Next Stop for Math Major Saabi Markar, CST ’18

Torn between math and art, Saabira “Saabi” Markar covered her bets at Temple University by majoring in applied mathematics and minoring in art.

That dual bet paid off. This fall Markar will begin pursuing a master’s degree in industrial design at the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York City, which recently was named the best art and design school in the United States and second best in the world.

“When I decided I was interested in design, I didn’t at first realize that math would feel so relevant to it,” says Markar, who completed her Temple degree in December. “Math is everywhere, we just have to look hard enough to see it.”

Markar believes her applied mathematics experience at Temple was a major factor in her Parsons’ acceptance. While half of her admissions portfolio represented work she had done for Temple’s Tyler School of Art, she produced the rest during her senior-year math classes. One sample was a complex analysis proof involving circles in a Möbius transformation that Professor Shiferaw S. Berhanu intentionally assigned her.

“It opened the door to show the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that could come from a mathematician,” she says.

The daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, Markar initially attended Carnegie-Mellon University, but struggles with alcohol use forced her to drop out after three semesters.

While recovering, she worked for two years as a customer contact specialist at Beneficial Bank’s downtown Philadelphia headquarters. That’s when she took two night courses at Temple’s Center City campus to prove to herself that she could complete her college degree.

Sober since 2014, at Temple Markar found an informal yet strong support community, one that included her roommate of three years, who is also in recovery. “Temple is a good place for someone in recovery,” she says. “Today, my past doesn’t seem like the barrier that it once was for me to be successful.”

Markar has volunteered her design skills—tee-shirts, flyers, banners—for a nonprofit group, Young People in Recovery, and has mentored 13- and 14-year-old girls considered at risk for drug and alcohol misuse for Project Amp. She presented the results of research related to her mentoring at last year’s National Prevention Conference in California.

Eight years ago, Markar also was one of the first employees of Venmo, the mobile payment app. That experience inspired her to dream big. “Ultimately, I want to start my own design business, my own brand,” she says. And whether she creates new shoes or kitchen items, she adds, “I want to expose the world to the beauty of mathematics through the design of everyday objects.”

-Bruce Beans