Center Staff

Jay Maddock, PhD, FAAHB – Director, Center for Health & Nature

Jay Maddock is professor of environmental and occupational health at Texas A&M University. He is internationally recognized for his research in social ecological approaches to increasing physical activity. Dr. Maddock serves as the senior academic advisor for the President George H.W. Bush China-US Relations Foundation and serves on the board of directors for the Texas Health Institute and the Well-Connected Communities Initiative. His research has been featured in several national media outlets including The Today Show, Eating Well, Prevention, and Good Housekeeping.

Bita Kash, PhD, MBA, FACHE – Co-Director, Center for Health & Nature

Bita Kash serves as the co-director for the Center of Health & Nature, which is a partnership between Houston Methodist, Texas A&M University and Texan by Nature. The Center conducts research in three key areas: nature in preventative medicine, the health role of nature in urban environments, and nature-based intervention for disease management. The Center’s Research Innovation Fund supports multi-institutional pilot projects that bring together leading experts to tackle key questions in the field of health and nature with evidence we can use to inform health policy and conservation strategies. Dr. Kash also served as the director of the Center of Outcomes Research at the Houston Methodist Research Institute until summer 2022. Dr. Kash’s background includes a professorship of health policy and management at Texas A&M University and co-director of a seven-university National Science Foundation (NSF) funded industry-university cooperative research center, the Center for Health Organization Transformation (CHOT). Dr. Kash conducts research to support the implementation of evidence-based transformational strategies within healthcare organizations. She is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and an active member of Academy Health, the Gerontological Society of America, and Academy of Management. Dr. Kash’s research in the areas of perioperative care coordination and the effective use of health information exchanges has resulted in several publications in top-tier health services and policy journals, featured in the NSF’s “Industry-Nominated Technology Breakthroughs of NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC)” 2016 report, as well as Politico and other media. Finally, as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Healthcare Management (JHM), Dr. Kash lead the most recognized peer-reviewed journal in the field of healthcare management from 2014-2017.

External Advisory Board

Houston Methodist

Rebecca Hall, PhD – Vice President, Strategy and Academic Affairs

Dr. Rebecca Hall is Vice President, Strategy and Academic Affairs for Houston Methodist. Dr. Hall is responsible for executive and academic communications and marketing, faculty networking, and academic strategic plan and research development. Hall received her BS in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her PhD in Immunology from Baylor College of Medicine. She was Assistant Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine and is an Aspen Cancer Conference Fellow. Hall received the Theodore T. Puck Award for Cancer Research for her work on molecular cancer diagnostics. She is a member of the National Organization of Research Development Professionals, the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Development, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hall joined Houston Methodist in 2010 to lead its communications and external relations office for the Academic Institute, overseeing communications, marketing and academic development.

Robert E. Jackson, MD, MACP – Clinical Professor of Medicine

Robert E. Jackson, completed his internal medicine residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and has been in private practice at the Texas Medical Center for over 30 years. Dr. Jackson is a professor of medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College. He is a clinical associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine and has received the Outstanding Clinical Faculty Award from Baylor twice during his teaching career. Dr. Jackson continues to be involved in education, research and patient care as well as quality integration for large physician groups and hospitals. Dr. Jackson currently serves as chair of the Continuing Medical Education Committee and the Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital. Dr. Jackson highly values education and mentoring young medical students and residents as they advance through their careers. With close collaboration with Cynthia Pickett-Stevenson, he helped spearhead the Center for Health & Nature initiatives.

Texan by Nature 

Cynthia Pickett-Stevenson, JD – Vice Chair, Texan by Nature, Co-Chair, DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center Advisory Council, Houston Methodist

Cynthia Pickett-Stevenson is a fourth-generation Houstonian and a practicing attorney with over 36 years of experience. She is a longtime board member and former chair of the Galveston Bay Foundation. She serves as a director and co-vice chair of the Lone Star Coastal Alliance Board focused on securing a federal congressional designation known as the Loan Star Coastal National Recreation Area for the upper Texas coastal counties. Cynthia is also director of the Center for Excellence in Education, established by the late Admiral Rickover and Joann DiGennaro, co-chair of the Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation, is on the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center council, and is a senior cabinet member of the Houston Methodist President’s Leadership Council.

Amy Snelgrove – Project Manager

Amy joined Texan by Nature in February 2017 as a project manager. She brings 25 years of experience working on natural resource and endangered species issues to Texan by Nature where her primary role has been facilitating the organization’s monarch and pollinator projects. She also provides geospatial analysis and mapping support for TxN efforts. Before joining Texan by Nature, she led the geospatial and information technology resources team within the Natural Resource Institute at Texas A&M University where she worked with an interdisciplinary team of researchers focused on high-profile, state, regional, and national conservation issues. Amy has a B.S. in Urban Forestry and an M.S. in Forestry with a Geographic Information Systems emphasis from Texas A&M University.

Texas A&M University 

Shawn Gibbs, PhD, MBA, CIH – Dean, School of Public Health, Texas A&M University

Shawn Gibbs is the Dean of the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. Shawn has over a hundred articles in industrial hygiene and environmental exposure assessment, focusing on disrupting transmission of highly infectious diseases. He is a Member of USEPA Board of Scientific Counselors for Homeland Security. He was a U.S. Faculty Fulbright Scholar to Egypt and has been PI of three Fulbright Junior Faculty Development Programs (Egypt and Libya). His research helped to determine national policies, procedure, and best practices for response to Ebola virus disease, COVID-19, and other highly infectious diseases. Shawn has held roles in organizations, such as National Ebola Training and Education Center, Hispanic Health Disparities Research Center, NIOSH funded Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, and Director of Research for the CDC/DHHS funded Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. Shawn is heavily involved in national worker training programs in Hazardous Materials Disaster Preparedness Training and Hazardous Waste Worker Training. He is a national leader in the research, training, and policy related to national and international responses to highly infectious disease outbreaks, including developing procedures for aeromedical evacuation isolation.

Jorge Vanegas, PhD – Director of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, Texas A&M University

Jorge A. Vanegas, Ph.D., serves currently as Director of the Institute for Sustainable Communities at Texas A&M University (TAMU); Professor in the Department of Architecture (ARCH) in the COA; Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in the College of Engineering (COE) at TAMU, with a courtesy appointment; and Research Professor in the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) of the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), with a courtesy appointment. Since 1988, Dr. Vanegas has focused his scholarly and professional activities, among others, primarily on: implementing built environment sustainability at urban, peri-urban, and rural scales, as well as within communities, civil infrastructure systems, and residential and non-residential facilities; applying creative, innovative, design, entrepreneurial, and digital thinking, fueled by curiosity and imagination, within transdisciplinary, transinstitutional, and transnational collaborative environments; and advancing capital asset delivery and management in the Architecture-Engineering-Construction (AEC) industry through integrated strategies, tools, and methods. After serving as interim dean of the COA in 2008, he was appointed dean by the Board of Regents of the TAMUS in 2009 and completed his third term in 2022. In addition, he has served as a technical advisor and a regular contributor to different academic institutions and A/E/C organizations and companies, both in the U.S. and internationally; and member of multiple boards of directors or advisors for several research and education centers. In recognition of his research, teaching, and service scholarly accomplishments, Dr. Vanegas has received throughout his academic and professional career national and international recognition and awards, including: being inducted as a member of the National Academy of Construction (NAC), in 2018; and being inducted in the Pan American Academy of Engineering (PAAE), in 2010, and currently serving as President from Fall 2020 to Fall 2022. In addition, he also has been the recipient of the Achievement Award of the Engineering and Construction Contractors (ECC), in 2010; a STAR Award for Superior Technical Achievements from the FIATECH Consortium, in 2007; the Educator of the Year Award from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), in 2001; the first Outstanding Instructor Award from the Construction Industry Institute (CII), in 1995; and a National Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), in 1992. A registered architect in Colombia, Dr. Vanegas holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, as well as Master of Science and Doctorate degrees in Construction Engineering and Management from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, California.