How to identify and pursue a career that involves meaningful work was the topic of Grandin’s presentation as a guest lecturer one Tuesday morning in September. Students enrolled in the sophomore-level course, Animal Science Career Exploration Seminar, invited Grandin to speak after the class voted on who they would most like to get career advice from at CSU.
She quickly engaged the class and discussed her background, including how she didn’t verbally communicate until she was 4 years old and her penchant for creating things with her hands. She remembers building kites out of paper, toys out of cardboard and loving to sew, admitting that she wasn’t exactly an accomplished seamstress.
When in career-counselor mode, Grandin’s tone and facial expressions soften when she’s dolling out advice. The class was comprised of students studying some facet of animal science, some with well-planned goals as lofty as becoming veterinarians and others with meandering and under-defined paths to lead them out of college and onto a fruitful life.
She told the students how she started out as a psychology major in college. “I was going to do experimental psychology. That isn’t where I ended up. I ended up in feed yards,” she said.
Grandin shared a variety of tips before delving into the pursuits of individual students. She said showcasing work samples often is more effective than traditional means of applying for jobs and being able to show and tell as a young freelancer trying to get her company started, was beneficial.
“A lot of resumes go straight in the garbage can. But if you whip out a portfolio of stuff that you’ve done – I call it the 30 second ‘wow’ – that’s how I used to sell jobs,” Grandin said.
She told the students how internship programs offered at the college level are very valuable as a means of “trying on careers,” and that each internship is like an extended interview for a future job.
She encouraged the wide-eyed students to look at other departments within the university when deciding on a course of study and career.
“Don’t just stay in the box,” she said, “try-on careers; do the internships; volunteer to help with experiments.”
She also discussed the virtues of face-to-face interaction when exploring career possibilities and the importance of making phone calls in an era when e-communication is becoming the norm.
Picking up the “horn,” she said, “can get you into stuff that e-mails can never get you into.”
Technology and social media can also play an important role in finding a career that fits, but Grandin warned students to never post anything on Facebook that they wouldn’t want to show their grandma. “I don’t care what your privacy settings are, nothing online is private,” she said.
She also offered practical advice about expectations going into a career. “There will always be grunt work,” she said, “it is called work after all.”
She added that no matter the job or company, there will always be things that are wrong and in a good job, the things that are right will outnumber those things that are wrong.
Grandin then proceeded to go around to each student and asked them about their career plans and how they planned to get there. She encouraged them to be specific about their goals and made suggestions about how they might get there. When one student said he was interested in a career doing “something in the meat industry,” Grandin emphatically encouraged him to narrow his focus and after more discussion with him, pushed him to pursue a summer internship with Cargill at its nearby plant in Fort Morgan.
Many of the students that take a class from Grandin start out college with the intention of being veterinarians, because, as she says, this is the only animal-related career they’ve been exposed to. She encourages all of the students she works with to pursue summer internships in an effort to “try on” different careers and in the case of pre-vet students, that they spend at least a full summer working at a vet clinic.
“I want to make sure, before you spend the money on all that schooling, that this is what you really want,” Grandin advised. “And if it’s what you really want, that’s just fine, but I want to make sure that’s what you really want.”
Grandin also leads a Livestock Handling course that lasts one-half of a semester for students studying some facet of meat science. She instructs an almost-identical livestock handling course to students enrolled in CSU’s veterinarian program. Additionally, she teaches in the field, including a segment during a course on feedlot management.
Part of the curriculum for her undergraduate Livestock Handling class includes what Grandin calls “The Internet Project,” which she started about 10 years ago. Students are instructed to pick a topic related to animal behavior and create journal articles about the topic from at least four different databases. The goal is to force the students to dig into the databases on various topics. “I want to know because I’m finding out many kids don’t know how to look things up online,” Grandin said, although most are very proficient in using the internet for social media activities.
Another requirement for the course includes drawing assignments to teach students drafting skills to create a livestock handling facility. Many of the meticulous skills required to design and create drawings are increasingly becoming challenging for some incoming students because they have not been exposed to it. Many have not used a compass to draw a circle, for example, and others have not had the experience of measuring things using a scale ruler.