering for construction and water supply projects in Honduras, Guatemala, and Peru.
Kersten, Ph.D., P.E., D.WRE, Dist.M.ASCE, was the founding dean of the UCF’s College of Engineering as well as a professor. He also initiated the concept of the Central Florida Research Park. While his specialties centered around teaching, his research interests took in water resources development, hydraulics, hydrology, sediment transport, mathematical modeling, and engineering workforce studies.
In 1975, Kersten temporarily stepped aside as dean to serve as the initial, interim director of the UCF-hosted Florida Solar Energy Center, established under an act of the Florida Legislature following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. He hired the center’s staff, oversaw its initial $1 million budget, started program activities, upgraded its physical facilities, and landed $30,000 in grant funding.
A graduate of Oklahoma State and Northwestern universities, Kersten had a long history of service with the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology, including chairing the Engineering Accreditation Commission and service with the International Activities Council. He was the author of more than 100 professional papers and five books (including a Kersten family history) and was appointed to boards and commissions by three different governors.
Kersten was active in a number of professional societies including ASCE, focused mostly on enhancing the quality of engineering education. He was a fellow not only of ASCE, but of ABET, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Society of Professional Engineers. Among his honors were the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying’s Distinguished Service Award and the American Society for Engineering Education’s Centennial Medal. He was elected to membership in the Pan American Academy of Engineering in 2002 and honored with the Vector de Oro of the Pan American Union in 2012 for contributions to engineering education in Latin America.
He served for 30 years on the AAES International Committee, NSPE/ASCE/ASME Task Force. The cooperative and largely volunteer effort has enabled the United States to maintain a presence within the Pan American Union of Engineering Associations, known as UPADI, and the Pan American Academy of Engineering. The effort has strengthened north-south relations and in particular, the enhancement of engineering education as well as improvement of engineering practice throughout Latin America.
Kersten was a devoted Baptist and served as a deacon, teacher, and on many church committees. He was also a Paul Harris Fellow and founding member of Orange County East Rotary Club and received the Rotary International Service Award. He also enjoyed travel, hiking, genealogy, basketball, and the works of Will Rogers.