Trainees


Md Nafis Ul Alam (he/him)


I’m from a small country in South Asia called Bangladesh. I majored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Dhaka. I am currently pusuing a PhD in the School of Plant Sciences under the supervision of Dr. Rod A. Wing. My broad research interest is evolutionary biology.


Neda Arad (she/her)


I graduated from the University of Arizona in 2022 with a master’s degree in Plant Sciences. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in the School of Plant Sciences under the supervision of Professor Arnold. My research interest is in how regional, landscape and local factors affect ecosystem services. I see myself as an enthusiastic researcher, always looking for scientific challenges. My passion as a researcher comes from a life-long obsession with learning new things. There is nothing more beautiful than education in my life, and I think this is how we can change the world into a better place to live.


Harrison Friedman (he/him)


I am a Masters student in the School of Natural Resources working under Dr. Rachel Gallery. I have a background working in federal land management with the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. I am broadly interested in the ways in which land use and land management activities influence microbial community composition. My current research explores how soil microbial community composition and function change in response to altered precipitation regimes and drought.


Liam Roberts (he/him)


I am from Manchester, England, I completed my undergrad in Zoology and my Masters-by-Research in molecular ecology at the University of Salford Manchester. I moved to the US three years ago to be with my wife. I will be joining the University of Arizona’s EIS program this year to complete my PhD and will be advised by Luciano Matzkin. My research interests are more focused on evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology. In particular I am most interested in understanding the function of adaptive traits and the evolutionary history of different organisms.


Matthew Spaeth (he/him)


I graduated from University of California, Merced in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and an emphasis in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I have since been employed as a vegetation management/monitoring technician at Point Reyes National Seashore Association where I have been involved in habitat restoration and plant community monitoring. Having spent the last four years restoring disrupted ecosystems, I am excited to pursue a master’s degree in Natural Resources from the School of Natural Resources and the Environment to better understand the impacts of plant invasion on above and below ground plant-microbe communities. I hope to produce research that improves current land management efforts. I have the honor of being co-advised by Drs. Elise Gornish and Albert Barberán. I’m grateful to be here and excited for the opportunities to come!


Phoenix Spivey (she/her)


I am from Louisburg, North Carolina, where my interest in all things environmental developed. In May 2020, I earned a BS in Environmental Science at North Carolina State University. At the University of Arizona, I am pursuing a MS in Natural Resources under the mentorship of Dr. Laura Meredith. I am interested in biomonitoring techniques to improve and support biogeochemical cycles, ecosystem health, sustainable/equitable infrastructure, and community resilience.


Sabrina Wilson (she/her)


I am from southeast New Mexico and have a BS in Astrophysics and Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. I enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and tending to my native pollinator garden. Beginning in Fall 2022, I will be pursuing a Master’s in Atmospheric Science under the mentorship of Dr. Yang Song. My research interests include human-ecosystem interactions and climate-land feedback, focusing on microbial mediation and carbon sequestration and how these interactions shape our environment on a larger scale.


Pablo Arán Sekul (he/him)


Born and raised in Antofagasta, Chile, I have dedicated all my university and work in the area of Microbiology and Microbial Ecology in extreme environments, specifically in the Atacama Desert, the desert where I grew up. My interest has always been to determine what microorganisms are in a specific environment and how they can survive harsh life conditions (for humans) using molecular and bioinformatics tools. I consider myself a lover of the desert and its secrets. I am a first-year Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD student.


Christian Ayala Ortiz (he/him)


I began working on my PhD in Environmental Science in January 2021, under the supervision of Dr. Malak Tfaily. My current research interests include the use of multi-omics data to study the interaction between the environment and the microbial communities, and how it affects carbon and nutrient cycling. I am especially interested in the development of data analysis pipelines that allows to take full advantage of the available high throughput data.


Rebecca Bland (she/her)


I am from Durham, North Carolina, but recently finished a Master of Forestry and a Master of Arts in Religion at Yale University. I began my Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD fall 2021. I am interested in species invasion and rapid evolution, especially in the context of interspecific interaction. After three years being the “science person” in Divinity School, I also have a heart for science communication, and I enjoy making science understandable to diverse audiences.


Meara Clark (she/her)


I graduated from the University of Arizona in 2016 with a degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology. My first job after college was working as a research technician in the Baltrus Lab and my project studied the role of tailocins in microbe-microbe interactions. Currently, I am pursuing a MS in Natural Resources from the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and work with Dr. Laura Meredith studying the effects of drought on soil microbes. My research interests are focused on discovering the genetic mechanisms behind the complex interactions that exist in a microbial community. Then using that information to understand how these interactions fit into the larger picture of an ecosystem.


Changpeng Fan (he/him)


I am an incoming PhD student in the Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Science at the University of Arizona, advised by Dr. Yang Song. I am interested in climate and land feedback, focusing on the hydrology cycle, microbial-mediated soil carbon, nutrient cycle, and vegetation dynamics.


Viviana Freire Zapata (she/her)


I am a Doctoral student at the Department of Environmental Sciences at University of Arizona working with Malak Tfaily, PhD. My research interest focuses on understanding the role of biotic and abiotic interactions on ecosystems as a response to disturbance and/or stress. I am interested on the integration of multi-omics data to analyze the underlying processes on ecosystems such as arid soils, thawing permafrost peatlands and agricultural systems.


Savannah Fuqua (she/her)


I received an Environmental Biology degree from Washington University in St Louis where I conducted a senior thesis on the role soil microbes play in mediating plant-pollinator interactions. Since graduating, I have worked primarily with Point Reyes National Seashore Association as a vegetation and restoration ecology intern. This fall I will be joining the University of Arizona’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD program where I will be co-advised by Judith Bronstein and Rachel Gallery. I plan to continue investigating the role that the belowground microbial community plays in shaping the ecology and evolution of aboveground mutualisms.


Zoe Jensen (she/her)


I am excited to be pursuing a PhD in the Entomology and Insect Sciences GIDP at the University of Arizona with Dr. Matzkin as my NRT advisor. I received my bachelor’s degree at Cal Poly SLO in agriculture and plant sciences with a minor in biology. I hope to improve agricultural pest management techniques and global food stability through insect science and genetics.


Ghiwa Makke (she/her)


I have a MS in Molecular Biology with an emphasis on microbial genetics from the Lebanese American University. I have been accepted into the Environmental Science PhD program at the University of Arizona under the supervision of Dr. Malak Tfaily. I am very interested in research involving the interaction between microorganisms and their environment and its impact on the entire biosphere.


Adalee Martinez (she/her)


I am a native Tucsonan and I have a BS from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Arizona. I am pursuing an MS in Environmental Science, advised by Albert Barberán in his Microbial Macroecology lab. My main research interest is in microbial ecology. I like to study the environment on a micro scale in order to apply it to larger ecosystem studies. I am currently looking at the distribution and dispersal of microbes in relation to biogeography.


Megan Nickerson (she/her)


I graduated with a BS in Microbiology and minor in Biochemistry from the University of Arizona Honors College in May. Beginning in Fall 2021, I will be pursuing a PhD in Environmental Science. My BRIDGES NRT program co-advisors will be Dr. Malak Tfaily and Dr. Jana U’Ren. My primary research interest is in the intersection between endophytic fungi and the chemical environment of their hosts. I aim to use genomics and molecular biology to identify the genetic basis for microbial functional traits and then use this knowledge to better understand patterns of microbial community assembly, biodiversity, nutrient cycling, and ecosystem function.


Taylor Portman (she/ her)


I am from Albuquerque, NM, and love all things outdoors! I completed a BS in Biochemistry at the University of New Mexico where I did a senior research project on the impact of uranium mining legacy on root-associated fungal communities of the native grass Bouteloua gracilis. At the University of Arizona, I am pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Science under the mentorship of Dr. Betsy Arnold and Dr. Malak Tfaily. I am interested in how fungi participate in the cycling of nutrients in an ecosystem and how these interactions shape the environment.


Jes Szetela (she/her)


I am so excited to be joining the University of Arizona this fall! I graduated from the University of New England in 2019 with a BS in Environmental Science, and have been bouncing around the country in various field tech positions since then. I will be joining the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Saleska Lab to pursue a PhD. My research interests are focused on understanding how shifts in vegetative communities impact biogeochemical cycling across scales, specifically in the context of climate change.


Megan McKendry (she/her)


I am a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona’s School of Sociology. I hold a Master of Public Health in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University. My research, under the supervision of Dr. Jennifer Croissant explores how “Cultures of Science” can help us to gain insight into interdisciplinary science collaboration and leverage findings to improve student training in STEM.