Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
By Hayley Sanchez
Temple Grandin, a world-renowned professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University for the last 26 years and outspoken advocate and role model for people with autism, will be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in September. Grandin barged through many barriers in the science world both as a woman and as somebody diagnosed with autism. She is a pioneer in the field of animal welfare, the author of several books and articles, and was portrayed by Claire Danes in the 2010 HBO film, “Temple Grandin.”
On her way to speak to graduate students in Edinburgh, Scotland, Grandin, 69, discussed her work, where she believes the future of education is in “quirky” people like herself.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame?
A: I was really excited about that. I found out a couple months ago but they said I couldn’t tell anybody about it until it was official. I didn’t tell anybody but now I’m telling everybody.
Q: What does being in the hall of fame mean to you?
A: I was one of first girls working with cattle and you had to be good at what you did. I was just determined that I could do it and make myself good at what I did. When I started, the only women working in feedyards were the secretaries. I got a reputation for writing good, accurate articles for the farmer’s ranch magazine. I covered cattle meetings, but then I got the opportunity to design something and I wanted to make myself the best at it.
Q: Many consider you an inspiration, especially for women and those who are on the autism spectrum. What do you hope those people take away?
A: You’ve got to work hard I found, especially when I started. Like I said, I had to be twice as good as a man. I’ve been at a site where a man could totally screw up the construction and still have a job. I’m talking a million dollar project. You just had to make yourself really good. I saw that movie, “Hidden Figures,” and they were discriminated against, and it was horrible but they were going to prove they could do it and they were the ones who were going to calculate John Glenn into space. One of things I want to point out is I never went to any protests or marches or participated in that kind of stuff.
Sometimes you have to just go through a door when there’s a door. There was a scabies outbreak in the cattle in Arizona and the way you treated them was by putting the cattle through dipping vat. I was offered to design the vat and I said,”Yes, I will do it.” It took me three weeks just to get the drawings together for it and I had a total of five of those projects.
When opportunity arises, you gotta go for it. The thing is, you never know where a door is going to be.
Q: Why do you think some men treated you differently?
A: I was kicked out of the feedyard and that was a scene in the movie. The interesting thing is that when I look at who gave me trouble, it was a pattern. The owner of the feedyards were good. Where there was trouble — it was at the cowboy foreman level. The middle management people.
Q: Why do you think it was always them?
A:  I think they didn’t like me invading their turf. Maybe they felt threatened. I can think back on quite a few unpleasant times. It was always cowboy foreman who did it. I can’t name any because some of them are still alive. But they didn’t like this nerd-girl coming in on their turf.
Q: What advice do you have for those interested in the science, technology, engineering and math fields?
A: The problem I’m seeing when it comes to STEM things is I don’t think enough kids are getting exposed. Kids will not get interested in these things unless they’re exposed to them. Too many kids are addicted to video games. Somebody needs to expose them to robotics, electronics, mechanics, hands on things to get them interested. They got to get out there and do it. One of the worst things schools have done is take out skills and trade classes that can turn into good careers.
Q: Some parents might say that they don’t want their kids getting blue-collar jobs.
A: Let me tell you the jobs that are out there are well paying. They are good jobs that are not going to get outsourced. Like construction. These are big complex projects and the people sticking their nose up at that have never even been to a project. This is not building a shopping center. These are good jobs that are not going to get replaced by artificial intelligence. We need people to run water works. When things break, where are they going to get them fixed? There are storms and bridges — you need skilled trades to put stuff back and make new infrastructures.
Q: I understand that you’re very visually oriented and think in pictures. Can you describe what that is like?
A: Well everything I think about, I immediately see pictures of. When I was telling you about the foremen, I saw the places where they were. I see it when I design things and I can test it in my head. One of the things I worked on was getting down in a chute to see what the cattle were seeing. Little things you tend not to notice, they notice. I didn’t know when I was young — I did not know other people did not think in pictures. I thought everybody thought in pictures. It’s been an interesting journey learning that not all thinking is done like me.
I’ve met brilliantly skilled people working with really smart drafting guys. They would lay out the whole entire plant. It was interesting to see how the project developed. The draftsman designs the plant and the lead engineer does the electric power requirement things. You sort of need to have both kinds of minds. I’ve worked for a number of skilled designer guys who may be a little dyslexic or be on the autism level. The quirky kids can build anything and they are having a very hard time.
Q: How can young kids on the autism spectrum be better supported?
A: Get involved with shared interests. It might be art class, music, playing in the school band. Even when I was in college I got bullied. I kind of had a social breakthrough when I had a variety and was shown to get involved in things with people with shared interest.
Kids who are autistic or dyslexic usually are not that athletic and it seems today we have so much emphasis on sports. I did skiing and stuff in high school but I could never get really good and never got past the intermediate stage. I’m not that coordinated so I go do something I can be good at. A lot of kids get different labels and have uneven skills, but build on your strengths that you can turn into career. That’s what they need to do.
A few other things I learned early in my career was I learned how to sell my projects. Put together a really nice portfolio with drawings or photographs and if you’re kind of weird and different, well show that work off and they’ll go, “Wow, you did that?” Students need to develop portfolios. I call it the “30-Second Wow.” One of the things that helps you get mentors is when you can show you’re good at something. You have to work hard to get good at something.

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