April 10, 2024

Where Are They Now – ‘Ānela Fernandez

After tossing her graduation cap at Lāna‘i High & Elementary School (LHES) in 2016, ‘Ānela Fernandez dreamed of a life filled with scrubs and stethoscopes. However, through her studies and experiences, she found a new passion for making a difference in a less conventional yet very impactful way.

Discovering a New Path

After graduating from high school, ‘Ānela moved to O‘ahu to attend the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. With a desire to help others, she decided to major in nursing but faced some challenges as she began her studies.

“I knew I wanted to be a nurse, but I never deeply dived into the steps or process of what I would have to do to get there,” said ‘Ānela. “So, during my freshman year when I took courses like biology and anatomy, it was hard because when you’re not driven by a subject, you kind of fade away of wanting to do it.”

Looking for different paths that aligned more with her interests, ‘Ānela spoke to her college counselor, who introduced her to human development and family studies, an area of study she had little knowledge of before attending college.

“I liked the courses, and I liked that I was able to learn about child development, because I like working with younger children,” said ‘Ānela. “I just enjoy it, and I got to learn a lot about working with adolescents in every age range.”

Transitioning During the COVID-19 Pandemic

After earning her degree in December 2019, ‘Ānela found herself in a tough spot due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was working two jobs, one at the UH Mānoa financial aid office and the other as a dental assistant, but neither was related to what she studied. Given the uncertainty of the times, ‘Ānela chose to continue working these jobs before deciding that she wanted to work in a job that let her help people the way she always wanted.

“I was there for a year and then realized that I have to use my major,” said ‘Ānela. “So, I searched on Indeed for human development and family studies because again, I didn’t know what to do with my major, and the most of the results were for a Registered Behavioral Tech (RBT). I didn’t know what it was, but I applied anyway and that’s what my career is now.”

As an RBT, ‘Ānela provides behavioral support to children with autism and ADHD, using specialized techniques to improve their communication and social skills.

“I really wanted to help kids in some way, and now I get to do that,” said ‘Ānela. “Maybe not through nursing, but I’m helping kids with special needs try to cope with their feelings or learn how to go about things.”

The birth of her son in 2022 was also a turning point for ‘Ānela, inspiring her to further her education by pursuing a master’s degree in special education with a specialization in applied behavioral analysis. Nearing the end of her program, ‘Ānela says she looks forward to becoming a board-certified behavior analyst, aiming to mentor and support emerging RBTs.

‘Ānela credits her motivation to help others to her family, especially her niece, who was a significant influence in her desire to work with children. Since she was 13, ‘Ānela helped take care of her niece, learning early on the joy of being around children and making a difference in their lives. Now, as a mother, her son continues to inspire her every day.

‘Ānela’s Advice to Current Students

Reflecting on her journey so far, ‘Ānela’s advice for current LHES students is to embrace opportunities and be open to where life may take them.

“I know a lot of them, especially the seniors, are probably thinking ‘what am I going to do now’ because when I was a senior, I thought that way,” said ‘Ānela. “But it’s okay to not know what your steps are and take chances if there are opportunities that open for you because you’ll never know what you will enjoy. You’ll never know if it will work out for you.”


“Where are they now?” features alumni from Lānaʻi High & Elementary School, shedding light on their journeys post-graduation.

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