Temple Grandin, the teacher

by Joel Crews
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 Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin serves on the faculty at CSU as a professor of animal science.
 
A gray sign outside her office is unassuming and the name plate that reads “Temple Grandin” is slightly askew. Inside, the walls are lined with a series of tall metal book shelves, file cabinets and a windowed lawyer’s bookcase. All are loaded, end-to-end, with books, stacks of papers, journal articles and magazines and anywhere shelf space is available are displayed dozens of certificates, trophies, plaques and statues commemorating Grandin’s contributions to a wide range of industries, institutions and associations. Ranking near the top of her career accomplishments, which include decades devoted to improving animal welfare practices in the food industry and serving as a resource and a voice of inspiration to people affected by autism, is the impact she’s had on students as a professor of animal science at Colorado State Univ. (CSU) in Fort Collins. For more than 25 years Grandin has taught at CSU and at the age of 69, she has no plans of quitting.

“Teaching I will do until I drop dead,” said Grandin, who was one of six educators to receive the CSU Alumni Association’s Best Teacher Award earlier this year.

For decades, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., has earned a reputation for being the world’s leading expert on creating livestock handling systems and she has traveled the world consulting with companies that supply some of the highest-profile quick-service chains and foodservice outlets. Besides operating a thriving business, Grandin Livestock Handling Systems Inc., she wears the hats of: engineer, researcher, author, MEAT+POULTRY contributing editor, lecturer, autism expert and many others. But early in life, she remembers being drawn to something more profound than perhaps any of those endeavors.

“When I was in elementary school I kind of thought about the idea of being a teacher.”

That thought flourished, and now, after 25-plus years of teaching, she also finds herself playing the role of career guidance counselor not only for students in her classes, but other undergraduates trying to find their way. Inspiring them to discover a career that flips their switch is something Grandin is passionate about.

“I think one of the most valuable things I can do today is get students turned on,” she says of her efforts to inspire and provide guidance to young people whose backgrounds and career expectations are evolving. While her career has been focused on animal science and designing animal handling systems, Grandin relishes advising people about how to find meaningful work in whatever occupation they might pursue.

She shares that there was an autistic park ranger that called her the previous evening who worked at a national monument in Washington, DC, and was frustrated by some of the granular details of the job. Her advice isn’t limited to students, as Grandin encouraged him to focus on the importance of his role and how impactful it can be. “You’re the tour guide for the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Memorial, tell the kids what it means,” she told the caller. “You’re a park ranger; they look up to you.”

Back to school

Grandin typically is wearing her academic hat every Monday and Tuesday during the school year, teaching classes and working with up to three graduate students, whose expenses, salaries and research projects she finances personally. She currently works closely with Helen Kline and Dana Wagner, who are pursuing their doctorate degrees as well as Miriam Martin, who recently came to CSU to study under Grandin as she works toward earning a master’s degree. She serves as an advisor to all three and works closely with them on research projects, class work and Martin’s thesis development, that are part of their curriculum. Kline and Wagner serve as teaching assistants (TAs) for Grandin’s Livestock Handling class and are also required to work as teaching assistants in a class outside the animal science department.

 Temple Grandin
Grandin is committed to teaching and serving as a mentor younger people. "Teaching I will do until I drop dead," she said. 
 

About one-and-a-half years into her doctorate program, Wagner has spent a lot of time on professional development, including TA work for Grandin’s class and other instructors. She’s also coached CSU’s animal welfare judging team and teaches a class focused on that process. Her research focus is on non-ambulatory livestock. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Univ. of Wisconsin, Kurt Vogel, Ph.D., one of her instructors who also is a former graduate student of Grandin’s, recommended Wagner connect with her when she decided to pursue her Ph.D. Within a month, Wagner applied for the position and interviewed with Grandin, who offered her the job.

As for the opportunity to work alongside Grandin, Wagner said: “It’s been a very remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Dr. Grandin mentors in a way that is more than just focusing on you as a scientist. She mentors for you as a person so that when you go out in the world and get a job that not only are you good at your job, but you’re a well-rounded person as well.”

“I think it’s a blessing every day,” said Martin of her opportunity to work under Grandin. She says the mountain of information and experience Grandin can call upon and apply to her craft is almost inconceivable and that her passion for learning and teaching never stops. “She is still working when we all go home to decompress,” Martin said, adding that the breadth of news and information sources Grandin scours gives her a unique perspective and foresight as she applies what she learns each day to what she teaches and the knowledge she shares.

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