Distinguished Math Alum Turns to Art in Retirement

Don Marks (center) is joined by Department of Mathematics Chair Dr. Xin Li (left) and College of Sciences Dean Dr. Michael Johnson at the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards.

There’s more art in science than one might think.

Just ask Don Marks ’73, a mathematics instructor turned master wood turner.

“I never would have expected myself to become an artist,” chuckled Marks.

Prior to enrolling at UCF in 1969, at what was then known as Florida Technical University, Marks stumbled upon his first love in the most unusual of places. While serving in the U.S. Navy and doing deep-dive research in a submarine, it was here that Marks discovered that he had a knack for instructing others.

“That was my job out there, teaching others,” said Marks. “I had time to fall in love with it under the ocean; it’s a good place to think. By the time I came to study at UCF, I knew that I wanted to go into education.”

After a transition to UCF, Marks studied secondary education with an emphasis in applied mathematics. If he wasn’t studying or in class, he was working one of his four different part time jobs that acted as his financial support through school.

“I loved learning, especially when I could keep my eyes open in class. I was working all day and all night, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. College was exhilarating,” said Marks.

For over a decade Marks taught high school mathematics until he realized that the salary was simply not cutting it, especially while trying to support a son on the road to higher education. Marks took a job in the IT department at Lockheed Martin.

He stayed at Lockheed until retiring to a quiet life in the mountains of North Carolina. It was here his passion for an art ignited and a second career was born.

Shortly after moving into their new home, Marks and his wife were relaxing when a PBS program on woodturning caught their attention. This was what awakened the inner artist in Marks that he didn’t know existed.

“I knew after watching that program that I wanted to take a class on woodturning,” said Marks. “I found something about it very cathartic.”

Marks traveled over 50 miles from his home to attend one of the only woodturning workshops offered in the state of North Carolina.

“I was so inspired that I went out and bought my own lathe immediately after the first class,” said Marks. “Since then I’ve even had pieces featured in the Orlando Museum of Art. My favorite one is a plate I created with the UCF emblem in the middle.”

Marks currently teaches woodturning at John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina and is constantly creating pieces for himself and others. His distinguished career and passion for mathematics earned him the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award for Mathematics.

“My degree in education and mathematics helped me become the artist that I now am,” said Marks. “There is so much geometry, trigonometry, and other facets of mathematics that are necessary for the meticulous nature that is woodturning.”



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