What Makes Me Texan By Nature: Estela Lopez

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  1. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Estela Lopez

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    Rio Grande River
    Exit to the Rio Grande Valley

    I never knew the impact of growing up in the Rio Grande Valley had on me until I moved away for college. had always heard the saying “you know you’re almost in the valley when you take the exit in Corpus”, but I wouldn’t understand the emotional meaning of it until I drove home for the first time and took the exit myself.

    Ring Day 2022

    I was born and raised by two of the most hard working individuals I know, Rosa Maria Lopez and Fernando Lopez, in the not so little city of McAllen,Texas. I never knew the sacrifice my parents made for me until I started sharing my story in college. My mother was born in Mexico and courageously came to the United States with a dream and a prayer. She has been the greatest role model in my life and has always encouraged of all of my dreams. My m​​other and father did not have the opportunity to attend college, and always made it a goal of theirs to have their only child attend college. They sacrificed continuing their education to provide for their family, and now that I have the ability to attend college and pursue a higher education, I dedicate everything I do for them.

    Bougainvillea Tree
    Memories in Mexico

    Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley has been a blessing. It has given me the ability to appreciate the beauty it holds even though the weather is unbearable at times. The proximity to the border and the Gulf of Mexico blesses us with an abundance of biological diversity. The true beauty of the RGV is in the people and the culture. The Tex-Mex culture has always been a defining and influential part of my life. Most of my childhood was spent traveling to Mexico to visit my mother’s side of the family. My greatest childhood memories include spending time at the ranch in Mexico with my family and eating all the delicious food I could possibly consume prepared by the locals in my grandparent’s hometown. My favorite thing to do was ride around with my grandpa in his old truck listening to corridos and looking at all the cattle and the surrounding vegetation. One of the most beautiful aspects of the ranch is a bougainvillea tree that my great-great grandfather planted for his wife, Rosa Ramirez, who I get my middle name from. This tree has survived droughts, freezes, and the hardships that ranching families face. It shows the true power and perseverance that nature has. This tree has always been so symbolic in my family because if this tree can survive anything, so can we.


    Antelope Canyon

    Traveling and discovering the beauty of nature is one of my favorite things to do. One of my favorite quotes comes from John Muir, “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees”, and I couldn’t agree more. Traveling with my family across the U.S. has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. Pictures cannot describe the awe that encompasses an individual when you see first hand the beauty that nature graces us with.

    Antelope Canyon

    My time at Texas A&M University has afforded me the ability to learn more about the great state of Texas. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, so many professors have highlighted the diversity that Texas has. Through case studies and group discussions, it’s quite evident the pride that we all hold to be Texan. Nothing gives me greater joy than to tell my story and what it means to me to be from Texas. Walking into a room knowing that growing up in Texas has given me the strength, courage, and ability to conquer anything I set my mind to, empowers me to overcome any obstacle in my way. This is what makes me proud to be Texan by Nature.














  2. Center for Health and Nature 2023 Symposium

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    Launched in 2018, the Center for Health & Nature is a partnership between Texan by Nature, Houston Methodist, and Texas A&M Health Science Center. The Health & Nature Symposium convenes friends of the center, researchers, potential funders, and donors to explore ways to advance the science of the interplay between exposure to natural environments, health and healing.

    The symposium increases awareness of the Center for Health & Nature research priorities, the current state of research in the field, and funding mechanisms available to collaborative partners of the center. Researchers can develop collaborations for innovative and meaningful research and take steps to secure funding in support of their projects.

    Agenda and Speakers

    Nature Contact and Health Promotion: From Science to Application

    Erin Largo-Wight, PhD

    Director, Institute of Environmental Research and Education (IERE)

    Professor, Department of Public Health

    University of North Florida

    The Clean Environment for Healthy Living Initiative: A Case for Environmental Justice

    Garret Sansom, DrPH, MPH

    Research Assistant Professor, School of Public Health

    Texas A&M University

    Exposure to nature and children’s health and development: Understandings from life-course research

    Dongying Li, MLA, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning

    Texas A&M University

    Exploring the Connection Between Health and Nature: Research Updates from CHN

    Omar Elsayed, MBBCh

    Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Health & Nature

    Houston Methodist Research Institute

    Morning Vision Panel

    (audio only)


    • Erin Largo-Wight, PhD, University of North Florida
    • Garret Sansom, DrPH, MPH, Texas A&M University
    • Dongying Li, PhD, MLA, Texas A&M University
    • Omar Elsayed, MBBCh, Houston Methodist Research Institute


    (not recorded)

    Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH

    Senior Vice President and Director, Land and People Lab, Trust for Public Land,

    Hagler Fellow Professor, Texas A&M University

    Beyond the Bayous for a Healthier Harris County

    Lisa Graiff

    Senior Capital Projects Manager

    Houston Parks Board

    Waterloo Greenway Overview: A Place for All

    Jesús Aguirre

    Chief Executive Officer

    Waterloo Greenway

    Using Big Data, Machine Learning, and Passive Behavioral Data Collection to Understand the Relationships between Nature and Health

    Jared Hanley

    Chief Executive Officer



    Afternoon Vision Panel 

    (audio only)


    • Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH, Hagler Fellow Professor
    • Jared Hanley, NatureQuant
    • Lisa Graiff, Houston Parks Board
    • Jesús Aguirre, Waterloo Greenway

  3. Texan by Nature’s Accelerator Program: Conservation Wrangler

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    Conservation Wrangler Program

    Conservation Wrangler is an accelerator program that catalyzes the very best Texan-led conservation projects in the state. Selected projects are research-based and demonstrate a positive return on conservation for people, prosperity, and natural resources.

    Return on Conservation: The return realized by investing in conservation encompassing positive financial, people, and natural resource impact.

    2021 Conservation Wrangler San Antonio Zoo’s Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project.

    Each year, organizations with ongoing conservation projects have the opportunity to submit Conservation Wrangler applications that are scored against a wide range of criteria with an emphasis on proven environmental, economic, and human impacts. Texan by Nature looks for applications that benefit Texans’ quality of life, economic growth, and natural resources in equal measures. Projects can focus on many natural resources such as wildlife, land, and water and be based in any Texas geography from urban to rural.

    During each program cycle, Texan by Nature selects up to six Conservation Wrangler projects to support with 18 months of program management, strategic planning, marketing messaging, metrics capture and analysis, professional content production, partnership development, and more. Each project has specific support needs and Texan by Nature develops a custom program plan with actionable goals to meet those needs and accelerate the project. 

    2018 Conservation Wrangler McDonald Observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative works to mitigate light pollution.

    Additionally, ALL Conservation Wrangler programs receive:

    • 12-18 months of tailored support
    • Recognition and certificate
    • Promotion via social media, newsletters, blogs, websites, etc.
    • Professional content production in the form of videos, collateral, and messaging
    • Program management and impact reporting
    • Monthly media roundup
    • Inclusion in partner program
    • Connections to technical, expert, and industry support
    • Recognition and participation in Texan by Nature’s annual Conservation Summit
    2022 Conservation Wrangler Hives for Heroes connects veterans to hives and beekeeping training.


    For conservation nonprofits, it is imperative to have a strong mission, vision, and strategy for conducting business. A strategic plan lays the foundation for broad organizational structure, allows a leadership team to set and keep track of measurable goals, and provides direction and guidance during the decision-making process. Additionally, a strategic plan is a great asset to share with staff and board members to ensure organization-wide alignment and prepare for growth. Refining goals, setting priorities, and creating a future plan are all ways that Texan by Nature helps our Conservation Wranglers think strategically about their project.

    • Texan by Nature acted in an advisory capacity on the Texas Children in Nature Network Strategic Plan during their participation as a Conservation Wrangler in 2020.
    • In 2022, Texan by Nature developed a comprehensive Strategic Planning framework that  allows organizations to understand all of the components that make up their strategy, empowering staff to create a plan without the need to hire an outside consulting firm. TxN is currently working with our 2022 Conservation Wranglers to develop useful strategic planning documents that aid in advancing their mission.
    2021 Conservation Wrangler Texas Children in Nature emphasizes equal access to outdoor opportunities.


    Once a project or organization develops a clear vision and goals, our focus shifts to spreading that message across the state. Texan by Nature helps Conservation Wrangler projects build out an effective marketing strategy – from determining the right way to message your intentions, to curating a list of outreach targets and developing unique deliverables. We also provide social media strategy support, Some examples of the work we have done in collaboration with our CW projects on marketing and messaging include: 

    Conservation Wrangler Videos tell the story of a project, highlight the positive impacts, and explain existing ways to support it. We provide each CW with a five-minute full-length video, as well as a 30s and 60s cut. These assets are debuted at the Conservation Summit and are then made available to the project to share on social media, send to potential donors, and post anywhere else they see fit. 


    Texan by Nature also provides each Conservation Wrangler project with a comprehensive one-pager to provide background on the project, highlight the positive impacts on people, prosperity, and natural resources, and outline existing ways to support it. This document is printed for the Conservation Summit and also provided to each project for distribution to whomever they choose.

    CW projects may require additional support in developing materials that tell the story of their work. Texan by Nature is skilled in GIS content production and able to produce high-quality project area maps, as well as detailed Story Maps that guide the audience through a series of curated maps, quotations, and photos.


    Conservation nonprofits rely heavily on fundraising efforts and sponsorship opportunities to fund their work. It takes time and relationship-building to curate a diverse network of donors and partners. Texan by Nature aids our Conservation Wranglers by advising them on how to build this network for themselves based on their unique location and mission. 

    Fundraising support conducted through the Conservation Wrangler program consists of assistance in the curation of outreach materials, lists and targets, professional content creation, strategic support and planning, and more. The Conservation Wrangler program does not provide funding to projects.

    Royal Terns in Matagorda Bay, site of 2021 Conservation Wrangler Audubon Texas’ work


    Texan by Nature’s mission is to advance conservation. We help our Conservation Wranglers by capturing and analyzing metrics, creating case studies and model expansion statements, as well as producing deliverables that align project directives with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Examples of impact measurement include: 

    • UN SDG Mapping: By aligning year-to-date and future project impacts to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Conservation Wranglers can make the business case for boots-on-the-ground conservation efforts as a vital strategy for achieving Corporate ESG goals. Additionally, the UN SDGs span across all sects of sustainability, allowing co-benefits of each unique Conservation Wrangler project to be deeply and clearly articulated. Texan by Nature uses the following resources to track the Conservation Wrangler project alignment with the UN SDG reporting framework:


    Many of our Conservation Wranglers focus on a specific species, ecoregion, or ecosystem. To achieve its goals, a project’s target audience must first have an understanding of the topic, which then creates an interest in support. Texan by Nature helps Conservation Wranglers develop educational materials that encourage greater community engagement and provide more transparency and credibility to the project. Some examples include:

    Pine warbler in Longleaf Pine.

    Since the inception of the Conservation Wrangler program in 2017, Texan by Nature has supported 23 unique projects across the state, elevating their conservation work. Through this program, TxN has accelerated efforts impacting 7+ million people, 20 million acres, and all of Texas’ 254 counties.

    Visit our website to read more about the specific impacts of each Conservation Wrangler project. 

    Please contact programs@texanbynature.org if you would like to support a Conservation Wrangler project, provide resources or connections, are interested in applying to the Conservation Wrangler program, or would like to learn more.

  4. What Makes Me Texan By Nature – Neema Mugofwa

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    By Neema Mugofwa, Texan by Nature Intern






    For me, Texas has always been home. No matter where I go, Texas is the place I’m most excited to get back to. I grew up in Cedar Park, going to feed the ducks at the Arboretum, begging for endless rides on the Zilker Zephyr, and stomping out new trails on the preserved land behind our house. Texas is the first place I learned to miss, and every time I’m away the Texas-sized well in my heart slowly empties until I return and can refill it with hours in the Texas sun.

    I went to boarding school for high school in Carpinteria, CA; a small, slow beach town that’s 15 minutes from Santa Barbara and home to the California Avocado Festival. The school was a tight-knit community on top of a hill, with mountains to the east and the ocean to the west. It was there that I went on my first backpacking trip, tended to the garden on campus, and ate honey from the hive run by the beekeeping club. Moving away from home at 14 is a pretty big step, but if Texas has taught me anything it’s that bigger is better.

    After fourteen years in the suburbs and four by the beach, my next stop had to be a city. I chose to go to school in the heart of Washington D.C.; a city so different from what I knew, but still allows me access to the dirt and fresh air I so need. I’m majoring in Environmental and Sustainability Science and minoring in Data Science with the hope that I can transfer the knowledge I gain in the classroom to give back and protect the nature that recharges me.

    We all know that everything is bigger in Texas, and I think that’s part of why I don’t shy away from big changes. Embracing the “big” is the Texas way. This doesn’t mean that we should disregard the small things. Instead, they become that much more important. Just like in nature, the big picture cannot be complete without each of its parts working together. From the bees to the trees to the humans that occupy any natural space, we all have to do our part to ensure the health and longevity of our planet. 

    Texan by Nature does just that. We embrace the big challenge of merging conservation and business by lifting up smaller initiatives that work towards a shared goal. Our mission is to make Texas more invested in conservation and sustainable development through innovation and entrepreneurship. Tackling the big by appreciating the small.

    The relationship I have with Texas is symbiotic. It has given me a home that I know well but about which I will always have more to learn, and in return, I will work to maintain the natural qualities that I, and many others, take pride in. That’s what makes me Texan by Nature.

  5. What Makes Me Texan by Nature – Kayla Gillen

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    By Kayla Gillen, Texan by Nature Intern

    Playing in the bluebonnets.

    It seems I have always reflected upon the impact that “place” has on formulating personhood and personality. I was born in Austin to parents who had moved down from the plainlands of Kansas in search of a warm and inviting place to start a family and make some memories. The earliest moments in my first home were not too out of the ordinary: running through the fountains made by sprinklers in the prime of summer, flying endlessly and weightlessly on the swingsets at the park, and the smell of sunscreen slathered on at the pool. Most of these moments were tied together by a backdrop that characterizes Texas nature: the blue skies without a single cloud, the beating sun on the asphalt, and the relief of a shady oak tree or cold spring water.

    Later on, we moved just north of Austin to the Hill Country, where houses swam in a sea of green trees and the drives were fun. Each summer, I went to camp, and despite my protests to be indoors (there always seemed to be a heat warning), I made close friends and learned about the joys of telling stories on a hike in the woods or playing on the slides in the lake. One night in Girl Scouts, we got to spend the night at a zoo, seeing nocturnal animals awake and lively. I held snakes and saw an armadillo scurry around the room. I absolutely fell in love with the wildlife of my state.

    My love for adventure both locally and globally grew as I got older. As we traveled, my parents began to take my family snorkeling, changing my life and fostering the confidence I needed to become my own explorer. I fell in love with marine life and the feeling of being underwater. I knew then that all these experiences with the environment in the background would play a large part in finding my future direction.

    Leaving Austin proved to be extremely difficult for me, as I packed my bags to move up north to Boston (and to the cold!) for college. At Northeastern University, I am studying Environmental Engineering, and hoping to minor in ecology with a focus on Marine Biology. I am interested in using technology to enhance conservation and optimize the positive effects that humans have on their surrounding world. Even in my new environment, I think about how grateful I am to have been shaped by Texas from the start. It is hard not to miss the beautiful starry night and day trips across the state that filled me with wonder and curiosity.

    This deep wonder, curiosity, and long-lasting connection to the place that I call home, is what makes me Texan by Nature.