College of Education and Human Development

Institute of Child Development

ICD undergrad alumna Kelsey Mora charted a career path into child life and beyond

Ever since high school, Kelsey Mora knew she wanted to be a child life specialist. Her undergraduate journey at ICD helped her pursue that goal and now her career path has evolved into private practice and serving as the Founding Clinician and Chief Clinical Officer of Pickles Group, a non-profit organization that provides free support and resources to kids and teens impacted by their parent's cancer. She recently published a workbook called The Dot Method, which is an interactive tool to teach kids about cancer. Kelsey shared a little more about her time at ICD and her career path.

Tell us a little bit about your undergrad years at ICD.

I graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2011 with double majors in Child Psychology and Spanish Studies. I participated in leadership with the Child Psychology Student Organization, danced with the Premier Dance Team, volunteered in the Gunnar Lab, and completed the University Honors Program. Throughout my four years at the U, I held jobs at Fairview Hospital and the University of Minnesota Faculty Child Care Center as well as volunteered at the children's hospital.

How did you choose to major in child psychology?

I chose to major in child psychology with a goal to pursue a career as a child life specialist. I first learned of the profession when my friend was treated for Leukemia during high school. I volunteered at the hospital where he was treated and learned about child life. At the time there were not many child life specific programs but majoring in child psychology felt more specific than general psychology. It was the best decision I made! 

What were your favorite experiences from your time at ICD?

I found my experience at ICD to be tremendously valuable. Because there was not a specific child life program at the time, my professors and advisors helped me to tailor my course load, projects, and participation to gain experiences specific to health care and the child life field. I had the opportunity of publishing a thesis on Indiscriminate Friendliness and Executive Functioning in Post-Institutionalized Children through the Gunnar Lab and Honors Program. This was a challenging but rewarding experience where I conducted research, data, coding, and worked alongside a graduate student. I presented my thesis to a team of professors including the late Herbert Pick. The professors were always helping me find unique ways to channel my passion for health care and grief through assigned course work, opportunities, and curriculum.

*Editor's note: ICD now has a master's degree program in applied child and adolescent development with a child life track

Kelsey Mora, ICD alumna

Kelsey Mora playing on the floor with a small child

Tell us about your career path into the medical field and how you ended up working as a child life specialist.

Becoming a child life specialist was always my goal from the age of 16 years and on. After completing my undergraduate degrees at the U, I completed my internship at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Omaha, Nebraska. I accepted my first position at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, IL and worked there for almost a decade mostly in the pediatric intensive care unit but covering many other in-patient and out-patient units and areas as well. 

Tell us a little more about your current work and how you've continued to evolve in your field.

While working in the hospital was always my dream job, my work has continued to evolve in incredible ways that are still unbelievable for me and also very exciting to share and inspire others. 

In 2015, I was approached with the opportunity to begin providing private practice services with a pre-established group of health psychology and counseling clinicians. I found myself really enjoying this environment and wanted to gain more education to help kids facing clinical anxiety and mood disorders in the context of medical and grief related challenges. I went back to school to get my Master’s in Counseling Psychology. 

After becoming a parent, I stopped working in the hospital and now am exclusively working in private practice as well as the Founding Clinician and Chief Clinical Officer of Pickles Group. Pickles Group is a non-profit organization that provides free support and resources to kids and teens impacted by their parent’s cancer. This was a unique innovation started by three families and my private practice support.

Simultaneously, in 2020 I turned an intervention that I had created to teach kids about cancer into a formal workbook. Due to the pandemic and having kids, it was finally published this year! As a result, I started my own business in 2024 where I provide private services to kids and families as well as offer other professional services. My work, The Dot Method, is an interactive tool to teach kids about cancer. The tool is used in a group format for Pickles Group and also now available for purchase on Amazon and in bulk through my website. Although I truly already had my dream job in the hospital, I now realize that the dream was to have a balance that allows me to use my skills and passions in unique ways AND be present for my two young children. It’s the best of both worlds!

Throughout your career, you've taken on many roles supporting children and families facing health or grief-related challenges. How do you feel your undergraduate degree helped prepare you for these experiences?

The University of Minnesota helped me to know that anything is possible. It led me from having a dream to living my dream. It taught me to look for opportunities and if they don’t exist - create them myself! Despite the University being so big, it felt so small and personal. I had such a supportive team of faculty and fellow students believing in me and supporting one another. One of my favorite classes was one on death and dying. It was a requirement for the child life profession and I was able to take it outside of the child psychology major requirements. Similarly, I took a seminar class where I was able to use my practicum experience in the hospital for credit and gain valuable support throughout.

In addition to my experience with research at the ICD, I also was able to study abroad in Venezuela for my Spanish major and travel through Europe after graduation. Double majoring in Child Psychology and Spanish has been so influential in my life and career as a fluent Spanish speaker. Additionally, I met my now husband on the trip to Europe.