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Temple Grandin, Colorado State University’s renowned animal behaviorist and autism advocate, received the 2023 Founders Day Medal, a top university honor launched in 2010 to commemorate CSU’s birthday, which was on Feb. 11.
The medal recognizes an individual, family or group whose service and contributions have created a significant, lasting impact on the University’s history and progress toward future goals. Grandin, a professor of animal sciences who has autism, has an international reputation for her groundbreaking work in the areas of humane livestock handling and advocacy for nontraditional learners and thinkers.
Her realization that she thought differently than most people – in pictures, visually – led her to design low-stress livestock handling equipment such as curving chutes that are less distressing to animals. Grandin is the author of several books on the topic of visual thinking and autism, including her newest one, “Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions,” and the autobiography “Thinking in Pictures.”
‘Surprised and honored’
“I was really surprised and honored that I was chosen to receive the Founders Day Medal,” Grandin said. “It’s one of the biggest honors I’ve received.”
She added that at this point in her career, her goal is simply to provide a spark that helps students be successful after graduation.
“I want to inspire students to get out and do great things,” Grandin said.
One of the students she has inspired is Corley Rogers, who is earning her master’s degree in animal sciences and is the most recent recipient of the endowed Dr. Temple Grandin Scholarship in Animal Behavior and Welfare.
“Some people would tell you to never meet your hero, because the belief is that they will never live up to your expectations,” she said. “However, this was not the case in my scenario. I have looked up to Dr. Grandin since I was a young girl.”
Rogers added that Grandin always prioritizes giving personal attention to her students.
“Not only is Dr. Grandin an outstanding professor, she has also served as a great adviser in my journey for a master’s degree,” she said. “She is a very busy woman, but she never fails to set time aside for her graduate students and their research. She has taught me copious amounts about animal behavior and welfare, and even more about how to face adversity. Temple Grandin is the reason I am attending Colorado State University. Dr. Grandin will forever be a role model in my eyes; not only for what she has taught me, but for the opportunities she has opened.”
In 2010, Grandin was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 people who most affect the world, was the subject of an Emmy Award-winning HBO film starring Claire Danes, and delivered a widely viewed TED Talk.
When asked what it’s like to be CSU’s most famous professor, she said: “It’s a responsibility. I’ve got to always be on my best behavior.”
Grandin continues to have an impact on the handling of animals. During a Feb. 3 visit to a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Centers for Animal Health facility in Ames, Iowa, she offered an alternative way to take blood samples from the deer being studied there. She said USDA officials were impressed with an approach that she and former Denver Zoo nutritionist Nancy Irlbeck developed in the 1990s for drawing blood from antelopes: They trained the animals to be comfortable walking into a stall by rewarding them with treats, then took samples from a rear leg as opposed to the traditional approach of using a “jugular stick” to draw blood from the neck.
“Animals hate that,” Grandin said of the jugular approach.
The Founders Day Medal is only the latest in a long line of honors for the professor and author. A sculpture of Grandin was unveiled in the JBS Global Food Innovation Center in Honor of Gary & Kay Smith in September 2021, thanks to the generosity of alumnus Jeff Tovar.
‘An Open Door’
In addition, filming for a new documentary about Grandin is expected to wrap up later this spring. “An Open Door” reflects on her influential life and work as a champion of the humane treatment of livestock, autism rights and inclusive neurodiversity by employing her gifted insights from her personal experience with autism and visual thinking. The film includes interviews with Grandin, her colleagues, industry professionals and those she has influenced. “An Open Door” is directed by award-winning filmmaker John Barnhardt and presented by Colorado State University. The team working on the film has also hired eight CSU students to help with various aspects of production.
The Temple Grandin Equine Center, which provides equine-assisted services, has locations on the Foothills Campus in Fort Collins and at the Vida building at CSU Spur in Denver. Donations to the Temple Grandin Equine Center can be made online.
Grandin will receive the Founders Day Medal at a private ceremony in March.
On Monday, Feb. 13, President Amy Parsons will attend a special Founders Day celebration for CSU’s 153rd birthday at the state Capitol in Denver, featuring a legislative tribute and other festivities.