Public Engagement

The Cairns lab prioritizes public scholarship, research impact, and community engagement. We strive to conduct engaged research, both at our field sites and in Dallas, translating excellent research into knowledge that can change the world.


Earth Day Every Day is a series of online environmental education sessions continuing with the Earth Day theme and bringing expert speakers, special program topics, and a reminder that every day is Earth Day. This series is presented by Dallas Environmental Quality and Sustainability (DEQS; Green Dallas) and discusses topics that empower Dallas residents to make sustainable choices that improve the quality of life for everyone in Dallas and the world. Dr. Maryann Cairns was featured as a guest speaker and discussed her latest research, which includes the fashion industry and its heavy hand in waste. You can find the link to the recorded session here.

Dr. Cairns recently recorded a podcast discussing her study of unhealthy waters over the years. Listen to hear more about Dr. Cairns’ career journey, the politics of water and sanitation systems, the impacts of tourism on coastal water quality and human health, low-cost technologies to treat wastewater-polluted rivers, her work on the NSF MERA investigation, and more. Click here to listen.

Dr. Cairns and the Cairns Lab were featured in D Magazine in an article titled “How Dallas Can Be the Next Leader In Sustainable Fashion.” This article discusses how the Fashion Group International of Dallas and Dr. Maryann Cairns are spearheading the city’s initiatives in eco-friendly fashion. Click here to read the article.

Members of The Cairns Lab, including Dr. Cairns, Margaret Ebinger, Chanel Stinson, and Jason Jordan with Spring 2020 ANTH 3345: Introduction to Ethnographic Methods Students at Southern Methodist University developed a publication titled “COVID-19 and Human Connection: Collaborative Research on Loneliness and Online Worlds from a Socially-Distanced Academy.” The findings were condensed into an information guide to help professors, students, and administrators navigate the academic world during and after Covid-19. The full publication can be found here, and the information guide can be found here.

Dr. Cairns joined Cool Anthropology as an invited guest and contributed to their workshop “Anthropology and the Public: Pressing Questions, Responsibilities and Opportunities.” To revisit the event, you can watch the live recording here. To view the various Jamboards generated from the event, follow these links:


Dr. Cairns collaborated with USF Scientists on the MERA project, taking place on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica with colleagues at the Costa Rican Water and Sewage Authority’s Water Laboratory. This research focused on Costa Rica’s wastewater threat to beaches, and additionally aided in monitoring Covid-19. Read the full article here.

Dr. Cairns joined Lenora Billings-Harris to speak on environmental justice and the impacts of systemic racism as a part of Ms. Billings-Harris’ series Race: More than Just Talk, available here.

Dr. Cairns taught a short course on Moving Towards Sustainable and Ethical Business for the Hudson Community Incubator.

The lab hosted a 3-part Instagram Live series regarding sustainable fashion and waste from the fashion industry.

Dr. Cairns and Jason Jordan wrote “Race, Racialized Violence, and the Academy’s Impact on Black Students: A Discussion and Some Recommendations for a More Inclusive Academy,” a memo in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality in the United States.

The lab developed a resource guide on anthropology and environmental justice, including teaching resources, key organizations and scholars, and reading lists, available here..

Dr. Cairns and the Cairns Lab gave an invited keynote lecture and roundtable at the SMU Fall Research Symposium.

Dr. Cairns was an invited guest on the AAAS Sci on the Fly Podcast – stay tuned for the release date!


Dr. Cairns gave a public lecture on infrastructure, environment, and ethnographically informed approaches the waste as a part of the University of Oklahoma Cultural Colloquium Series.

In collaboration with SMU OIT, the lab developed the BLUEC Citizen Science Surf App and the BLUEC Internet of Things Surf Helmet.

Dr. Cairns and university collaborators successfully applied for a Dedman College Interdisciplinary Institute Cluster Award to launch the interdisciplinary Sustainable Apparel and Textiles Research Cluster.

Dr. Cairns joined the International Society for Children’s Health and the Environment Sustainability Committee as a member.


We hosted a symposium and ethics and enumerator trainings for Costa Rican university students and government officials at our field site and at Costa Rica’s National Water Lab during our summer field season.

In September 2018, Dr. Ulmer visited Dr. Keilyn Rodriguez-Sanchez’s anthropology course at the University of Costa Rica to give a talk about his research experiences.

Dr. Cairns joined the Tower Center for Public Policy as a fellow.


Dr. Cairns co-chaired a panel at the AAA meeting on why environmental anthropology matters to federal agencies.

Dr. Cairns joined the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity as a fellow.

Megan received a Maguire Public Service Fellowship to collaborate with the Trinity River Audubon Center on conservation and education efforts exploring issues of diversity, inclusion, community values, and environmental advocacy in summer camp programs, and blogged about that experience in the SMU Adventures Blog.

Dr. Cairns and Clayton Cox gave a talk at the US Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources on transboundary watershed management in the Western Balkans and community strategies for building resilience.

Dr. Cairns served on a panel on planetary health and pollution at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Prior to 2016

Prior to establishing the Cairns Lab at SMU, Dr. Cairns completed a AAAS Fellowship, focused on Science & Technology Policy, where she was hosted at the U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development’s National Exposure Research Laboratory.  Dr. Cairns has additionally collaborated with Water for People on the monitoring and evaluation of water and sanitation infrastructure in Bolivia, and has been a part of a range of engineering and anthropology collaborations and roundtables.

Before joining SMU, Dr. Cairns was engaged in a range of public-facing scholarship and community engagement activities, including organizing workshops and hackathons on citizen science and water quality monitoring at Northeastern’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, blogging for AnthroHacker and OpenDataKit, contributing to technical reports on refugee health and well-being for organizations like the Jordanian Ministry of Health, and conducting citizen science research on social values of water funded by the U.S. EPA.

Coming soon in 2021

The Cairns Lab is currently developing an outreach program for secondary education institutions and will launch in 2021. The program will educate high school students about waste water management and the importance of ethnographic inquiry.

Dr. Cairns has been invited to be the keynote speaker at Fashion Group International’s Scholarship Competition in April 2021.

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