by Kevin Dicciani
A Chestnut Hill College alumna was recently selected to join a major women’s leadership organization comprising the Philadelphia area's most influential female leaders.
This fall, Rhea Fernandes, M.S., Psy.D., ’00, ’12, the senior vice president and chief operating officer of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, was admitted as a member to the Forum of Executive Women, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit devoted to increasing the number of women in leadership roles while empowering them to generate social change. Its membership consists of 450 women who occupy senior-most positions in the private and public sector and in nonprofits.
“Like so many of the women who are forum members, Rhea has demonstrated outstanding leadership through her civic engagement and professional endeavors,” said Julie A. Kaeli, the executive director for the Forum of Executive Women.
Fernandes said she is eager to contribute to the forum’s mission of heightening the impact and influence of female leaders. The group, founded in 1977, achieves this through symposiums, educational programs, CEO roundtables, and research reports, to name a few.
“I was delighted and honored to be selected to join this dynamic leadership organization that brings together the collective power of women leaders to drive positive change and progress, not just in support of other women, but in communities across the greater Philadelphia region and beyond,” she said.
Additionally, Fernandes said that being exposed and connected to executives and changemakers from a variety of industries will enable her to not only elevate emerging female leaders, but advance Devereux’s mission.
“Despite our varying professional backgrounds, we face very similar issues in our communities, places of employment, and in the larger public space,” she said. “The forum provides a great connection to that broader system to make an impact.”
In her position as senior vice president and COO of Devereux, Fernandes manages all national operations of the nonprofit organization, which supports children and adults with emotional, behavioral, and cognitive differences. The organization, with 15 centers in 13 states, offers such services as acute care, outpatient services, autism assessments, and community-based living. Established in 1912, it is one of the country’s largest behavioral healthcare providers in existence today.
Before joining Devereux two years ago, Fernandes worked at Merakey, formerly NHS Human Services, headquartered in Lafayette Hill. She spent 18 years with the nonprofit behavioral healthcare provider, beginning as an intern and ultimately transitioning into an executive leadership role in which she oversaw its network of children’s services in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Fernandes, born in India, obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Mumbai. When she decided as an undergraduate that she wanted to pursue a career working with children and their families, she chose to study for her master’s degree at Chestnut Hill College after discovering it offered a program specializing in marriage and family therapy.
In 2000, Fernandes graduated from the College’s School of Graduate Studies with a master’s degree in counseling psychology. Twelve years later, she earned a doctorate of clinical psychology from the College’s Psy.D. Program. Altogether, she said the education she received at the College prepared her for her career and future successes.
“The combined scientific-practitioner model of the psychology department afforded opportunities for me to practice my skills and hone them in the safety of the classroom and beyond through superior clinical supervision,” she said.
Fernandes said the College’s mission and sense of community encouraged her personal and professional development as well. While there are many schools across the country, she said, what makes the College special are “its people and its culture.”
“The compassionate and person-centered approach of the Chestnut Hill College community, combined with the dedicated and world-class faculty — each true experts in the field — provided the perfect setting and support to learn, excel, and grow,” she said. “Especially for an international student from India, the encouragement of the CHC community gave me the confidence to push myself to unlock my full potential.”
Fernandes said her fondest memory of the College occurred her first day on campus, in January, in the throes of winter. She had just arrived from India, and she was ill-prepared for the weather. She said she was also feeling “very homesick, afraid, and ambivalent.” Then, she met Anita Louise Bruno, SSJ, the former director of international student affairs for the College.
“Sister Anita greeted me at the front desk and helped me move into my room and unpack. We then walked to Bruno’s for dinner, and she talked to me as though she’d known me all my life,” she recalled. “I am emotional just thinking about it, even now. I knew then that Chestnut Hill College would become my home away from home, and it did, for the three years I lived on the campus.”
Today, Fernandes lives in Montgomery County with her husband, Darryl, and her 12-year-old daughter, Rahel.