Nov 142011
 
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

One third of the cattle and hogs in the United States are handled on equipment designed by Temple Grandin. Yet when she started working in the livestock industry in the early 1970s, many of the existing workers tried to stop her.

At the time, the only women in the industry worked as secretaries. Grandin had already been bullied in school for having autism. Now, she was also bullied for being a woman.

“They’d do everything they could to gross you out,” said Grandin, who endured incidents of harassment, including having her windshield covered in bull testicles. “Fortunately there were some people who were more enlightened. […] Not everybody was bad. There were some people that were good, and that’s what kept me going.”

Now, 40 years later, the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame will recognize Grandin for revolutionizing the field that others didn’t want her to join.

“It’s not easy to walk into an all-male situation and gain acceptance, and then go beyond their basic acceptance and change the way they’re doing things,” said Lindy Conter, the committee chairwoman, about Grandin’s accomplishments.

In a ceremony that will take place March 8, Grandin, who has taught animal science at CSU for the past 22 years, will be inducted into the hall of fame along with eight other Colorado women who have made contributions to their fields, elevated the status of women and inspired others by their example.

Grandin will be honored not only for overcoming obstacles as a woman, but also as someone who has changed perspectives on autism. Grandin herself is autistic, and her success has contradicted preconceived notions of the limits of autism.

In fact, it was partly because of her autism that Grandin was able to design more humane cattle-handling systems. Her autism manifested as visual thinking, which allowed her to understand the perspective of animals and design more humane systems to handle them.

“She made a huge contribution to the livestock industry of the world,” said Kevin Pond, the head of the Department of Animal Sciences. “It’s nice to see her recognized.”

Over the course of her life, Grandin has gradually become more and more well-known. In October, she was recognized at CSU with a celebration in her honor, in which McDonald’s Corp. announced it would fund a scholarship for her graduate students.

She has also received numerous awards and recognitions, including the American Humane Association’s National Humanitarian Medal earlier this year, as well as inclusion on Time’s 2010 “100 Most Influential People in the World” list.

Then there’s the daily recognition: A few visitors sit in on her class every semester, she’s approached on campus and she receives hundreds of letters from people thanking her or asking for advice.

In a downstairs room, she keeps all the letters she has received in a box, the kind used to ship 24 reams of paper. The flap is bent up and taped. The letters are overflowing. Grandin answers as many as she can.

What is it like to be so well-known?

“I consider it a responsibility,” Grandin said. “I have a responsibility to be a good role model.”

After all she has achieved, she says she hopes to continue research work with students, giving talks at universities and speaking across diverse disciplines.

She also wants to inspire students.

If the box of letters and her most recent award are any indication, she already has.

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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