Lab Team

Meet the Cairns Lab Team

Dr. Maryann Cairns

Dr. Maryann Cairns is an environmental anthropologist dedicated to using creative research design and cultural understanding to safeguard environmental resources and human health.  Her work has examined the politics of water and sanitation system design and development, the impacts of tourism on coastal water quality and human health, and the viability of low-cost technologies to treat wastewater-polluted rivers.  Her newest research focus examines waste from the fashion industry from an interdisciplinary perspective, and forwards an ethnographically-informed approach to data science and supply chain modeling.

Dr. Cairns has led major research investigations in multiple world regions, including Latin America & the Caribbean, the Western Balkans, and the United States. She is PI of a combined 1.5 Million-dollar Collaborative National Science Foundation-supported research program, entitled the MERA investigation, which studies exposure to pathogens in ocean environments. She is a previous recipient of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship, and was very recently awarded a Fulbright US Scholar Fellowship for her research in North Macedonia.  Notably, much of her research was completed collaboratively in strong partnerships with international colleagues and representatives from foreign municipal and national governments.

Dr. Cairns has served on the board of the Anthropology and Environment Society at the national level.  Her work has been published in several major interdisciplinary journals, including Environmental Science & Technology and World Development. Dr. Cairns is an assistant professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University, where she is the recipient of multiple teaching awards, including the SMU Rotunda Outstanding Professor Award and the Extra Mile Award, which is awarded to professors who “support students who learn differently.”  She has mentored and trained many undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral scholars both in the US and internationally. She is particularly dedicated to innovation in mentorship practices and research methods training.  Several of her current and past mentees have themselves received prestigious external grants and recognitions, including Fulbright awards, McNair scholarships, and other accolades, as well as coauthored articles with Dr. Cairns that have been published in journals including Water Research and Human Organization.

Postdoctoral Scholars

Dr. Allison R. Cantor
Allison R. Cantor is a Postdoctoral Fellow for International Research and Engagement, SMU Anthropology. She is a Medical Anthropologist and a Public Health Specialist with a Ph.D. and M.P.H in maternal and child health from the University of South Florida. Allison specializes in community-based participatory research in the Americas. Allison has investigated a range of health topics in the U.S., Costa Rica, and Peru, which include food insecurity, Covid-19, water and sanitation, and obstetric violence. Her book on tourism and maternal health in rural Costa Rica was published in 2019. She is also an independent consultant, collaborating with organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


Graduate Students

Rose Hurwitz
Rose Hurwitz is a Ph.D. student at SMU studying Cultural Anthropology with a concentration in Globalization and International Development. She earned her B.B.A. in Marketing from SMU in 2013 and is eager to continue learning about and researching human behavior from a social sciences perspective. Her research interests include environmental anthropology, hazards and disasters, public health, and sustainable and ethical business practices. Her dissertation research will be focused on recovery and resiliency in flood-prone communities. Rose has been active on campus in the Cairns Lab as Graduate Student Lab Lead and Digital Marketing Coordinator, in the Jewish Learning Fellowship, in Hillel as the Graduate Student Representative, and in E-Launch Incubator@SMU Entrepreneur Fellows program. She is also the recipient of a Maguire Center Public Service Fellowship and is part of Clinton Global Initiative University Class of 2022.

Jason Jordan
Jason Jordan is a Cultural Anthropology Ph.D. student at SMU whose research will focus on energy infrastructure and policy as it relates to natural disasters. He received his B.S. in Geology from SMU in 2021. During undergrad, Jason worked in the Cairns Lab focusing primarily on the Covid-19 and human connections paper, the MERA project, and numerous diversity and inclusion efforts on campus. Jason’s research interests are infrastructure management, resource acquisition and distribution, moral and political economies, subsistence strategies, and equitable access to public utilities. Jason is excited to return to SMU and the Cairns Lab.

Carolyn Mason
Carolyn Mason is a Cultural Anthropology Ph.D. student with a concentration in Medical Anthropology. Her research focuses on how Black Americans connect their health with cultural and place-based foodways. She received her B.A. in Anthropology from George Mason University, where she completed her first published research project, a podcast titled “Bigger Fish to Fry.” This project focuses on the food history and the nutrition of enslaved people, and the legacy that slavery, health, and diet have on contemporary populations. She is excited to join the Cairns Lab to learn more about how food and the environment shape one another, affecting the bodies of marginalized peoples. LinkedIn


Undergraduate Students

Ben Perry
Ben Perry is a third-year student at SMU pursuing a B.S. in Psychology and admittance into the Temerlin Advertising Institute for a B.A. in Advertising with a specialization in strategic brand management. Ben has a love for fashion and see the Cairns Lab as a way to learn more sustainability and ethics in the industry. While at SMU thus far, he has gained acceptance into the McNair Scholars program. As a research assistant, he will focus on the sustainable fashion project and gain insight into the externalities of fashion.

Arlo Kadane
Arlo is a senior at Southern Methodist University majoring in International Studies and minoring in Global Development, Environmental Anthropology, and Italian. His passion for learning about and tackling environmental issues led him to join the Cairns Lab to help explore research topics such as Okrid Lake in Macedonia and the CAD study.




Affiliated Research Scientists

Dr. Erin M. Symonds
Dr. Erin M. Symonds is an affiliated research scientist with the Cairns Lab, SMU Anthropology. She is a public health-related microbiologist with over 12 years of research experience working on transdisciplinary and applied research projects in the water, sanitation, health, and ocean pollution spaces in the U.S. and Latin America. Dr. Symonds has worked on numerous projects in coordination with governmental and non-governmental organizations in Latin America and the U.S., including as a U.S. Fulbright Student Researcher in Costa Rica (2015) and U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala (2009-2011). She graduated with her Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of South Florida in 2016 and was supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science to Achieve Results Fellowship (2011-2014) and the USF William & Elsie Knight Fellowship (2014-2016).

Cairns Lab Alumni

Haley Bovino
Haley Bovino is an undergraduate research assistant at Southern Methodist University. Haley is currently a Senior majoring in Marketing and minoring in Advertising and Environmental Anthropology. Haley joined the lab to explore her passion for environmental issues like fast and slow fashion, sustainability efforts, and water pollution. Since joining the lab, Haley has collaborated on projects like The MERA Investigation and the Clothing Acquisition and Disposal study.

Jean Park
Jean is a Premed student majoring in Biological Sciences and minoring in Neurosciences. He is also a member of the Hilltop Scholars Program and the University Honors Program.

Jocelyn Bell
Jocelyn Bell is a Ph.D. student in Cultural Anthropology whose research focuses on human rights and energy development. She received her B.S. in Anthropology from Texas State University in 2018 and her LLM in Human Rights Law from the University of Nottingham in 2020. Her interests lie in the implementation of Indigenous rights and activism, green energy development, climate change, cultural heritage, and the ability to counter modernity. She is excited to be a part of the Cairns Lab.

Madison Fillinger-Rumora
Madison Fillinger-Rumora is a Cultural Anthropology Ph.D. student at SMU with a concentration in globalization and international development. She received her B.A. in anthropology from the University of Kentucky in December 2019 and completed several independent studies to gather research on environmental anthropology in mining communities in West Virginia and waste disposal in Indonesia. Her research interests include environmental anthropology, dynamics between vulnerable populations and environmental issues, and health issues influenced by practices leading to environmental degradation.

Anna Martinko
Anna Martinko worked in the lab as an undergraduate research assistant. Anna graduated in 2022 with a BBA in Business Management. She is passionate about understanding and identifying the role humans play within our environment and how environmental anthropology can inspire and create change in our world. In the Cairns Lab she oversaw the lab’s public presence and collaborated on sustainable fashion research through the Athleisure and Clothing Acquisition studies. At SMU, she was a Second Century Scholar, a Hamilton Undergraduate Scholar at the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute, and a part-time tutor for Dallas children through Mustangs for Hope.

Chris Piekarsky
Chris Piekarsky is a senior from Bloomington, Indiana majoring in Advertising with a focus in digital media strategy and World Languages with a focus in Spanish and Russian. Chris worked on the MERA team as a translator and data analyst. Chris is passionate about culture and what brings people together and is ready to use his expertise to help analyze oceanic data.



Dr. Meg “Bee” Brown
Bee Brown received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at SMU with a concentration in medical anthropology in 2022. She received her B.S. in public health from the University of South Carolina, her M.Sc. in global health policy from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and her M.A. in anthropology from SMU. Her dissertation, funded by a Fulbright U.S. Student Study/Research Award, examines resilience, reforestation, and health in Costa Rica. She is also the recipient of a Maguire Center Public Service Fellowship and has worked as a graduate research assistant with SMU’s Center for Global Health Impact. She was the recipient of a Moody Dissertation Fellowship.

Richie Thomas

Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas earned his M.A. in the cultural anthropology program at SMU, with a concentration in globalization with an emphasis on environmental topics. He has a B.S. in anthropology from Utah State University and a M.S. in health promotion management from SMU. His research interests include perceptions of anthropogenic air pollution, environmental adaption strategies, citizen science, health education and promotion, and program evaluation. Visit his LinkedIn here.

Dr. Gordon Ulmer
Gordon Ulmer was a Post-doctoral Fellow with Southern Methodist University (SMU) Anthropology. He is an environmental and economic anthropologist whose research focuses on topics involving ecotourism, extractive economies, urban ecologies and infrastructures, and global development. He was awarded the Fulbright-Hays DDRA to support his doctoral work, which investigated how households in Amazonia Peru adapt to global processes involving resource extraction and biodiversity conservation. He earned his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University in 2018 and joined the MERA team in May 2018. He is now an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Humboldt State University in California.

Chanel Stinson
Chanel Stinson was an undergraduate research assistant at SMU. She graduated in the Spring of 2022 with a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a B.A. in Anthropology. One of the main things she is passionate about is the interdisciplinary applications of anthropology in social sciences, the environment, and human rights. While at SMU, she was a member of both the Geology and Philosophy Club, the McNair Scholars program, and the Rotunda Scholars program. Her focus in the Cairns Lab was on fashion sustainability, waste, and pollution.

Margaret Ebinger

Margaret Ebinger
Margaret Ebinger was an undergraduate research assistant at SMU with double majors in Public Policy and Health and Society. As an undergraduate research assistant in the Cairns Lab, she assisted with the MERA project and community engagement. She was also a Hamilton Undergraduate Scholar at the Dedman Collage Interdisciplinary Institute, a recipient of the SMU Engaged Learning Fellowship, and a member of the McNair program. Her interests include the causes and effects of social determinants of health. Margaret graduated from SMU in Spring of 2021, and will be beginning the University of Michigan MPH program in the Fall of 2021.


Grace Warren
Grace Warren was an undergraduate research assistant in the Cairns Lab at SMU majoring in Finance, minoring in Environmental Anthropology and History. Grace is passionate about environmental anthropology and the way it connects to different facets of life around the world. She enjoys working in collaborative, interdisciplinary settings to develop sustainable solutions to climate change. Throughout her time at SMU, she has been a part of the Student Senate Investment Committee, the Hilltop Scholars Program, and a leader in her Greek organization. As a research assistant in the Cairns Lab, her focus concerned fashion sustainability, climate change, and international anthropology.

Maria Fernanda “Marifer” Tovar Hernandez
Marifer Hernandez was an undergraduate research assistant in the Cairns Lab at SMU working towards her B.S. in Economics with Financial Applications with a minor in Statistics. As an undergraduate research assistant the Cairns Lab, she worked on the MERA project. She was also a Hamilton Undergraduate Scholar at the Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute. She is passionate about learning from different fields, meeting people from diverse backgrounds, and collaborating on projects that positively impact the community. Marifer graduated from SMU in the Spring of 2021.

Jaymie Ruddock
Jaymie Ruddock was an undergraduate research assistant in the Cairns Lab at SMU majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics, with a specialization in Software Engineering. She is passionate about the interdisciplinary applications of computer science in the social sciences, humanities, and anthropology. Jaymie was named an Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in August 2019. Within the Cairns Lab, her focus was on the Sustainable Fashion Citizen Science App as well as social media scraping for various research initiatives. Jamie graduated from SMU in the Spring of 2021.

Monica Lee

Monica Lee
Monica Lee was an undergraduate research assistant in the Cairns Lab from August 2019-May 2020. She majored in Finance and Anthropology and minored in Creative Computing and International Studies. Her interests include sustainable business practices and community engagement. Monica was a recipient of the Hamilton Undergraduate Research Scholars Award for the 2019-2020 school year. Her focus was on the clothing study as well as other Cairns Lab projects. Since graduation, Monica has joined J.P. Morgan in their private bank.

Katie Tinch
Katie Tinch was a Cairns Lab undergraduate research assistant in 2018 and 2019. Her research interests include population health and mortality, cross-cultural perspectives on death, and the growing field of ecologically conscious funeral practice. Katie was a member of the Hamilton Undergraduate Research Scholars, McNair Scholars, and SMU Engaged Learning Fellowship programs during her time at SMU. She graduated in December of 2019 with her Bachelor of Science in anthropology and is currently pursuing her MA in anthropology at Brandeis University.

Katherine Linares
Katherine Linares was an undergraduate research assistant in the Cairns Lab in Spring 2018. She is majored in environmental studies with minors in anthropology and psychology. Katherine was a Mustang Scholar, a member of SMU’s Multicultural Greek Council, and a Peer Advisor for SMU Abroad. Katherine obtained her Masters of Arts degree in December of 2019 from SMU’s Sustainability and Development Program. She currently works for the City of Cedar Hill as a Planner.


Prospective Students


The Cairns Lab is a new and growing anthropology research lab. If you are an undergraduate student at SMU or a prospective graduate student interested in joining the lab, please reach out to Dr. Cairns directly.
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