Hispanic Neuropsychological Society Recognizes Alumna Johanna Rengifo, PhD

November 21, 2021
Johanna Rengifo
Johanna Rengifo, PhD, a 2015 graduate of the PhD in Clinical Psychology program, received the 2021 Mentoring in Cultural Neuropsychology Award from the Hispanic Neuropsychological Society. The award “recognizes a neuropsychologist who has made significant contributions to the development of students, trainees, and/or junior colleagues.” 
 
Dr. Rengifo is currently a clinical neuropsychologist at the UC Davis Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, as well as  a clinical neuropsychologist at San Francisco Neuropsychology (SFN), PC, where she supervises three practicum students and one postdoctoral fellow.
 
She has been involved with the Hispanic Neuropsychological Society (HNS) since she was a student at PAU, when PAU professor. Alinne Barrera introduced her to the organization. From 2016-2017, she was the HNS student delegate to the Board of Directors, and co-chaired the Society's annual scientific conference held in Boston, MA in 2016. 
 
At PAU, she was the co-founder of the Palo Alto University Latino Student Organization (PULSO), along with Dr. Paula Alvarez. Last year, Dr. Rengifo returned (virtually) for a mentorship event hosted by PULSO and the Latinx Task Force.
 
The Mentoring in Cultural Neuropsychology Award recognizes her strong history of multicultural neuropsychology mentorship. She supervises students and recent graduates in the SFN program, but also informally mentors other HNS students that she once supervised in Miami when she was a postdoctoral fellow.
 
“I feel incredibly humbled,” Dr. Rengifo said. The process seems to have come full circle. “The awardees in the last two years are mentors of mine - Dr. Tedd Judd and Dr. Cristine Salinas. They, and so many other senior HNS members (i.e., Dr. Xavier Cagigas, Dr. Paola Suarez, Dr. Katrina Belen, Dr. Dave Lechuga, Dr. Delia Silva, and Dr. Shelley Peery), have generously given their time to mentor me since graduate school, and I simply see this now as my opportunity to pay it forward.”
 
Dr. Rengifo   describes a lineage of mentors, from her own mentors who enabled her to pursue a career in psychology to her mentees who are “holding the door open” for others. 
 
“There is nothing more rewarding than being able to support up and coming students in the same way I was supported, and to now see them paying it forward as well,” she said. “My students have gone on to pursue internships and postdoctoral fellowships in neuropsychology in areas where they can utilize their gender, ethnic and linguistic diversity to better serve diverse patients. Our training challenges students to step outside their comfort zones and conduct neuropsychological evaluations with patients that speak many different languages (e.g., Tagalog, Russian, Vietnamese, Chinese) with the aid of a medical interpreter. This kind of training helps bridge the gap in access, and I am very proud of the work that my students have continued to do after finishing at SFN.”
 
Dr. Rengifo is almost more eager to talk about her mentees than herself. “I am deeply proud to share that one of my postdoctoral fellows, Dr. Sara Mason, founded the Queer Neuropsychological Society (QNS) while she was a postdoctoral fellow with us, and QNS has now become a leading organization in the field of neuropsychology.”
 
Dr. Mason submitted a letter of support to HNS on behalf of Dr. Rengifo. She describes a committed mentor, ally, and colleague: “Dr. Rengifo’s mentorship was not limited to our clinical work, as her passion for fighting health care disparities within the field inspired me to do the same. I was familiar with Dr. Rengifo’s involvement in the Hispanic Neuropsychological Society (HNS), and about one year into our work together, I came to her with the idea of starting a similar society dedicated toward advancing accessible neuropsychological services for the LGBTQIA+ community. It was her enthusiastic support of the idea that convinced me of its viability and gave me the confidence to move forward. She connected me with leaders of HNS and the Asian Neuropsychological Association (ANA) and continuously checked in on my progress, never letting me give up on the idea. With her support, I recruited my fellow post-doctoral resident to join me in founding the organization, and we officially launched the Queer Neuropsychological Society (QNS). Dr. Rengifo remains one of our most ardent supporters and graciously continues to be a valued consultant.”
 
Mentorship is an asset, and support system, for any professional. For first generation college students, minoritized communities, or those unfamiliar with the vast career options in psychology, mentorship is an invaluable tool. 
 
Dr. Rengifo said, “Mentorship is what enabled me to pursue a career in neuropsychology. Coming from a family with no background in higher education, it was difficult for me to know which specialty areas of psychology to pursue and/or what I would be good at. The mentorship I received allowed me to see possibilities in a career unfamiliar to me.”
 
But mentorship is not just beneficial for the clinician, she says. “The Latino population in the U.S. is growing rapidly. It is estimated that by 2050, Latinos will constitute 30 percent of the U.S. population. In 2014, Latinos became the majority in California. More Mexicans live in Los Angeles than any other city in the world except for Mexico City. The need for linguistically and multiculturally competent psychologists and neuropsychologists cannot be understated. Yet, we still have a dire pipeline issue with many Latino students not pursuing higher education. Mentorship is key to help bridge these gaps.”
 
The need for, and benefits of, mentorship are significant, Dr. Rengifo says. “Students need to experience firsthand that someone that looks like them, talks like them, and has a similar sociocultural background is able to achieve graduate level education and create a meaningful career. Mentorship helps students learn about what is expected at the graduate level and what are the steps needed to achieve success. When black and brown students do not have direct examples in their families, pursuing higher education and a career in specializations like neuropsychology can seem like a complete enigma and unattainable. Mentors help students see possibilities, where it appears possibilities do not exist.”
 
Luis Efren Aguilar, a doctoral student and mentee of Dr. Rengifo’s elaborated, writing in his nomination letter: “Knowing that I did not come from a traditional graduate program that offers a neuropsychology track, Dr. Rengifo encouraged and helped me to obtain additional training experiences, including suggesting National Academy of Neuropsychology online courses and participating in neuropsychology trainings and didactics offered by USCF and UCSD. Her mentorship as a clinical supervisor has undoubtedly influenced my decision to continue pursuing a career in neuropsychology, including the pursuit of board certification.”
 
Of her own experience while a student at PAU, Dr. Rengifo expressed “immense gratitude” for her mentors Dr. Alinne Barrera, Dr. Jorge Wong, and Dr. Ricardo Muñoz, as well as Dr. Dolores Gallagher-Thompson from the Stanford program. “She, and all of my PAU mentors helped me see a vision of what was possible, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I can see the fruits of their mentorship in the eyes of the patients I see every day who express gratitude in being able to see a multilingual and culturally-sensitive provider.”