Trainees



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 an incoming PhD student working in the Saleska and Barberán labs.


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’ll be starting a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona with Dr. Katrina Dlugosch this fall. 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 U of A 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.