Program Office Staff

The South Texas Area Health Education Center Program Office provides administrative, fiscal, and programmatic oversight to the five regional Centers. Under the leadership of Director Janna Lesser, the aim of the ST-AHEC Program Office so to meet the goals of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Model grant. The Program Office works with the regional offices to build region-wide network capacity and strengthen academic-community linkages.

Janna LesserJanna Lesser, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N. | South Texas AHEC Program Director

E-mail: | Phone: 210-567-0482

Janna Lesser, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., is a tenured Professor in UTHSCSA’s School of Nursing, the Director of the South Texas AHEC Program and Director of the Center for Community-Based Health Promotion with Women and Children. She has conducted community-engaged projects with individuals and communities living with a myriad of health and social inequities for over twenty years, for which she has received both internal and external funding. Dr. Lesser works with a diverse group of target populations including inner-city dwelling adolescent mothers and fathers, disenfranchised youth (including youth in the juvenile justice system), families living in predominantly Hispanic, impoverished communities, and individuals and groups living with chronic and severe mental illness.

Dr Pamela Recto headshotPamela Recto, P.h.D, R.N. | Assistant Professor

E-mail:  | Phone: 726-999-0256

Dr. Pamela Recto is an Assistant Professor for the School of Nursing at UT Health San Antonio and Assistant Director of The South Texas AHEC Program. Dr. Recto graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing and completed a postdoctoral fellowship through the Center for Research to Advance Community Health (ReACH Center). Dr. Recto’s work focuses on behavioral health, particularly in the areas of mental health and opioid use disorder. She has worked with various populations, which include Hispanic adolescent mothers and fathers, as well as pregnant women with opioid use disorder. Dr. Recto is focused on conducting community-based participatory research to address the needs of the community in South Texas. She has previously collaborated and published peer-reviewed manuscripts with Dr.Janna Lesser on community-engaged projects and is now part of the AHEC team to advance their work on population health. Dr. Recto’s hobbies include traveling and training for half marathons with her husband.

Headshot of Joe ZapataJoe Zapata, Jr., M.S.S., C.H.W. | Manager of Academic Programs

E-mail: | Phone: 210-567-0482

Joe Zapata, Jr., M.S.S., is the Manager of Academic Programs for the South Texas AHEC, office of Research Initiative. He also serves as the Texas AHEC Consortium Project Evaluator representing the ST-AHEC and as the Clinic Coordinator for the Community Health Worker Opioid Use Disorder (CHW-OUD) Project ECHO. Joe is a 2010 graduate of UT-San Antonio, in which he received his Masters of Science in Sociology degree. Joe joined the South Texas AHEC in 2015 and currently serves under Dr. Janna Lesser at the School of Nursing. Joe’s research topics of interest include health disparities, demography, social stratification, and crime and delinquency. Joe lives in San Antonio with his lovely wife, Katherine, and two children, Zoe and Luke.

Annette Zavala IdarAnnette Zavala Idar, B.B.M., C.H.W. | Business Administrator

E-mail: | Phone: 210-567-7819

Annette Zavala Idar, B.B.M., is the Business Administrator for South Texas AHEC. Annette has been with UT Health San Antonio since 2008 and started in the department of Physical Therapy as an Admissions Counselor to prospective students. She now performs administrative and financial insight into strategic planning for South Texas AHEC incorporating analysis of existing and proposed grant projects, trend analysis, and demographic forecasting.  She received her Associates in Accounting from Northwest Vista College and earned her Bachelor’s in Business Management from The University of Texas at San Antonio.  Annette was born and raised in San Antonio and enjoys attending Spurs games with her husband and two daughters.

Eduardo Gandara, DrPH, M.P.H. | Senior Research Coordinator


Dr. Eduardo Gandara, DrPH, MPH, graduated with two Bachelors degrees from Texas A&M University, and an MPH and DrPH degree from Texas A&M Health Science Center’s School of Public Health. Dr. Gandara’s research interests include connecting underserved populations to prevention-based programs as well as developing and implementing community-based interventions. In addition, Dr. Gandara is also interested in assessing the role that faith, religiosity, and spirituality influence health. Dr. Gandara is a social ecologist whose passion is underserved as well as rural communities in Texas and beyond. Within The South Texas AHEC, Dr. Gandara works with Community Health Workers and COVID-19 related initiatives.

Martha Castilla, C.H.W., C.H.W.I. | Senior Health Educator 


Ms. Castilla is the youngest of seven siblings and the first of five generations of her family to attend Edgewood schools. Ms. Castilla has lived, worshipped and worked in the Edgewood School District most of her life. Ms. Castilla worked in the health field for 23 years as a Medical Business Manager for an OB/Gyn Clinic before moving into Community Health Work.  She attended UTSA’s nonprofit management program and became the founding executive director of the Edgewood Family Network and co-founder of Heart for the Neighborhood. Ms. Castilla also co-develops the Promotores en Presencia Viva at UT Health Science Center. She has previously held community health training  and advocacy roles at the Madonna Center, The Bexar County Health Collaborative, and Texas A&M CHW Program. Currently, she is working with the South Texas Area Heath Education Center on COVID-19 education, training, and outreach projects for community members, CHWs and Promotores.

Veronica “Roni” Vela, M.A., C.H.W.I. | Program Coordinator

E-mail: | Phone: 361-881-8133

Veronica Vela is a graduate of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, earning a Master of Arts degree in Psychology.  She is a Community Health Worker as well as a Community Health Worker Instructor. She worked for several years serving her local community with the South Coastal AHEC office prior to transitioning to her current role as Program Coordinator with South Texas AHEC. She has worked with several grassroots and national organizations to address issues of environmental justice, reproductive justice, social equality, health equity, and other social justice issues. Her previous work has focused on improved outcomes for individuals with substance use disorders, underserved and rural communities, and marginalized populations.