As I walked across the picturesque campus of Colorado State Univ. in Fort Collins, in late September, it became somewhat surreal that I was literally going to school with Dr. Temple Grandin. This was an environment I had never seen her in, and getting a glimpse of a typical day in her academic life was something I’ll not forget.
It could be easy to overlook the fact that for more than 25 years, Grandin has worked as a professor of animal science at CSU, but she will be the first to insist it is one of many roles that is near and dear to her heart. In between the thousands of miles she travels each year as an animal welfare expert and educating the public about autism, her loyalty to fulfilling her role as Professor of Animal Science is still a top priority.
Having recently turned 69 years old, Grandin told one classroom-full of students, “I’ll never stop teaching,” she said, “even if it means someday I’m rolling in here in a wheelchair.”
For years, I’ve seen her interacting and captivating the attention of industry professionals in discussions about livestock behavior, effective handling systems and animal welfare issues. However, it is fascinating to see how her passion and insight resonates with classrooms full of students in their early 20s. Being able to communicate in a manner that transcends generations is a gift, and as I looked at the eager faces of her students, they were among the many recipients of this gift.
In between classes, my “back-to-school” experience included a brisk walk to CSU’s Lory Student Center, where Grandin and I lunched with three of her current graduate students: Miriam Martin, Helen Kline and Dana Wagner. It was hard to not notice other students in the food court area who acknowledged Grandin, whose many accolades include recently being named a CSU “Best Teacher;” induction to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016; and whose life was the subject of an award-winning HBO biopic.
In her academic element, Grandin and her grad students were engaged in discussions about their ongoing research projects and in-class anecdotes almost non-stop. Martin, Kline and Wagner all showed Grandin the utmost respect and carefully listened to her every word. To them, she is “Dr. Grandin.” Later, they gushed, telling me how honored and blessed they are to have the opportunity to work with her.
I’ve heard Grandin talk about education, training and career development for years. But it wasn’t until I saw her – with my own eyes – advise, engage and inspire students that I realized her passion for truly leaving a legacy for future generations. She’s invested much of her adult life laying the groundwork for continued improvement in animal welfare in the meat industry, but even bigger, she’s providing sound career guidance for so many more people, inside and outside the agricultural arena.
In leading the development and revisions of internationally recognized guidelines for animal welfare in the processing industry, Grandin says her role is to create solutions. She makes an analogy about those solutions that I think applies perfectly to her role in career development and providing guidance for younger people.
“Heat softens steel; somebody else does the heating and I do the bending. Now, let’s bend it into pretty grill work.”
Grandin is the subject of M+P’s cover story in the November 2016 issue, available digitally by Nov. 7 at www.meatpoultry.com.