Non-conventional educational paths characterized the careers of some of the greatest innovators and thinkers such as Jane Goodall, Thomas Edison, and Stephen Spielberg. This was the message that Colorado State University Professor Temple Grandin delivered in her keynote lecture to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Oct. 9. Grandin was inducted into the Academy this year.

Exploring the mind

Grandin, a professor of animal sciences and renowned advocate for people with autism, delivered her lecture to new inductees and current members of the American Academy in Boston. Her talk, “Educating Students Who Have Different Kinds of Minds,” focused on the varying ways that students take in information and express themselves, especially visual thinkers like herself.

“For the Sunday Symposium, we look to identify someone who can provide an interesting and thought-provoking closing program to our induction weekend,” said Mark Robinson, chief operating officer of the American Academy. “We have gone from exploring the ocean with Robert Ballard to exploring the universe with Alexei Filippenko, and this year we explored the mind with Temple Grandin.”

Illustrious group

The Academy’s induction lecture has taken a number of forms over the years, and those that have spoken in this capacity represent a truly illustrious group. Grandin joins other speakers including retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter, former U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz, and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

For Grandin, keeping children active and engaged, especially when they have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, is essential for their success.

“Children who may not respond to conventional teaching and learning have much greater access to early interventions today,” said Grandin. “But we must continue to stretch them, to expose them to ideas and experiences that are outside of highly specialized areas, as I did as a child.”

Although the thinkers she cited in her lecture may not have been diagnosed with autism, she found a number of similarities in their childhood experiences.

“Children need to be taught the value of hard work and should be exposed to career interests early so that they can find outlets for their energy and potential career paths,” said Grandin.

Grandin elected in recognition of her innovations

Since its founding in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has served the nation as a champion of scholarship, civil dialogue, and useful knowledge. As one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, the academy convenes leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to address critical challenges facing our global society. Its ranks include winners of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize as well as Grammy, Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award winners, and other lauded intellectuals such as George Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Mead and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Grandin was elected to the Academy in recognition of her innovations in animal handling and her autism advocacy. Her expertise has been utilized by major corporations such as Wendy’s International, Burger King, Whole Foods, Chipotle, McDonald’s Corporation as well as the USDA, where she has trained auditors in animal care at livestock processing plants. Her approach to animal welfare is informed by Grandin’s own experiences with autism and through her perspective as a “visual thinker.” She is a tireless advocate for autism awareness, a role model for individuals across the autism spectrum, and an inspiration for families who have loved ones diagnosed with autism.

She joins her colleague and CSU University Distinguished Professor Diana Wall, who was elected in 2014, as a member of the Academy.

“We have gone from exploring the ocean with Robert Ballard to exploring the universe with Alexei Filippenko, and this year we explored the mind with Temple Grandin,” said Mark Robinson, chief operating officer of the American Academy.

American Academy of Arts and Sciences

The Academy’s membership of 4,600 Fellows and 600 Foreign Honorary Members includes many of the most accomplished scholars and practitioners worldwide. Through studies, publications, and programs on the Humanities, Arts, and Education; Science, Engineering, and Technology; Global Security and International Affairs; and American Institutions and the Public Good, the Academy provides authoritative and nonpartisan policy advice to decision-makers in government, academia, and the private sector.

For more information, visit the American Academy of Arts and Sciences website.