Temple Grandin, the Colorado State University professor world-renowned for using insights gained from autism to design humane livestock-handling systems, was honored by the National 4-H Council with its Distinguished Alumni Medallion during a gala event in New York in April.
The annual National 4-H Council Legacy Awards Gala is the organization's premier fund-raising event, honoring corporations and individuals who have made lasting contributions in support of millions of 4-H youth. The National 4-H Council uses proceeds from the Legacy Awards Gala to support 4-H programs, curriculum and projects across the country.
Grandin, who is autistic, often talks about the crucial role of animals in her life: She began riding and showing horses as a girl and was a member of a 4-H club in New Hampshire, where she attended boarding school. Her early experiences with horses provided Grandin with comfort and a sense of accomplishment during a difficult time in her life.
"As a teenager, horses were my life," she says. "My passion was horses, and I showed horses in 4-H shows. Riding horses was a refuge away from teasing and bullying."
Grandin later served as an assistant 4-H leader for beef and lamb projects, a role that sparked her first research in animal handling.
This work with farm animals led Grandin into the fledgling field of animal behavior. She has since used her insights – and her ability to "think in pictures" – to design humane livestock-handling systems that have revolutionized animal agriculture around the world.
Grandin has built her career in teaching, research and service in the CSU Department of Animal Sciences; she joined the faculty in 1990. Here, she teaches hundreds of undergraduate students principles of livestock behavior and humane handling; she also advises graduate students who are studying and researching welfare issues in animal agriculture.
In the course of her successful career, Grandin has become a hero to people with autism and their families.
Grandin's honor during the National 4-H Council Legacy Awards Gala comes during World Autism Awareness Month. Earlier in April, Grandin received a tribute for her accomplishments from the Colorado General Assembly.
During talks across the country and internationally, Grandin often encourages families to help children with autism gain skills that will allow them to succeed in social and work settings. 4-H was one of the routes that helped her, she said.
"Young people need to be exposed to agriculture in order for them to become interested in it," she says. "4-H is an ideal way to expose children and teenagers to agriculture. I know a number of students who had no background in agriculture, and they found out that they enjoyed working with livestock when they had an opportunity to do it."
As a land-grant university, CSU works with counties across Colorado to guide 4-H youth-development programs. Grandin was inducted into the Colorado 4-H Hall of Fame in 2010.
That was the same year HBO released an acclaimed feature film titled "Temple Grandin," based on the CSU professor's early life and career. She later was named to TIME magazine's list of 100 Most Influential People in the World.