About Us


Dr. Tanya Cheeke, Principal Investigator. I am an Assistant Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at WSU. My research examines plant-soil-microbe interactions in a variety of ecosystems, ranging from grasslands to forests to agricultural systems. Current research is aimed at evaluating the efficacy of microbial transplants in the ecological restoration of disturbed grasslands, examining the role of soil inoculations in improving plant productivity in natural and agroecosystems, and identifying plant traits important in governing mycorrhizal colonization.


Ashley Finnestad, Lab Manager. I joined Dr. Cheeke’s lab in August of 2018. I’m an undergraduate biology student at Washington State University Tri-Cities. After graduation I hope to attend a program for medical laboratory science.

Screen Shot 2019-08-16 at 1.53.44 PMAustin Frewert, Master’s Student I am a M.Sc. student in the School of Biological Sciences. I am currently investigating the efficacy of mycorrhizal fungi and biochar to restore plant communities on abandoned mine sites. In 2016, I completed a B.Sc. in Environmental Biology, Minor of Microscopy at the S.U.N.Y. College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y. I have worked with several government and non-profit agencies to collect data for soil respiration, nutrient cycling, biomass and fungal diversity in the White Mountain National Forest; vegetation and Greater Sage-Grouse monitoring in the Great Basin Desert; drought and tree mortality assessment in the southwestern Sierra Nevada mountain range. I am actively pursuing a PhD focused on mycorrhizal ecology/biogeography, climate effects on fungal communities and populations and fungal genetics. If you are interested in seeing my curriculum vitae, SEM portfolio or just want to chat about ecology please contact me at austin.frewert@wsu.edu

Gunner Davies, Master’s Student I am currently looking into the tri-trophic interaction among arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, plants, and invertebrate pollinators in an ongoing tallgrass prairie restoration. I graduated Eastern Washington University in 2018 with a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Anthropology. During undergrad I completed many internships relating to restoration ecology, conservation ecology, and Limnology. However, my main interests lie in restoration ecology which led me to conduct an independent observation experiment examining the impact of invasive Phalaris arundinacea on arthropods in ephemeral wetlands in undergrad. As a graduate student I am continuing this path by studying the impacts of a novel restoration technique on local pollinators. After graduation I plan on continuing along this journey though non-academic careers. If you are curious and would like to see my resume or CV, my linked in is; https://www.linkedin.com/in/gunnerdavies/


KC Cifizzari, Master’s Student I joined the Cheeke lab in Fall 2019 shortly after graduating from Indiana University with a B.S. in Biology. My undergraduate thesis looked at plant-soil feedbacks between white clover and tomato in order to understand the agroecosystem benefits provided by rotation with cover crops in organic agricultural fields. I previously worked with Dr. Cheeke as an undergrad and look forward to pursuing an applied master’s thesis project under her advisement.

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Marcy McCall Currently I am an undergraduate biology major at Washington State University Tri-Cities. I joined Dr. Cheeke’s Soil Microbial Ecology Lab in 2019 with interests in fire ecology, restoration methods, and expanding my laboratory techniques. Because I plan to teach science at a secondary level, participation in and communication about research has been invaluable. Outside of school, I enjoy spending time with my family, motorcycling, and searching for the next music playlist.


Allison Winward I am a Murdock Grant Science Partner at WSU Tri-Cities and a biology teacher at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick. My Bachelor of Science degree is from Central Washington University, and I completed my Master of Education at the University of Washington. I believe in the positive impact of quality science education. My goals include growing my skills and experience in research science, as well as developing relevant, inquiry-based curriculum to benefit my students and colleagues. The Soil Microbial Ecology Lab provides a rich, multidisciplinary atmosphere of learning and hands-on application which I plan to replicate in my classroom.


Nicholas Sconzo I am currently an undergrad studying at Washington State University, majoring in General Biology.  I have a background in working with animals of all shapes and sizes.  I enjoying working with nature in all its forms, even the microscopic forms, so the Cheeke Lab has been a great opportunity!


Noah Nilson I’m an undergraduate student at WSU Tri-Cities pursuing my bachelor’s degree with a major in biology. I have done prior research in natural products chemistry at Columbia Basin College as well as in grape vine virology at the WSU Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. I plan to continue my education and obtain a PhD in Biochemistry so that I can pursue my own research.

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Gunnar Wickenhagen is an undergraduate biology major at Washington State University Tri-Cities. He joined the Cheeke lab in Summer 2019 to gain experience of how labs are conducted and the amount of time and effort that goes into each experiment. He seeks to further his education with a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences and hopes to conduct research focused on how to better treat cancer and/or neurodegenerative diseases.

Lab alumni

  • Javier Chavez Lara, undergraduate researcher
  • Jeannette Lilly, undergraduate researcher (Summer 2019)
  • Alea Taylor, undergraduate researcher (Summer 2019)
  • Megan Brauner, Lab manager 2018-2019. Currently a graduate student at University of Alaska, Anchorage
  • Tristan Anderson, post-baccalaureate  researcher
  • Patrick Zecchino, undergraduate researcher
  • Lupita Gomez, undergraduate researcher
  • Gerard Lomas, undergraduate researcher
  • Sabrina Sandhu, undergraduate researcher
  • Ella Krinitsyn, undergraduate researcher
  • Alifya Saify, Lab manager 2017-2018. Currently a graduate student at Northwestern University
  • Mary Schneider, undergraduate honors thesis. Currently working for The Nature Conservancy
  • Shadan Hani Abdali, undergraduate researcher
  • Bryndalyn Corey, undergraduate researcher
  • Jasmine Gonzales, undergraduate researcher
  • Catalina Yepez, undergraduate researcher