Dawn Bowen profile photo

Dawn Bowen

Professor | Geography

Fredericksburg, VA, UNITED STATES, Monroe Hall

Dr. Bowen's expertise centers on the regional geography of Eastern and Western North America, and Latin America.



Dawn Bowen is fascinated by people and places. An award-winning scholar in the field of human geography and regional geography, Dr. Bowen's expertise focuses on Eastern and Western North America as well as Latin America. Her recent article “Education, Leadership, and Conservation: Empowering Young Q’eqchi’ Women in Guatemala” marks the culmination of years of working with young women in the Community Cloud Forest Conservation’s Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation (WALC) program. The initiative provides young women small scholarships that allow them to continue in school beyond grade 6 by learning about sustainable agricultural practices, income generation and farm management, as well as nutrition, health, and human rights. In 2018, she published an article on the experience of women and youth living in a company town on the island of Aruba as well as research on the government-assisted migration of Mennonite farmers from Saskatchewan to British Columbia in the 1940s. Dr. Bowen also is an expert in cultural landscape evolution in northern Alberta, Montana and Aruba, and heritage tourism in Labrador.

Her passion for geography and her commitment to teaching are evident in her extensive research trips to Latin America, the Caribbean and North America, where she leads undergraduates on week-long field trips to study grassroots development in Maya communities and complete a reforestation project. The author of more than two dozen publications, Dr. Bowen has presented her research at conferences across North America.

She is recipient of Mary Washington’s Richard Palmieri Outstanding Professor Award and the Excellence in Teaching Award given by the Academic Affairs Council. She has also received the Grellet C. Simpson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2012 and the Mary W. Pinschmidt Award from the 2016 graduating class as the professor they will most likely remember as the one who had the greatest impact on their lives. She has chaired several faculty committees, including the Arts & Sciences Curriculum Committee. She has been a consistent sponsor of the Young Women Leader’s Program, and a Faculty Advisor to the Honor Council. In 2009 she received the Henry Douglas Distinguished Service Award for the Research, Publication, and Teaching of Material Culture from the Association for the Preservations of Artifacts and Landscapes of the Pioneer American Society.

Areas of Expertise

Geography and DevelopmentHuman GeographyGeographyNorth American Geography


Mary W. Pinschmidt Award | professional

Awarded by the University of Mary Washington. Selected by graduating seniors as the professor they will most likely remember as the one who had the greatest impact on their lives.

Excellence in Teaching Award | professional

For the Southeast Division, awarded by the Association of American Geographers.

Grellet C. Simpson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching | professional

Awarded by the University of Mary Washington.

Henry H. Douglas Award Distinguished Service Award for the Research, Publication, and Teaching of Material Culture | professional

Awarded by the Pioneer America Society: Association for the Preservations of Artifacts and Landscapes.

Richard Palmieri Outstanding Professor Award | professional

Awarded by Mary Washington College.

Excellence in Teaching Award | professional

Awarded by the Academic Affairs Council, Mary Washington College.

Jepson Fellowship | professional

Awarded by Mary Washington College.

Distinguished Member | professional

Awarded by the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Fulbright Fellowship | professional

Awarded by Institute for International Education.


Queen's University

Ph.D., Geography


Dissertation Title: “‘Forward to a Farm’: The Back-to-the-Land Movement as a Relief Initiative in Saskatchewan during the Great Depression.”

University of Maine

M.A., Canadian History


Thesis title: “The Transformation of a Northern Alberta Frontier Community.”

Mary Washington College

B.A., Geography and International Affairs


Media Appearances

Bowen Publishes on Young Women’s Empowerment

EagleEye  online


Professor of Geography Dawn Bowen has co-authored an article, “Education, Leadership, and Conservation: Empowering Young Q’eqchi’ Women in Guatemala,” with Amy Leap Miller, UMW ’12, which has just been published in the International Journal of Educational Development. This paper marks the culmination of many years of field work in Guatemala with young women who participate in Community Cloud Forest Conservation’s Women in Agroecology Leadership for Conservation (WALC) program. Young women earn small scholarships that enable them to continue in school beyond grade 6 by learning about sustainable agricultural practices, income generation, and farm management, as well as nutrition, health, and human rights. This article is the first scholarly assessment of the program and its role in promoting female empowerment.

view more

Students Plant Trees with Guatemalan Students

EagleEye  online


This past spring break, 16 UMW students traveled to Guatemala to learn about agroecology and community development. Students spent several days with elementary school children from two different villages who came to participate in Community Cloud Forest Conservation’s Kids & Birds program. They planted trees with the children, looked for and identified migratory birds, and located tadpoles and other aquatic creatures in the Mestila River.

view more

Bowen Publishes Article about Field Work in Newfoundland

EagleEye  online


Dawn Bowen, professor of geography, has published an article, “The Roadside Gardens of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula,” in the American Geographical Society’s Focus on Geography. This article was a result of her field work in Newfoundland in 2014.

view more

Professor Co-Authors Article with Alum

EagleEye  online


Dawn Bowen, professor of geography, has co-authored an article, “Deforestation of Montane Cloud Forest in the Central Highlands of Guatemala: Proximate Causes, Underlying Drivers, and Implications for Sustainability in Q’eqchi’ Maya Communities,” with Ian Pope, UMW 2011, in the International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology. The article draws from Ian’s research with contributions from other UMW alum, Adam Hager, Carl Larsen, and David Chambers, all 2014 graduates, who completed field work under Bowen’s direction.

view more

Bowen and Students Visit Guatemala during Spring Break

EagleEye  online


Dawn Bowen, professor of geography, supervised an undergraduate research trip to Guatemala over spring break with University of Mary Washington students....

view more

UMW Geographers Gain Accolades

EagleEye  online


Two University of Mary Washington geographers were honored at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers this year in Roanoke, Va.

view more


Two Governments, a Railway and a Church: The Old Colony Mennonite Relocation to Central British Columbia in the 1940s.

Journal of Mennonite Studies 2018

Dawn S. Bowen


In 1940 the governments of Saskatchewan and British Columbia combined with the Canadian National Railway to move twenty-five impoverished Old Colony families from Mennonite reserves in Saskatchewan to new homes near the Cheslatta River, south of Burns Lake. Other families followed in the next few years. Government and railroad documents, supplemented by local and family histories, newspaper items, interviews, and field work, make it possible to obtain a clear picture of these settlers and their community. This paper reviews the circumstances that led to the migration, describes life in this isolated place, explains why most families departed, and tracks the movement of these families to other Mennonite communities. It shows that a common faith and outside assistance were not enough to sustain this settlement in the face of numerous obstacles.

In the Shadow of the Refinery: An American Oil Company Town on the Caribbean Island of Aruba

Journal of Cultural Geography 2018

Dawn S. Bowen


American industries created company towns across the United States, and in the late nineteenth century, their usage spread into Latin America and the Caribbean. Most company towns were designed for workers; the literature on company towns has tended to focus on these. However, some were specifically designed for expatriate managers and supervisors; these have received relatively little scholarly attention. This article focuses on Standard Oil’s Lago Colony on the island of Aruba. Established in 1929, the community offered a host of amenities including schools, a hospital, a store, a club, and a wide variety of sporting venues. This article examines the evolution of the town and explores the factors that contributed to its decline. It discusses life in the community, and specifically focuses on the lived experiences of children in making the company town their home.

In the shadow of the refinery: an American oil company town on the Caribbean island of Aruba | Request PDF.

view more

Education, leadership, and conservation: Empowering young Q’eqchi’ women in Guatemala

International Journal of Educational Development

Dawn S. Bowen, Amy Leap Miller


Programs to keep young women in school across the developing world have become widespread. Education is key to improving their quality of life, but keeping them in school is a significant challenge. This article examines a scholarship program that provides 25 days of intensive leadership training for young indigenous women using a peer tutorial system. The program offers a unique experience, a variety of practical training, opportunities for personal growth, and evidence of empowerment. This study demonstrates that social change is occurring and that young women are promoting change in their own lives, as well as those of their families and communities.

view more

Battle Harbour, Labrador: The Creation of a National Historic District.

PAST: The International Society for Landscape, Place, & Material Culture

Dawn S. Bowen


What better way to learn history than to live it, at least for a short period of time? Battle Harbour, Labrador, a living history site located on a tiny island an hour’s boat ride east of the mainland, is just such a place...

view more

Cloud Forest Conservation in the Central Highlands of Guatemala Hinges on Soil Conservation and Intensifying Food Production

The Professional Geographer

Ian Pope, Jon Harbor, Laura Zanotti, Guofan Shao, Dawn Bowen, and Gary Burniske


Soil erosion threatens long-term soil fertility and food production in Q’eqchi’ communities native to the Sierra Yalijux and Sierra Sacranix mountain ranges in the central highlands of Guatemala. Environmental factors such as steep topography, erodible soils, and intense precipitation events, combined with land subdivision and reduced fallow periods as a consequence of population growth, contribute to severe erosion and strain soil resources. The preservation of the region's cloud forests hinges on enhancing production of staple crops through agricultural intensification while maintaining soil fertility through implementation of soil conservation measures.

view more

The Roadside Gardens of Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula

Focus on Geography

Dawn S. Bowen


An examination of the origins of roadside gardens in Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula and their impacts on the landscape and local communities.

view more

Deforestation of montane cloud forest in the Central Highlands of Guatemala: contributing factors and implications for sustainability in Q’eqchi’ communities

International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology

Ian Pope, Jon Harbor, Laura Zanotti, Guofan Shao, Dawn Bowen, and Gary Burniske


Cloud forest in the Central Highlands of Guatemala provides important ecosystem services for the Q’eqchi’ Maya but has been disappearing at an increasing rate in recent decades. This research documents changes in cloud forest cover, explores some contributing factors to deforestation, and considers forest preservation and food security implications for Q’eqchi’ communities. We used a transdisciplinary framework that synthesized remote sensing/GIS analysis of land cover change, focus group dialogs, and surveys. Expansion of subsistence agriculture is a key proximate cause of cloud forest removal, followed by extraction of fuelwood and larger-scale logging operations. Predisposing environmental factors such as rugged topography, steep slopes, and poor soils contribute to low agricultural productivity that contributes to increased conversion of forest to agricultural land. The key underlying driving forces for deforestation locally are population growth and subdivision of land. Population growth is increasing the demand for agricultural land and, as a result, the Q’eqchi’ clear the forest to meet the need for increased food production. Furthermore, population growth is driving subdivision of land, decreasing fallow periods, and putting additional strain on poor soils, all of which exacerbate land degradation. Given the increase in population in the region, food production must be improved on existing agricultural land to avoid the need to put more land into production to meet food requirements. Thus, efforts to sustainably increase agricultural productivity are fundamental to efforts to conserve the cloud forest and to safeguard essential ecosystem services.

view more

Resistance, Acquiescence and Accommodation: The Establishment of Public Schools in an Old Colony Mennonite Community in Canada

Mennonite Quarterly Review

Dawn S. Bowen


Old Colony Mennonites have historically responded to the introduction of public education in their communities by moving to areas where there were no public schools. One such area was the northern Peace River country of Alberta. Old Colony Mennonites began moving there in the 1930s, taking with them their distinct culture, which included private German-language schools. Initially, they were free to manage their own schools without the interference of outsiders. But as the population increased and the region became less isolated, the provincial government decided that public education should be provided. Although some Old Colony Mennonites had come to peace with the prospect of public schools and were supportive of the government's move, the vast majority fiercely opposed this intrusion. Despite vigorous opposition, the first public school opened its doors in 1953. In the ensuing years. Old Colony Mennonite parents often refused to send their children to school, or did so only after the government initiated legal proceedings against them. The recent establishment of several Mennonite private schools in the vicinity of La Crete indicates that this sifting-out process continues as many conservative Mennonites prefer to educate their children according to their religious convictions instead of exposing them to the secular values of a public school system.

view more

Building a Trail and Connecting a Community The Establishment of the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail

Southeastern Geographer

Dawn S. Bowen


The Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail (DRHT) is a controversial rails-to-trails development project on an abandoned right-of-way in King George County, Virginia. The Friends of the DRHT, an organization formed in the spring of 2006 to turn an idea into reality, has made remarkable progress since that time, clearing land, creating a trail head, marshalling support from county residents, and educating those who are opposed to trail development. Establishment of the trail brings an unprecedented recreational resource to the county, which is experiencing rapid population growth. This article explores the context of rails-to-trails conversion, the organization of Friends of the DRHT, its efforts to develop and promote the trail, the opposition which the group has faced, and the progress it has made in overcoming these obstacles.

view more

Settling Alberta's northern agricultural frontier: perspectives on the Lower Peace River Country

Alberta History

Dawn S. Bowen


Northwestern Alberta is today known mostly for its economic reliance on the timber industry, as well as increasing attention to oil and gas developments, particularly in the area west of High Level, and the Mackenzie Highway, which provides road access to the Northwest Territories. It also contains several agricultural districts, including a large Mennonite terming community south of Fort Vermilion, where agriculture is still expanding. Farming in the North, however, is not a new phenomenon, and as this article demonstrates, the foundations for its establishment were laid in the late nineteenth century by fur traders and missionaries who worked in isolated regions far from reliable transportation links, and consequently came to rely on local provision of food supplies.

view more

To Bolivia and Back: Migration and Its Impact on La Crete, Alberta

Journal of Mennonite Studies

Dawn S. Bowen


More than 10,000 kilometers separate northern Alberta from eastern Bolivia. To those who are unfamiliar with the Mennonite diaspora, it might seem inconceivable that significant connections would exist between such remote parts of North and South America. But for more than thirty years conservative Mennonite families have been moving back and forth between La Crete, close to Alberta's border with the Northwest Territories, and several colonies within the Amazon drainage basin in the region of Santa Cruz. Early movements between these places were dominated by migration from Alberta to Bolivia. This was followed by a period when some families were moving to Bolivia and some were returning to La Crete. Today, the flow is almost completely from Bolivia to Canada. This paper, written from the perspective of La Crete, reviews the process of migration to Bolivia, calls attention to the growing number of families returning from Bolivia, and examines the preliminary steps taken by the citizens of La Crete as this small northern community grapples with unprecedented demands for housing, employment, and the provision of education and health services...

The Transformation of Richmond's Historic African American Commercial Corridor

Southeastern Geographer

Dawn S. Bowen


Second Street, or "the Deuce," in Richmond's historic Jackson Ward neighborhood, was the focal point of African American commerce in the early part of the 20th century. Enterprises of all types clustered along this street, just north of Broad Street, Richmond's main thoroughfare and the center of White business activity. While some scholars have argued that there was, in fact, never a separate Black economy, it is clear that this street was the hub of African American economic and social life in Richmond. Professional and personal services, banks, hotels, restaurants and general merchandise stores were established along Second Street to meet the needs of Richmond's Black population. Denied access to the White-owned theatres and clubs, Blacks also created a unique entertainment district along the Deuce, which was home to numerous social clubs, restaurants, and theatres. This paper explores the growth of Second Street during the first half of the 20th century and explains the reasons behind its subsequent decline in the latter half of the 20th century.

view more