Solving for success

Once a homeless youth with a devastating addiction to drugs and alcohol, Mark Bennett is on his way to earning his bachelor’s in mathematics at the UW — all while giving back to the community that saved him and raising his 9-year-old son.

Like any other 13-year-old kid, Mark Bennett just wanted to fit in.

Impressionable and aching for a sense of belonging, Mark turned to a group of teenage boys who hung out around his Fairwood, Washington neighborhood. “They wanted to be gangsters, and I wanted to be tough like them. In my mind it was all about trying to be a part of something, so I did whatever it took,” he says.


Profile: Mark Bennett

  • Taking a cue from his YouthCare mentor, Mark began biking in an effort to better his health both physically and mentally. “You really meditate,” says Mark. “I find that I do better when I ride my bike on a regular basis. It’s good for the mind.”
  • Mark’s son Elijah shares his affinity for math, and takes notes when he tags along with Mark to his high-level courses. “I’m really proud of him,” says Mark. “He keeps stepping it up and becoming a better student.”
  • As a participant in the prestigious McNair Scholars Program, which helps prepare traditionally underrepresented undergraduates students for advanced degrees, Mark hopes to one day earn his Ph.D. in mathematics.
  • Mark credits his life to the support of organizations such as YouthCare, and is passionate about serving others in return. Mark serves by sharing his story, advocating for math and science and volunteering at the shelters that helped.

In middle school, being a part of “something” meant drinking, then drugs. At 17, he became a father to a son he rarely saw. He dropped out of high school. Things got worse, and he shut out everyone who had ever cared about him. He became homeless. “I didn’t know where to go, and I was frantically looking to figure out what to do,” he says.

Enter YouthCare, a multi-functional homeless youth center where Mark worked with case managers and counselors to get off the streets, get sober, gain custody of his son Elijah and pursue an education. Mark earned his associate degree geared toward the mathematical sciences, and got connected with the Washington Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Community College Program, a program that helps traditionally underrepresented students build a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

For Mark, the decision to apply to the UW was an easy one. “It’s the best mathematics program here in Washington,” he says. Mark, now 27 and slated to earn his bachelor’s degree in mathematics next year, says his journey has been a constant challenge that only reinforces his passion. “The UW is a place where there’s a lot of rigorous mathematics going on and a lot of research. I’m grateful I’m here.”

Beyond preparing for the application process to the UW Graduate School, Mark plans on pairing his understanding of mathematics with his love for service and turning that into a career. “I’m working on mathematical modeling, and my goal is to model decision problems for a non-profit organization. Non-profits were a big part of me getting to where I am, and using both service and math is a great way to give back,” he says.