Meet DeAnna Pursai, Co-Founder & Executive Director of College of Adaptive Arts

Q: What is College of Adaptive Arts about and what do you all do?
DP: College of Adaptive Arts provides an equitable collegiate experience to adults with special needs who historically have not had access to college education. CAA offers over 35 courses offerings each week to adults to choose from, in 9 School of Instruction, including Schools of Music, Dance, Arts, TV/Film, Theatre.

Q: What do you love most about COAA and the work you all do?
DP: I love the vibrant energy that emanates from the students when they realized this really is a safe space for them to learn, and they are really treated like college students.

Q: How has COAA made a difference and what impact do you still wish to see made?
DP: CAA has made a difference for special needs adults who want a collegiate experience just like typical community college-going students. The impact we still hope to make is to transition this collegiate model onto a college campus, show that the model could be replicated with thoughtfulness, mindfulness, and lots of collaborative input, and then replicate this collegiate model all across the country on college campuses.

Q: What is it you like to say to potential donors and volunteers?
DP: I tell simply state our Mission and Vision, which is College of Adaptive Arts provides and equitable collegiate experience to adults with special needs who historically have not had access college education. CAA’s vision is empowering the student body to creatively transform the perception of disability. And then I end with, “It’s crazy awesome.”

Q: What led to your decision to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector?
DP: I’m a former special education teacher by training, and I grew up with my sister, Angel, who is a year younger than I and happens to have Down syndrome. She’s kind and gracious and so very intelligent, and it was a very poignant time for our family after high school finished and I went off to college/pursued a career/had a family, and Angel remained stagnant languishing in a day program.

Q: How do you achieve work-life balance?
DP: We eat dinner as a family at least 3 times a week. I try to be very mindful and present when I’m with my family. I love to pet my animals, and I’m learning Spanish and playing the guitar in my free time.

Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
DP: Be your own best friend; be kind to yourself. You are the one you listen to most in this world, and you need to be a positive light in your life. never give up, and when you fail, it’s totally ok – just keep up, decide what you learned, and try again – the world wants you to succeed.

Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
DP: I feel like women face challenges of established networks and not enough women leader role models. We need to change this in the future, continue building networks and support for each other, and learn and mentor each other.

Q: Do you have any advice you can share for those women who may want to pursue a career in the Nonprofit sector?
DP: Be visionary, live your passion, you cannot ask too many questions, have a growth mindset, build leadership capacity throughout your staff, and if something doesn’t feel right in your gut, speak up and have the tough conversations.

Q: What do you like the most about living in the Bay Area?
DP: I absolutely love the diversity of the Bay Area. I love having the opportunity to learn something new each day – whether it be a new type of restaurant, a new language that I haven’t heard, or the awesome citizens of the community that I meet each day.

Five Things About DeAnna Pursai

1. What book are you currently reading?
Blink by Malcom Gladwell

2. What’s your favorite Movie?
The Fisher King – Jeff Bridges & Robin Williams

3. Where's your dream vacation?
Laying on a beach in Fiji

4. Do you enjoy cooking?
I enjoy making a big breakfast for my family each Sunday morning.

5. Who’s been the biggest influence in your life?
My sister, Angel, who has Down syndrome, is 1 ½ younger than I, and who’s 10 times more intelligent than me.

College of Adaptive Arts
1401 Parkmoor Ave #260
San Jose, CA 95126


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