This geographer does it all.

Nick Dowhaniuk PhD’21 has a shaded illustration of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes in East Africa, tattooed on his forearm. “Ever since I went to Africa, I fell in love with it,” he says. He once lived at the base of the mountains and got the tattoo to remind himself of his second home even while stuck at a computer in an office an ocean away, he says.

“One thing I love about photography is I can give people a global sense, break down some misconceptions about sub-Saharan Africa, and tell stories that aren’t as easily told with just words.”

young man beams as he hangs from a round structure with a sign reading "Uganda" and "Equator"
Nick Dowhaniuk’s dissertation research is on Ugandans’ access to healthcare.

Pursuing both a PhD in geography and a Master of Health Science degree at UF means that Dowhaniuk indeed does quite a bit of office work, but he is no stranger to adventure. A National Geographic Explorer, Dowhaniuk studies the sociocultural and spatial effects of oil development in Uganda, as well as conservation issues there and in South Africa. His dissertation research on Ugandans’ access to healthcare serves his career goal of founding an NGO devoted to community-based health intervention.

“Having a statistics background has really helped me to work on a bunch of different projects,” he explains. His passion for a diversity of projects centers on his deep love for Africa, and “a big school like UF just fit my crazy interests going everywhere,” he says with a laugh.

He began with a BA in geography at the University of New Hampshire, adding a minor in intercultural communication for good measure, then continued at UNH for a master’s in environmental conservation and a graduate certificate in statistics. There, he met his adviser and mentor Joel Hartter ’07, who introduced him to both his Uganda work and the NatGeo Explorer program. Dowhaniuk says. “It wasn’t until I got involved on the Uganda project that I saw what I wanted to do. When I find something interesting, I gravitate toward it and see what happens.”

Recently, Dowhaniuk participated in NatGeo’s “Sciencetelling Bootcamp,” a weeklong intensive program designed to help researchers engage the public with their findings. As a self-taught photographer, Dowhaniuk embraced the opportunity, and he recently joined documentary filmmaker Dan McCabe on a hike through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, studying the fallout of the 2002 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in the context of civil strife. “One thing I love about photography is I can give people a global sense, break down some misconceptions about sub-Saharan Africa, and tell stories that aren’t as easily told with just words,” he says.

View Slideshow

The Nyiragongo crater

The summit of Mt. Nyiragongo

A church in Uganda

The Nile

At the home of Uganda's Charles Wesley Mumbere

A Ugandan cattle farmer

Rangers in Uganda

A bullet hole-riddled sign at the base of the Virunga Mountains

Mahoma Falls

Ndali Lake

The Nyiragongo mountainside


To support the people, program, or research featured in this story, please visit

Zoland Geography Fund

Dean’s Fund for Excellence