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Meet the Team

Staff smile into the sun at June 2024 summer staff retreat in Blanco. Staff pictured left to right – Top row: Ivan, Daniel, Grace, Cliff, Katherine, Sydney; Bottom Row: Sheila, Chanee, Josh, Angela, Leah, Rachel, Marisa, and Dawn.

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. 

Learn more about Katherine

Cliff Kaplan – Program Director

Cliff first worked with the Hill Country Alliance in 2015 to coordinate a partnership between HCA and the University of Texas that resulted in the publication of a set of proposed regional conservation strategies. At the completion of that project, Cliff joined the HCA staff as a program manager. He now supports HCA’s Water, Night Skies, and Communities programs. He also co-chairs the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Committee of the Texas Hill Country Conservation Network and serves as secretary of the Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining (TRAM) coalition. He is a founding board member of the Comal County Conservation Alliance and the Friends of Lost Maples.

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. Cliff holds masters degrees in Community and Regional Planning and Public Affairs from the University of Texas at Austin.


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.


Chanee Carlson – Director of Philanthropy

Chanee 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.


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.

Originally from 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.


Marisa Bruno – Water Program Manager

Marisa joined the Hill Country Alliance as Water Program Manager in 2022. She completed a Master of Environmental Management at the Yale School of the Environment, where she specialized in water resource management and policy. Her graduate research focused on Texas groundwater management and community water planning.

Marisa became passionate about Texas water while working for the Texas Water Foundation as a program strategist. Prior to working in Texas, Marisa worked as a Venture for America Fellow, helping small businesses scale and create jobs in their communities.


Josh Sendejar – Texas Hill Country Conservation Network Manager

Josh was born and raised in Corpus Christi, where the coast inspired a lifelong love of nature. After earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Environmental Science, Josh began his career in environmental education at the Coastal Bend Bays and Estuaries Program before moving to Austin and starting work for the Texas Water Development Board.

While with TWDB, Josh coordinated the efforts of the Water Conservation Advisory Council – working with a variety of stakeholders to progress water conservation across the state of Texas. Josh joined the HCA team in the fall of 2022, bringing his knowledge of water conservation and collaboration to the Hill Country as the new Texas Hill Country Conservation Network Manager.


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 over a decade working in science and environmental education for various nonprofits such as The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, El Ranchito at Shield Ranch, and the Saint Louis Zoo. 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 oversees the website, social media accounts, and newsletter and helps to manage the Hill Country Leadership Institute. In her free time, she enjoys bicycling, hiking, cats, and volunteering on the Wimberley Parks Board. She loves getting out into the Hill Country and is most passionate about inspiring others to protect the natural resources and scenic beauty that draw so many to Texas.


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, crafting, and dangling toys in front of her cats.


Rachel Seets – Landowner Outreach and Stewardship Manager

Rachel is from Fort Worth with a Master’s in Biology from Texas State University. During her graduate studies, Rachel focused her coursework on Natural Resource Management and completed a thesis on outdoor education. She is passionate about engaging communities in experiential learning and environmental stewardship.

Prior to her master’s degree, Rachel worked on the education team at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, who hosted a wide range of participants in nature-based educational programming. She and her husband are outdoor enthusiasts and spend their free time hiking, camping, and backpacking in the area.


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.


Grace Gilker – Communities Program Manager

Grace grew up in Dallas and got to the Hill Country as fast as she could. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors of Arts in History and Plan II, she spent a decade building outreach programs in corporate, political, and nonprofit spaces.

Grace joined HCA in the spring of 2024, and manages the Communities Program which engages and serves as a resource for communities across the region, facilitates the Hill Country Leadership Institute, coordinates the Leading in the Rural Hill Country series, and connects leaders to Hill Country-specific policy resources.

Prior to HCA, she served as the Net Zero Liaison for Texas Water Trade, developing a comprehensive toolkit introducing Texas developers to onsite water reuse systems and resources. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, cooking, lichenology, and two stepping.


Ivan Naranjo – Summer Intern – Communities Program

Ivan is a 3rd year J.D. candidate, graduating from the Texas Tech School of Law in May 2025. He is a Hill Country native from Austin, Texas, and received a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020.

Ivan has always had a passion for local government and land use. Before interning with the Hill Country Alliance, Ivan further expanded his knowledge in municipal law in a clerkship at the Bojorquez Law Firm in Austin, Texas in the summer of 2023. Following this experience, he wrote his student comment for the Texas Tech Law Review, I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This: The Resistance Against “Death Star” State Preemption, about recent Texas legislation relating to state preemption.

At the Hill Country Alliance, Ivan works with the Communities Program to look for new policy solutions and ways to strengthen municipal ordinances. In his free time, he enjoys playing the drums, running, and swimming.


Angela Enriquez – Kent Butler Summer Intern

Angela grew up in San Antonio and fell in love with the city’s environmental stewardship, particularly the protection of the Edwards Aquifer. Passionate about environmentalism, she pursued geography and sustainability studies at the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in the spring of 2023. Following graduation, she returned to UT to get her master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning.

Angela joined HCA in the summer of 2024, focusing on water policy and planning issues. She researches the implementation of and barriers to adopting One Water technologies in the Hill Country Region.

Before joining HCA, Angela worked on waste diversion at UT Resource Recovery, where she created signage, presentations, and videos to promote diverting larger items like furniture from landfills. She also interned at Public Citizen, engaging in environmental policy and advocacy around energy issues in Texas. Additionally, she made public comments at council meetings, providing informed recommendations based on research and stakeholder perspectives to guide decisions on energy and utilities.