When it comes to her career path, Sandra (Munden) Karsten has had a singular focus since she was 17. After attending the American Legion Cadet Patrol Academy, where she got to learn about different areas of the criminal justice system, one agency stood out among the rest.
“Throughout the week, I watched different professionals and was impressed by the troopers,” she said. “Their professionalism made a positive impact on me, and I wanted to be a part of the patrol from that point on.”
Since earning a criminal justice degree from the University in 1985, Karsten has been an integral part of the institution she once admired, and in March, she was officially sworn in as the 23rd superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. In a distinguished career that has included multiple leadership roles, Karsten is the first woman to occupy the top spot in the state’s highest law enforcement agency.
“I never set out to become the colonel. I set out to be a trooper and do the best I could,” she said. “I never set out to be first at anything. That happened as I was going about working hard and trying do the right thing wherever I was assigned. I always strived, and still do, to treat people with dignity and respect.”
Karsten is also the first woman to be promoted to the ranks of lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel and now colonel. She takes pride in those achievements, but she credits the work of many individuals in making them possible.
“While history does remember significant firsts, what is often not talked about are the first steps leading up to that history,” she said. “I have shared this history with many people – my family, my recruit class, my first zone, my first supervisor. The list goes on. With each first, there was a sharing of history.”
As superintendent, Karsten looks to pay forward the same support she has received throughout her career. She values people first and the process second, not always an easy task with more than 1,200 officers and 1,100 civilians under her command. In addition to its primary emphasis on traffic and water safety, the patrol is a full-service professional law enforcement agency, responsible for motor vehicle and commercial vehicle inspection programs, driver license examinations, criminal investigations, crime laboratory analysis, and related research and statistics, among other things.
To keep the patrol running smoothly, Karsten draws on some inspiration from the value-added program that was established around the time she was attending the University.
“The name of this program stuck with me, and I have used the concept at different times in my career,” she said. “I have asked what value has been added in a process or program, and what that value represents.”
That line of thinking is not the only way Karsten has maintained ties with her alma mater. Although she earned a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Missouri, and has participated in several other leadership programs, Truman remains special to her. Last year, she spoke at a send-off event for new students from the St. Louis area, and more than a dozen members of her family have attended the University, including her brother and sister.
“Our family values education, and Truman provides outstanding opportunities for a great liberal arts education,” Karsten said.
Along with her duties with the patrol, Karsten serves as an adjunct professor at Lincoln University, is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and is active with Special Olympics fundraising and various youth activities. She also serves as an executive board member for the Missouri Peace Officers Association.
Karsten and her husband Tim live in Jefferson City. They have two sons, John and Paul.