Temple Grandin: a woman amongst men

This year’s distinguished lecturer speaks on autism and agriculture.


Jacob Thomas photo

Grandin explaining her life as a women in a “man’s field.”

Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, shared her story and experiences with the audience at UW-Platteville’s 2017-2018 distinguished lecture. This was Grandin’s first time in Platteville, and she shared personal experiences and research with the audience about being a professor, an advocate for humane treatment of animals (specifically livestock), a spokesperson for autism awareness and a successful woman in a “man’s field.”

“Have a little bit of autism, and you get an engineer, musician [or] artist,” Grandin said as she began her presentation by telling the audience about how she got started in the industry.

She stared working with agriculture in the 1970s. Grandin said that she was about 20 years old at that time, and she was spending her days on feed yards in Arizona. She found it difficult to work in a “man’s industry,” so her solution was to be better than the men. She told herself that she had to have “super knowledge” about the topics so she would not be overlooked in the profession. She did just that.

Grandin has created many inventions that are used today for livestock. And when she is not working with her research, Grandin tries to solve problems unrelated to her work, like determining a better way for Southwest Airlines to rebuild their engine covers.

Grandin has not only succeeded in hands-on creations and education, but she has also published multiple books on autism awareness and animal behavior. She has been described as one of the most accomplished and well-known adults with autism. She uses her knowledge and experience to help people start to understand the differences between each other, and she motivates people to reach for the goals they have always wanted to accomplish.

Learning and inventing was not always an easy task for Grandin, though, and she told the audience that she was not a very good student until she found her love for science. This love for science taught her that anyone can be successful once they have found something they are passionate about.

Senior English literature major Lydia Sigwarth was “in awe” by the confidence and self-assuredness of Grandin. Sigwarth said that this confidence was clearly shown in the passion and dedication she showed to her career.

“She obviously is very knowledgeable and brilliant, but she knew how to explain her research to anyone. She was also very unapologetic about her views and was a captivating speaker,” Sigwarth said.  “It was nice to have a woman who’s an authority in the field of agriculture [on campus], which is, as Dr. Grandin admitted, a male-dominated field. I think having Grandin at UW-[Platteville] really made a statement to campus and the local community that people of all different ways of thinking are capable of achieving success.”

During her speech, Grandin talked about four different types of thinking, which she explained as photo realistic visual thinking object visualizer (poor at algebra), pattern thinker spatial visualizer music and math (poor at reading), verbal facts language translation (poor at drawing), and auditory thinker (visual perception fragmented). These were the foundation for a good part of Grandin’s presentation.

She explained how these different ways of thinking can lead an individual to have their own unique skill set because people can be a mixture of any number of them.

“I really wasn’t aware of the types of thinking styles before the lecture, but having learned about them, they all make so much sense. Grandin’s ability to observe a system and recognize problem areas is something I’m not strong with, but I take my abilities to draw connections between differing systems for granted. Going forward, I’m going to keep these thinking styles in mind as I interact with more people,” junior civil engineering major McKenna Farmer said.

Grandin’s presentation was a motivator for many of the audience members, and her dedication to success and helping others inspired many members of the audience to do more to understand and be patient with others.

“Over the summer, I am going to be a behavioral therapist, working with children with autism one-on-one… [Grandin] inspired me to make sure when working with my children that I don’t just focus on the basics but to look at the bigger picture and help find something the child is more focused on,” junior agriculture education major Morgan Vogel said.

Grandin wanted to provide a major impact on the student body with her personal experiences and the knowledge that she had to share. She used her experience to motivate students to be more invested in working with others’ strong skills and not focusing too much on the weak.

“Having Temple Grandin at Platteville gave the campus and community a new perspective on life and education. As many know, the funding for schools have been slowly diminishing … It is taking away problem solving, creativity, and virtually individuality of the students … Grandin took examples of her life and other autistic people and broadened it, so every person could relate,” senior animal science major Brittany Bahl said.

Grandin ended her presentation by saying there are only two things that people should be afraid of in their life, “airplanes and public speaking.”