Home 5 About HCA 5 Staff

Katherine Romans – Executive Director

HCA Director Katherine brings a decade of nonprofit and legislative experience to the Hill Country Alliance. She worked for several years as a legislative aide for the Committee on Natural Resources within the US House of Representatives, and has experience with both local and national nonprofits. More recently, Katherine served as the interim executive director for the Hill Country Alliance, and led the organization’s landowner outreach program for more than 2 years. In that role, she connected landowners within the Pedernales River Basin to technical and financial resources within the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Katherine holds a Master in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She also serves on the board of the Hill Country Land Trust.

Learn more about Katherine

Cliff Kaplan – Program Director

Cliff first joined the Hill Country Alliance to coordinate a partnership between HCA and the University of Texas that resulted in the publication of a set of regional conservation strategies. At the completion of that project, Cliff joined the HCA staff to manage regional planning and HCA’s existing Night Skies program.

Before joining HCA, Cliff worked on invasive species management in the field with the Austin Parks Foundation and the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department. He also served on a working group of Austin’s Sustainable Food Policy Board.

Cliff moved to Austin in 2012 to study natural resource planning and environmental policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the University of Texas School of Architecture, Community and Regional Planning Department. He loves the region and working here because of the kind people, rich history, and beautiful environment, and because there is always something new to learn.


Daniel Oppenheimer – Land Program Director

Daniel grew up hunting, fishing, and chasing armadillos along the Frio River in South Texas. He has a Bachelor of Arts from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Masters in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

At HCA, Daniel works with private landowners, agency and non-profit partners, and communities to enhance riparian habitat and watershed health, to foster regional collaboration and stewardship across watersheds, and to increase private land conservation in the Texas Hill Country.

Prior to joining HCA, Daniel worked for the Tamarisk Coalition, coordinating the Dolores River Restoration Partnership in southwestern Colorado and eastern Utah, and for the Nueces River Authority, implementing riparian restoration projects on the Sabinal and Nueces Rivers.


Sydney Beckner – Research and Project Manager

Sydney was born and raised in East Texas. She left the beautiful Piney Woods to obtain a B.S. in Environmental Geoscience and a Masters in Geography from Texas A&M University. Her passion for water resources was sparked during her Master’s project which centered on understanding stakeholder perspectives on the Vista Ridge Pipeline, a groundwater transfer project from Central Texas to San Antonio.

Prior to joining HCA in 2021, Sydney worked for the Texas Water Resources Institute and has experience engaging with community members to understand the challenges they face when it comes to water. She is eager to foster water stewardship in the Hill Country and increase awareness of water issues to protect the area’s beautifully unique springs and rivers.

In her free time, Sydney enjoys gardening, camping and hiking with her dog, Caddo.


Dawn Davies – Night Sky Program Manager

Dawn brings over a decade of astronomy outreach and dark sky preservation experience to Hill Country Alliance as the Night Sky Program Coordinator. Before joining HCA, she served on the board of the Austin Astronomical Society and as a volunteer advocate for the International Dark-Sky Association. A dedication to education and accessibility led her to become an ambassador for the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassador Program and the International Astronomical Union.

A native of San Francisco, Dawn spent a large portion of her youth outdoors, camping, hiking, and attending astronomy events. By high school, she was speaking at local schools about the fundamentals of space science. These passions led to a degree in Culture, Ecology & Sustainability from New College of California. Working with HCA, she hopes to bring to the forefront the importance dark sky preservation plays in the everyday lives of animals, plants, and us.

Dawn and her husband moved to Austin in 2006, where they live with their son, two dogs, and a cat. Outside of work, she enjoys camping in the Hill Country, kayaking the Highland Lakes, and of course, amateur astronomy.


John Rooney – Texas Hill Country Conservation Network Manager

Born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, John got to Texas as fast as he could, left, and upon realizing his mistake moved back at the beginning of 2015. Exploring the Hill Country has been a special part of his time here ever since.

In his role at the Hill Country Alliance, John manages the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network, where he works with a broad range of stakeholders to maximize the collective impact of land and water conservation in the Hill Country. Prior to HCA, John worked at Austin Parks Foundation where he managed the organizations advocacy efforts and supported neighborhood groups in making improvements to parks and trails around the city.

In his free time, John moonlights as a saxophonist in the Austin-based bands Slow Cooked and Ex Romantika and tries to do his part to keep Austin weird.


Chanee Carlson – Director of Philanthropy

Chanee is a native Texan who grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and is a graduate of Texas A&M University. Although she holds her degree in Sport Management, Chanee always had a strong passion for giving back and impacting the lives of others and her community.  She has worked in various non-profit organizations over the past 15 years and most recently served as the Director of Development for Concordia University Texas. Before her time at Concordia, Chanee worked on the development team at The Association of Former Students at Texas A&M and helped oversee the Annual Fund for the University.

When Chanee moved to Cedar Park in 2017, one of the first things she started doing was exploring the Hill Country. She enjoys going on hikes with her son and seeing all that this charming area has to offer. She can usually be found watching her son play football or baseball and enjoying a beautiful Texas sunset in her spare time.


Leah Cuddeback – Storytelling and Public Engagement Manager

After a childhood spent visiting grandparents in Wimberley, Leah left her hometown in Southern Illinois to pursue a B.S. in Wildlife Biology at Texas State University. She has spent nearly a decade in science education at the Saint Louis Zoo, El Ranchito at The Shield Ranch, and The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. Leah joined the Hill Country Alliance in October of 2018 and stepped into a full-time role as the Storytelling and Public Engagement Manager in the summer of 2021.

At HCA, Leah manages the website, social media accounts, and newsletter as well as occasional community events and projects like HCA’s annual photo contest and Texas Hill Country Calendar. Leah is most passionate about inspiring others to protect the natural resources and scenic beauty that originally drew her to Texas.


Sheila Holt – Office Manager

Sheila started working for HCA in July of 2014. Sheila brings extensive business and accounting expertise to her role as administrative assistant, and the position with HCA provided her a chance to work with professionals who have a mission she shares – to preserve and protect the area she loves and lives in.

Prior to her position at HCA Sheila owned and operated Overhead Door Company of Austin, which she sold in 2011.  Prior to this position she owned and operated retail stores.

Sheila manages HCA’s financials, payroll and office administration. She and her husband have lived at Canyon Lake for 32 years, where they raised one son.


Dominic Troiani

Dominic grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and is a senior at St. Edward’s studying Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in Biology.

In the past he worked at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Rescue Center in Port Isabel, and Wild Basin Creative Research Center in Austin. He currently works as a TA with Dr. Amy Concilio, teaching a Texas Ecology course and is graduating in May 2022.