That’s the most important thing young women and girls need to be successful, according to Colorado State University Professor Temple Grandin. And it is up to parents, teachers and mentors to help them develop that confidence, in both their personal and professional lives, starting from an early age.
“I’m working with a graduate student who is preparing to give a talk at a conference,” Grandin told the audience at the annual Meet the Author luncheon presented by the Zonta Club of Fort Collins Foundation. “I looked at her slides, with all these charts and graphs, and I said, ‘Where are your results?’ She said, ‘I’m afraid they won’t like it.’ So, I said, ‘You found something really important – just say it. It doesn’t matter if they like it – you did the work and they are your results. You have to have the confidence to just say it.’”
Founded in 1919, Zonta International is a global organization of executive and professionals working together to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy. The Zonta Club of Fort Collins was chartered in 1997 and is a member of Zonta International. Zontafcevent.com
Grandin, professor of animal science at CSU, has had a successful career consulting on both livestock handling equipment – half the cattle in the United States are handled in facilities she has designed – and animal welfare. She is also a prominent author and speaker on autism, a condition she has dealt with all her life, and an extremely visual thinker who approaches problems from the specific to the conceptual.
The way she looks at the world has led Grandin to create solutions to a number of longstanding problems in the animal handling industry. She is now consulting with major airlines on the issue of pets on planes.
“I look at it from a critical control approach,” she explained at the May 5 luncheon at the Fort Collins Country Cub. “The two critical outcomes we need to achieve are: 1. no serious dog bites for passengers, and 2. no dead pets. That’s where I start.”
In addition to being confident, women need to be comfortable with public speaking, and that’s why a part of earning an animal sciences degree at CSU includes making presentations to executives of large meat processing companies in their offices as well as at industry conferences.
“You have to become an expert on your work, and you have to sell your work, your portfolio,” Grandin said. “And be ready to walk through the door when you have the opportunity. It’s only open for a second.”
The other area where Grandin sees young people, boys and girls, lacking today is in hands-on skills. She said people who have learned drafting on a computer, never having used paper and pencil and a scale ruler to draw plans for a factory, for example, can miss important errors that could lead to costly construction mistakes.
“Kids need to be doing things, using tools to build things,” she said. “Hands-on activities foster creativity. Scientists with a creative hobby, like music or art, are more likely to win a Nobel Prize. That’s why it’s not right when schools knock out the humanities from the curriculum.”
The gap in skilled trades has led to other countries outpacing the U.S. in manufacturing, she added, citing all the components of a local pork plant she toured recently that were built overseas.
“I visited a preschool in Italy, and they had kids using tools, hammers and such, at age 5,” Grandin said. “No wonder the complicated machinery at the plant was all built in Italy. In other countries, completing an apprenticeship or earning a certificate in a skilled trade is equal to getting a college degree.”
That’s why her latest book, Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor, is a collection of hands-on projects for young people to build that also explores the science behind the projects. Laced with glimpses into Grandin’s own childhood tinkering, building and inventing, Calling All Minds is a call to imagination and different ways to look at the world. (The book will be available at the CSU Bookstore in the Lory Student Center.)
“My grandfather was the co-inventor of the auto-pilot system on airplanes, and educated at MIT,” she said. “I would follow him around and ask endless questions about science, and he took the time to teach me how to do things.”
Grandin said that as she has traveled the world speaking, she has been approached by countless engineers who say that today they would probably be placed somewhere on the autism spectrum, and their grandchildren had been diagnosed with the condition.
“That’s not a surprise – pilots were the astronauts, but it was the misfits who built the right stuff. But it turns out that their grandkids aren’t learning any engineering; the grandparents never bother to teach their kids or their grandkids how to do it,” she said. “I want to see kids who are different get out there and succeed.”
Proceeds from the fundraising luncheon support scholarships, service and advocacy projects that benefit women locally and globally. Specific projects include the birthing kit project; assisting the Junior League Career Closet; Zonta says No to Violence Against Women; and Her Legacy: Women of Fort Collins Historic Public Art Exhibit.
Grandin is one of 48 women – 22 of them with deep ties to CSU – selected by the Zonta Club as part of the Her Legacy public art project to be on permanent display in Old Town.
“We want the Her Legacy project to inspire women and girls to discover themselves in the many talents, contributions and achievements of women, both past and present, in our community,” said Patti Smith, Her Legacy chair.
Portraits of the women selected are being created by a team of female artists led by Rachel Lynn Davis, who earned her master’s degree in fine art from CSU, as traditional woodcut prints. The first 12 portraits are scheduled to be unveiled in October, with a dozen more rolled out each year in rotation over the next three years.
Learn more about the amazing Temple Grandin.
For more information, and a complete list of women to be honored, go to HerLegacyZontaFC.com