Temple Grandin
As students contemplate their career paths, Grandin encourages them to "try on" different jobs.

Evolving students

Having taught at the college level for several decades, Grandin sees how students have evolved and that the experience of today’s young people are a sharp contrast to those in her classes 10-plus years ago. Many students today are at a disadvantage because they have not had the opportunity to make things using their hands.

“These are kids that have never made anything; out of cardboard, by cooking, out of cloth, out of wood. They have a severe lack of practical problem solving.”

By updating her slides and modifying her material, Grandin has been able to adapt her message to today’s college students at CSU.

“I’m teaching a lot of the same basic things,” she says, including cattle behavior handling, facility design and humane slaughter. “I’m finding that a lot of the students today, they’re very passive. To get them to talk in class is difficult and I’ve found that just in the last couple of years it’s gotten more difficult,” Grandin observed.

 Temple Grandin
Grandin's 40-plus years working with livestock producers and animal handlers at processing plants give her animal science students at CSU distinct learning advantages. 
Her theory is that the large size of today’s cell phones make it easier and faster to type texts and e-mails and that non-verbal communication has never been so convenient. Occasionally, a student will chirp up in class and engage Grandin in an exchange and sometimes even challenge her on an issue during the class, which she welcomes. Her theory has been confirmed by other professors. To get past the passivity, Grandin makes it a point to make her time in front of the class engaging.

“I think I give fairly animated lectures at industry events and in teaching I do the same thing. I try to engage them and get them talking.”

Another observation about today’s undergraduate students relates to their out-of-class interaction with her and other instructors. Grandin always comes to her classes about 30 minutes before their scheduled times just in case a student were to have a question or discuss something with her.

“Ten years ago I would have students come up and show me their homework and we’d have all kinds of discussions,” she says. “Now I have a hard time just getting them to talk and other professors have told me the same thing. This is a problem that has gotten especially bad in the last two or three years,” she says, mentioning again this corresponds with the growing popularity of cell phones.

Fortunately, though, there is still a hunger for hands-on skills among today’s youth, which is encouraging. During a recent open house for high school students considering studying animal science at CSU, Grandin was pleased to witness the students’ interest in a demonstration involving the dissection of a formalin-fixed goat. While the portion of the dismembering of the animal’s digestive system was of little interest to attendees, Grandin points out the group’s curiosity piqued when the demonstrating professor got to the animal’s eyeball. “They got fascinated with the eye,” she says. “There’s a hunger for hands-on things,” she iterates, but exposure to these things has to occur first.

Grandin is hopeful that creating programs such as plants sponsoring a 4-H type of class for middle-school aged kids or showing them how to repair small engines will pique interest.

“That’s the age when you’ve got to hook them,” she said.

“I really want to see my students do well,” Grandin said. She beamed when talking about success stories of some of her previous graduate students. She proudly mentioned that one of those students, Ruth Woiwode, Ph.D., was recently hired by Food Safety Net Services, San Antonio, Texas, as manager of livestock auditing services.

Grandin gets a true sense of satisfaction when she hears from former students years later who tell her that they took her class and it proved helpful in their career. Sometimes the testimonials are from attendees of a meat-industry event and other times a veterinarian will tell her how helpful her class was to them in advancing their career.

Affirmation that she made a positive difference in a career, even if it comes many years later, Grandin said, “That turns me on.”