Our Grad Students

Learn more about this year's Biology graduate students.


Allison Ammons

Allison Ammons

Allison graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2019 with a BS in Biological Sciences. While completing her undergraduate degree, Alllison had the opportunity to teach and connect with freshman Biology students as a TA. Additionally, she was able to perform Microbial Ecology research under Dr. Lisa Nigro at the University of West Florida in the Summer of 2018. Allison began her graduate work at UWF in Fall of 2019.

Alexis Cole

Alexis Cole

Alexis is currently a non-thesis student at UWF. She graduated from Emory University in 2018 with a B.S. in Human Health, minor in Spanish, and a concentration in pre-medicine. While finishing her undergraduate degree, she began working in a clinical research lab studying the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Procedure. Her graduate research at UWF focuses on Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria that harbor the coagulase virulence factor. She currently serves as an Instructor of Biology I and Anatomy and Physiology Labs

Carrie Daniel

Carrie Daniel

Carrie graduated from the University of West Florida in 2018 with a BS in Marine Biology. Before completing her undergraduate degree, she performed research with CEBD. She plans to spend her time in graduate school performing research on Microbial Ecology with the Waidner Lab.

Morgan Dubois

Morgan Dubois

Morgan is originally from Colorado by way of St. Olaf College in Minnesota for her undergraduate degree. She works in the Piacenza Lab studying the dispersal of hatchling Sea Turtles and Sea Turtle Conservation. She is passionate about Biodiversity Conservation and using research to inform management of species.

Tayler Francher

Tayler Fancher

Tayler graduated from the University of Alabama in 2018 with a B.S. in Marine Science and Biology. While completing her undergraduate degree, she had the opportunity to work on a tide pool ecology project in Xpu Ha, Mexico. Now, Tayler is working on the effects of temperature and salinity on the metabolic rates of juvenile Red Drum in the Bennett lab.

Tristyn Garza

Tristyn Garza

Tristyn graduated from the University of West Florida and began working in the Janosik Lab in Summer of 2017 with a focus in microplastic pollution. Tristyn is working with samples from the Great Lakes to Antarctic identifying and categorizing microplastics. Her work in the Great Lakes was recently published in Limnologica. She has also worked with environmental-DNA (e-DNA) to identify local habitats of the Reticulated Flatwood Salamander. This is Tristyn’s first year as a graduate student and is excited to work in her thesis and teaching (TA) for the Biology Department.

Juliana Giraldo

Juliana Giraldo

Juliana is an international student from Columbia. During her undergrad, she volunteered at FWRI in St. Pete and was part of the Harmful Algae Bloom’s Lab. She arrived in the Janosik Lab in 2015 and in 2017 worked on a research project that investigated the Biodiversity of Snapping Shrimp in Artificial Reefs. After graduating in 2018, she was an intern at the Mote Marine Lab as part of the Ocean Acidification Lab. Her graduate research in the Janosik Lab will focus on using environmental DNA to describe fish communities.

Erika Nast

Erika Headrick

Erika is a graduate student in the Jeffrey Lab. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of West Florida where she worked in the microbiology labs preparing media for undergraduate classes. Working within the scope of microbiology Erika developed an interest in the possibility of life on other celestial bodies and life in extreme environments. For the past two and a half years, Erika has studied organisms associated with crude oil and UV exposure. Erika has also participated in research in the Atacama Desert, studying hot springs in high UV environments. She has presented her research at ASLo and GoMRI meetings and hopes to pursue a career within the scope of Astrobiology or Computational Biology.

Melissa Hebert

Melissa Hebert

Melissa began her undergraduate journey at the University of Central Florida, but made the move to UWF in 2015 to study Marine Biology. While finishing her undergraduate degree, she began working in a lab where she assisted grad students in conducting their thesis work on multiple paternity. Her graduate research in the Janosik Lab at UWF focuses on using environmental DNA metabarcoding to characterize elasmobranch communities in lower salinity habitats

Jenna King

Jenna King

Jenna began her graduate research in the Janosik Lab in the Fall of 2018 after completing her undergraduate degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at Oregon State University. Through an internship and continued volunteer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, she has had the opportunity to work on many different projects involving various endangered species, including Flatwoods salamanders, Gulf sturgeon, beach mice, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Her research in the Janosik lab uses molecular tools to investigate the genetic diversity of the endangered Alabama sturgeon from eDNA samples of the Alabama River System.

Tyler Lawrence

Tyler Lawrence

Tyler is a graduate student in the Bennett Lab. He recently graduated from Kent State University with a B.S. in Zoology. Tyler worked jobs involving teaching at both the Akron Zoo and the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, where he also solidified his love of all things involving animals and education. He also worked as an animal husbandry technician at the Cleveland Clinic, where he gained valuable research experience. Tyler has a particular interest in predators.

Evin Magner

Evin Magner

Evin is a graduate student working in the Taylor Lab. His current research is investigating the role of MIcroRNA, Mir-18ns role in photo receptor regeneration in injured eyes. When not in the lab, Evin enjoys tinkering with DIY projects, kayaking the Emerald Coast and traveling the world with his girlfriend and intrepid dog.

Alex Morris

Alexandra (Alex) Morris

Alex graduated from American University in 2018 with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Biochemistry. She worked in a Marine Ecology Lab during her time at Au, studying population genetics of seagrass in the Northern Mariana Islands. She has also been a part of an elasmobranch population study in Dunedin, Florida with the Coastal Marine Education and Research Academy since 2017. She is currently in the Bennett Lab at UWF working on thermal acclimation dynamics of Atlantic stingrays and Little skates

Mina Motaheveri

Mina Motakhaveri

Mina graduated from the University of South Alabama in Mobile in 2018 with a degree in Psychology.  While an undergrad, she volunteered in the research labs of the Mitchell Cancer Institute and is a non-thesis student working on projects at UWF with Dr. Masik and Dr. Taylor which focuses on antibiotic compounds and holistic remedies for inflammation.  She has experience as a TA in the Microbiology Lab and in Biology II Labs and is now IOR for Microbiology.

Christopher Noren

Christopher Noren

Christopher graduated from the University of Oregon in 2010 with a BS in Marine Biology. After graduation, he began work as a traveling Marine “BioBum” following seasonal biology jobs. The jobs ranged from fishery surveys along the coast of Alaska and Canada to Marine Megafauna dive surveys in Mozambique. His research in the Piacenza Lab at UWF involves obtaining in-water non-invasive data on sea turtles utilizing stereo-video camera technology.

Trupti Potdukhe

Trupti Podukhe

Trupti graduated from Benedictine University with a BS in Environmental Science and May 2019. She grew interested in Marine Biology after a field research trip to the Bahamas where she studied the population of iguanas on Gaulin Cay. She currently does research in the Waidner lab with a focus on Microbial Ecology.

Zoe Porter

Zoe Porter

Zoe graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Zoology. Before completing her degree, she worked as an undergraduate research assistant for an entomology and plant pathologist, involving project related to genetically modified crops and pest/drought resistance. After working at a non-profit medical as a lab animal tech for a few years, she decided to pursue her passion for wildlife and ecology. She is currently working on her thesis in the Bennett Lab that focuses on thermal biology of elasmobranch fish. She also works on other lab projects relating to ecological physiology by combining various lab and field techniques.

Jack Prior

Jack Prior

Jack is working on  his thesis in the Janosik Lab by studying the effects of microplastic exposure on planktonic shrimp DNA. Outside of the Lab, Jack has taught classes from Biology of Coral Reefs to Biology II Labs. Jack has volunteered on NOAA Fisheries Ships and he spends extra time helping out with herpetology and waterfowl surveys.

Emily Robbs

Emily Robbs

Emily graduated from Auburn University of Montgomery in 2017 with a B.S. in General Biology. While completing her undergraduate degree, she began research on spermatogenesis defective genes in Caenorhabditis elegans, as well as acting as an undergraduate TA for the genetics learning lab. After graduating, she moved to South Korea for a year before returning to work for the Entomology Department at the UF/IFAS Extension in Jay, Florida. Emily is now studying the effects of microplastics on oxidative stress reactions in Coquina Clams in the Cavnar Lab. She lives in Mary Esther with her husband and two dogs. She enjoys gardening, microbrewing, and playing video games.

Tabitha Siegfried

Tabitha Siegfried

Tabitha is originally from Warrensburg, Missouri where she began her degree studying biology at the University of Central Missouri. She transferred to UWF to study Marine Biology during her junior year. Tabitha entered the graduate program at UWF in the Fall of 2018. Her graduate research in the Piacenza Lab focuses on developing the methodology for using underwater stereo-video camera to obtain length measurement data on local sea turtles in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

Ari Simmering

Arianna (Ari) Simmering

Ari is a graduate student in the Jeffrey Lab, with a B.S. in Biology of UWF. She has conducted microbial ecological research in the Gulf of Mexico, at Pensacola beach, and along the Antarctic Peninsula. Ari has a passion for informatics and big data management, using techniques from the Strategies and Techniques for Analyzing Microbial Population Structures (STAMPS) program through the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory in her UWF thesis research

Abby Tatum

Abby Tatum

Abby graduated from Freed-Hardeman University in 2019 with a B.S. in Biology focused in environmental science. She has worked with the Tennessee Herpetological Society for three years studying freshwater turtles and their food preferences. She is currently working on her thesis in the Bennett Lab on the thermal tolerance of red-eared sliders at UWF.

Alex Vidal

Alexander Vidal

Alex graduated from the University of Maryland in 2016 with a BS in Ecology and Evolution. He was part of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Seaduck Program for several years before and after graduating. Alex has also held positions working on several projects for GA DNR, USFWS and USGS. These projects have mostly focused on Avian and Coastal Ecology spanning several species from raptors and seabirds to Sea Turtles. His research in the Piacenza Lab at UWF is focusing on sea turtle ecology and satellite  transmitter design.

Shaina Villalobos

Shaina Villalobos

Shaina began her studies at UWF in 2018 in Bennett’s Lab. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed two prestigious NSF REV internships at UC Santa Cruz and the California Academy of Sciences as well as published a paper on Mesophotic Reefs for the United Nations Environmental Program. She also studied cetaceans, pinnipeds, elasmobranch and other fish during a study abroad in the Galapagos Archipelago. After graduation, Shaina interned in Panama with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and shortly thereafter began her Masters at UWF. She recently returned from a research expedition to a remote island in Indonesia where she studied thermal eco-physiology on square tail mullet with the Bennett Lab. Shaina’s primary research interests lie in the fields of Marine Ecology and Evolution, especially that of Marine fish, reptiles and birds.

Grayson Watson

Grayson Watson

Grayson completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Arlington with a B.S. in BIology. Upon completion, he interned with the Katy Prairie Conservancy in Houston, Texas before being offered a job as a volunteer coordinator and land steward, and gaining a year of in-the-field experience. He has not yet decided on a specific research topic for this thesis in the Pomory Lab, but his interests include marine invertebrate biology and conservation. Grayson enjoys recreational diving, traveling, and indulging in new experiences. His favorite animal is the anglerfish and he hopes to one day have the opportunity to explore the deep sea.

Sheridan Wilkinson

Sheridan Wilkinson

Sheridan is a native of Pensacola and has loved the ocean her entire life. She transferred to UWF form Pensacola State College where she was dual-enrolled while in high school during Fall 2014. She began work in the Janosik Lab Fall of 2015 and as an undergrad, she investigated the Phylogeography of a small clam, Donax variabilis, which is found along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. In May of 2017, she graduated with her BS in Marine Biology and entered into the Master’s Program in January 2018. Her graduate research in the Janosik Lab focuses on investigating the epigenetic effects of microplastic exposure on Blue Gill epithelial cells.

Michael Winegar

Michael Winegar

Michael graduated from Weber State University with his BS in Zoology in Ogden, Utah. He has worked on multiple research projects in tracking behaviors of wildlife along the Bonneville Shoreline for the school and for a wildlife refuge center. Michael completed a summer internship for the Department of Natural Resources at Antelope Island State Park. At the park, he assisted in multiple jobs and help prepare for the annual bison roundup. Michael has visited many beaches and found a keen interest in marine life studying multiple behaviors of ocean creatures in the Pomory Lab and sharing that with others so we may better understand the environment around us.