“I know very well what it’s like to feel that it’s all barriers, and there’s no way around the barriers and the walls, and you’re just stuck,” says Dr. Vanesa Mora Ringle, whose family left Chile and lived undocumented for several years in the United States. However, she overcame these early struggles to go on to earn her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and become a U.S. citizen.
Dr. Mora Ringle came to the U.S. from Chile with her family when she was 10. They settled in Allentown where they found a supportive Latinx community. As she grew up, Dr. Mora Ringle was unsure of the educational options that would be available to her. While undocumented immigrants are given tax ID’s for taxation purposes, they do not possess a social security number, which is critical in attaining certain kinds of employment and education.
While attending William Allen High School she began taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and decided to pursue a college degree. After debating over whether she should return to Chile for school, she made the decision to stay close to home and begin her academic journey at Lehigh Carbon Community College. Upon completing her associate degree she transferred to Temple University to complete her bachelor’s degree in the school’s honors psychology program. When thinking back on her experience at LCCC she notes, “It was no different than the education I received at Temple. The level of education and effort from professors to give you well rounded exposure to the material was impressive.”
At Temple she was introduced to research and began volunteering at research labs where she discovered her passion. After graduating, Mora Ringle, who by this time had become a U.S. citizen, took a post bachelor’s research position at New York University before being accepted into a doctoral program at the University of Miami, where she earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology in August of 2020.
She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, conducting research and working in partnership with the city of Philadelphia and community mental health agencies that serve Medicaid patients and underserved minority populations within the city. She conducts research on consumer, therapist and policy strategies with the goal to increase mental health services in the community, which often lacks these resources.
“I work with various community agencies that work with the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services. For example, currently I and another psychologist provide weekly, two-hour cognitive-behavioral therapy consultation to seven therapists from PanAmerican Mental Health Clinic.”
Her interest in psychology began in high school while volunteering at a substance abuse recovery camp. Reflecting on that experience she says, “It seemed like meaningful work, and I realized that treatment can work for different people.”
But the road has not always been smooth. She knows the struggle many face. As an LCCC student, she worked full-time at a dry cleaner to help pay for schooling and scheduled classes wherever they fit into her busy work schedule. Her advice to those juggling work and school is to surround oneself with outside support. “It can’t just be all about schooling and the job,” she says. “I had other self-care outlets. I had my faith, my church, I had a community that was there for me, and that was key in getting me through that time.”
In addition to her clinical research and advocacy, she remains a mentor to those in the Latinx community, specifically immigrants and children of immigrants, who at times can be forced to lead one life at school and another at home. “I thought assimilation was the only way to get through academia and the system for a long time,” says Mora Ringle. Now, she ensures those in a similar situation will feel more empowered by conducting clinical work in Spanish. She also trains specialists to work in Spanish to better serve the Latinx community of which she is so proud. Of the Lehigh Valley, where her family still lives, she notes, “it’s encouraging to see how the Latinx community supports each other.”
Dr. Mora Ringle’s goal is two-fold, to provide care to underserved populations and to be an example of all that can be accomplished, regardless of background or barriers. She knows many students are in the same position she was in once, trying to move forward but unsure of the path available. Her message is one of perseverance, “Just keep going. You never know what door will open or what’s around the bend. It’s incredibly helpful to remain hopeful that something will work out. There are resources and ways of making it despite so many obstacles.”
(Photo courtesy Rebecca Raucci)