Meet Pamela Lindsay, Co-Founder & Dean of Instruction at College of Adaptive Arts
Q: What is College of Adaptive Arts about and what do you all do?
PL: The College of Adaptive Arts (CAA) is all about changing perceptions of ability. Our students are specifically re-writing the script regarding the ability of all individuals to continue higher education learning throughout adult life, and equitably contribute their growing talents to efforts of their local and global communities.
Q: What do you love most about CAA and the work you all do?
PL: I love that the students and our professors are constantly raising the bar. CAA has grown from a single combination performing and visual arts class three days a week back in 2009 to a school offering liberal arts curricula within nine schools of study: Science and Technology, Communications, TV/Film, Health and Wellness, Dance, Theatre, Music, Visual Arts, and Library Arts. This growth comes from the students and their families who realize they can expect to achieve more and work hard with our staff to make those dreams and opportunities a reality. Examples are the development of our CAA Cardinal sports and cheer teams, and recent development of our multi-media learning lab and individualized graduate research and writing courses.
Q: How has CAA made a difference and what impact do you still wish to see made?
PL: The greatest observed impact occurs in the lives of the students who now identify themselves as collegiate learners pursuing private diplomas based on ongoing experience with and exposure to concepts, and increased enthusiasm for building important abilities in pragmatic and other cognitive-developmental skill sets. Such instruction is built into our own unique ARTS © instructional and behavioral models. All lead professors are trained to plan and deliver curriculum through these models employing related core skills in every class. The goal is for students to leave each class feeling that they have been successful, which tasks us with setting each student up for success. The biggest difference students experience in a CAA class is that they can receive credit through individualized criteria based on how they show their proofs of learning. Our students require different approaches and tools based on their current learned skills, based on the individual’s pace of learning and developmental growth in various areas of study. Each student begins wherever they left off in the last class in collaborative learning groups. For example, a CAA graduate student with a TV/Film emphasis can work forward as a member of our graduate community access television show crew while continuing work in another class to access reading skills.
Q: What is it you like to say to potential donors and volunteers?
PL: I would like to say that if they want to increase the joy in their life 120%, they need to meet our college students. They are intelligent joyful, talented, and excited about their goals.
They have also historically been placed on the perimeter of lifelong opportunities for quality higher education with no “age-out.” CAA is changing that landscape. Community members can show their support of and belief in the abilities of all individuals by donating their talents and treasures through supporting their efforts and becoming part of the CAA Cardinal family in whatever way they can.
Q: What led to your decision to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector?
PL: My professional trajectory changed from my own personal pursuits in the arts to pursuit of opportunities for others in the arts when my 27-year-old daughter was diagnosed with a hidden disability at age nine. This was prior to current knowledge and understanding about hidden disabilities, and immediately kicked us off of the freight train of mainstream school requirements. I had to create tools for her and find alternative learning environments. During this time, the arts were a perfect way to set her up for success by connecting learning to areas of personal interest through which she could show proofs of knowledge in creative and interactive ways. All of that progressive curriculum development and delivery inspired a passion for bringing the potential for increased educational opportunities and successes to differently abled individuals. For ten years, I worked on the side as a consultant for families on a similar progressive academic path. During that time, I was also pursuing an M.A. in Theatre Arts, teaching at San Jose State University, and traveling to Los Angeles for auditions and acting work. Just prior to starting work on my doctorate in education (which I am still juggling but is almost finished), I met my amazing CAA co-founder DeAnna Pursai. She had founded a children’s musical theatre company for kids with special needs here in the Bay Area. We immediately connected in our personal missions and I joined her as the group’s founding theatre director. She has a master’s in special education policy and theatre experience through work with her sister who happens to have Down syndrome. I have a master’s in theatre and developed a connection to the world of special education through work with my daughter, who happens to have Asperger syndrome. We immediately became soul sisters. As soon as we realized the kids in our theatre program aged out of our and many other programs by age 23, including post-high school education programs, we started CAA. The students and their families immediately asked if we could offer a structure of credits and private diplomas. The gauntlet was thrown and DeAnna and I were happy to pick it up and run with it. Ten years later, my doctorate is now focused on higher education for students with intellectual disability. DeAnna and I are enjoying our work with an amazing team of around 35 professionals and students from ages 18-70 who fill over 400 seats per quarter. We have also outgrown our current studio space and are working with the board and community toward pursuing equitable space on a college campus.
Q: How do you achieve work-life balance?
PL: In one word, support. My husband and my family have been so supportive of the mission, and the financial challenges associated with all of the above. And they are each just incredibly cool people. I am also so blessed to have a partner in DeAnna as my inspiring and talented co-founder. We are aware how lucky we are to have each other for moral and professional support, as we never feel we are on an island. We have also discovered founding the first nonprofit of its type in the state comes with no ropes to follow, categories for funding, or avenues for paychecks; it is definitely not for the faint of heart. At the same time, the rewards so outweigh the challenges, and, at the end of the day, we find CAA is actually the “happiest place on earth.” My daughter contributes professional administrative work, and my son also now works with us as CAA’s Director of TV/Film. Through it all, it has become clear that there is no one scenario that is “balance.” Everyone finds what works in their own life, what they are passionate about, and what can be cut back without too much fuss. In all things, I have found that there is a difference between meeting obstacles with passion and purpose vs. having to scratch your way up a hill. The latter usually means that something is out of balance and a shift is needed. I like CAA’s title for its supporters as “Official Mountain Movers.” It describes productive and passionate teamwork, supporting each other while engaged in the effort. In this way, we somehow all keep our balance.
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
PL: Find your passion and get to work. The number one thing we tell our students at CAA is “make your own opportunities.” Never wait for someone to give you a chance to maybe talk to someone who can maybe introduce you to someone who might give you a chance. Find your tribe, work together toward creating and discovering opportunity, and then do it. Enjoy learning from the opportunities you choose and letting the obstacles shape and direct you.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
PL: It can be hard to connect with a professional tribe. There is power in like-minded work. That work may sometimes be on the side or on a volunteer basis, but we derive great satisfaction and success from accomplishments we contribute to in areas that are important to us. Those kinds of successes also help build our personal and professional identities and help us find our tribes. This is especially true when we are in states of flux and change.
Q: Do you have any advice you can share for those women who may want to pursue a career in the Nonprofit sector?
PL: I observe that those who thrive when developing creative solutions love the challenge of wearing lots of hats at once, have great faith, and possess a passion for helping others are often attracted to nonprofit opportunities like a magnet. Those who discover the financial rewards may sometimes be less than constant may move in and out of it. That is okay, we need them whenever they can contribute so come on down. Those who feel strongly that they are meant to make it their mission will stick to it and become an important and lasting foundational block of any nonprofit pool in which they choose to dive. There are not enough of you and we need you, so please come jump in and start swimming! Some fall in between, and the nonprofits in your community would so very much love you to volunteer. Volunteerism is also a career choice that is thoroughly appreciated, respected and validated in our CAA student body and most definitely in the nonprofit sector at large.
Q: What do you like the most about living in the Bay Area?
PL: Every day is individual. Every individual is special. Special is always beautiful.
Five Things About Pamela Lindsay
1. What book are you currently reading?
Darkest Hour. I am looking forward to the movie.
2. What’s your favorite Movie?
Pride and Prejudice. In general, I love period pieces and, ironically, the classics never get old.
3. Where's your dream vacation?
Sedona, Arizona. It is one of the few places that make my husband and I say “Wow!”
4. Do you enjoy cooking?
Yes, but my husband is way better at it.
5. Who’s been the biggest influence in your life?
Of course, my husband and my kids, they are my rocks in all the sunshine and storms. However, my parents are my most enduring influence. They have always marched to their own drummers and taken care of others before themselves, and they have been extremely blessed in return. They are a wonderful example of a life fully lived, and they have expressed their belief in me every day of my life. I strive to pay that forward personally and professionally, similarly supporting others in believing in the power of their dreams.
College of Adaptive Arts
1401 Parkmoor Ave #260
San Jose, CA 95126