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.

Danielle Blanco – Program Manager, Center for Health and Nature

Danielle joined the Center for Health and Nature as the Program Manager in April 2023. She received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech and her M.A. from the University of Maryland in International Education Policy. Following her studies, Danielle served two years in the Peace Corps in Guinea, where she taught math, physics and English at a local school. Outside of teaching, she worked with village elders on malaria and Ebola prevention, and sponsored a local girl’s club, committed to continued education and empowerment. Danielle is excited to use her engineering mind and her relationship management skills to help drive research to study the impact of nature on health with evidence-based programs. Prior to joining the Center for Health and Nature team, Danielle spent several years at the Dallas Zoo, helping to promote wildlife conservation both locally and around the world. Outside of work, Danielle enjoys jigsaw puzzles and adventuring around Austin with her husband and two daughters.

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

Joni Carswell – CEO, Texan by Nature

Joni Carswell is the CEO and President of Texan by Nature where she is responsible for leading the mission to bring business and conservation together. As a proud, fourth generation Texan, Joni pairs her business strategy, engineering and technology background with her passion for Texas and the outdoors to realize Texan by Nature’s vision of bringing business and conservation together for long term, sustainable impact.

Prior to Texan by Nature, Joni was the President and CEO of LivingTree where she grew the company from 1000 to 73 million interactions and 1M+ users. Under Joni’s tenure, LivingTree was recognized with the Stevie Women in Business Gold Award for Community Involvement Program of the Year and Silver Award for Mobile App of the Year. The National School Board Association also named LivingTree to the Innovation Showcase in 2017. Before LivingTree, Joni held leadership roles in planning and strategy at Polycom and Dell where she managed three-year planning for multi-billion dollar product portfolios.

As a top graduate of the Kellogg School of Management (Masters, Business Administration) and Northwestern McCormick School of Engineering (Masters, Engineering Management), Joni is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and served on the Advisory Board for the Kellogg Women’s Business Association. Joni holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University #GoAggies! She and her husband Scott reside in Austin with their two boys, Dixon and Rigby.

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.

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.