Temple Grandin likely needs no introduction. The Colorado State University animal sciences professor is an internationally renowned expert in the fields of both animal welfare and autism advocacy, and a leader in livestock handling innovations; today, half the cattle in the United States are handled in facilities that she’s designed.

Grandin is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an inductee to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, the Texas Trail of Fame, and the Hall of Great Westerners from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. In 2010, she made Time magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Also in 2010, she was the focus of the HBO film Temple Grandin, starring actor Claire Danes. This year, Grandin herself is the star of the new documentary An Open Door, directed by award-winning filmmaker John Barnhart (B.A., ’96) and presented by CSU.

Listen in to the Campus Conversation between host Stacy Nick and Temple Grandin.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

You are very busy engaging with a variety of groups of all ages and backgrounds, traveling around the world, speaking at conferences, both in regard to your work in animal behavior and in the autism community. Then you’re writing books, you’re lecturing, you’re doing research here at Colorado State University. Why is staying engaged with industries and communities so important to you?

Well, I want to help the kids that are different be successful. I like things that make a difference with real stuff, whether it be improving how cattle handling or maybe a nonverbal boy to learn how to type independently on an iPad. Very, very simple thing.

Right now, at this stage of my age – I’m way past retirement age, but I refuse to retire – I want to get students motivated. I think that’s something that’s really important. I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve put over 20 graduate students through master’s degrees or Ph.Ds., and I used book and speaking engagement money to do that.

I’m very concerned that we have students growing up today totally removed from the world of the practical. They don’t cook, they don’t sew, they’ve never used tools. I had a student in my class who had never used a ruler. I think that’s a big problem. In fact, students are hungry for hands-on things. When I do my lab down in ARDEC, I have a lot of students who have never even touched cattle before. They get a chance to interact with them. But I’m concerned that tomorrow’s leaders will grow up removed from hands-on things. Because if you only work in the abstract, you’re not gonna be able to come up with practical solutions for problems.

You didn’t grow up in agriculture, but you found an interest in it later as a teenager. Why is it important for young people who maybe aren’t going into the agricultural field to have exposure to ag education?

Well, everybody eats, and in the future, that person who’s had no exposure might be in a position to make policy. I think it would be very difficult to make good policy if you don’t have any idea about the thing you’re making the policy about.

I’m ver concerned that a lot of policies get made about agriculture by people that are well-meaning, but it’s very abstract. We’ve got to get the suits out of the office and get them out in the field. I don’t care what it is they’re making policy about, but they better get out in the field and find out what that policy is going to do. Too often we’ve got people making decisions about stuff where they have no firsthand experience out in the field.

The new documentary An Open Door looks at the influence your life and work have had here at CSU, as well as around the world. Is it strange to see your life portrayed in the documentary?

Well, they’ve done a very nice documentary, and I liked the fact they showed my drawings, they showed me teaching classes. I think teaching is really important. Teaching often doesn’t get enough credit. It’s sort of like management of livestock. What I have found with the cattle handling designs, people want the fancy new equipment more than they want the management. When I first started out on this in the ’70s, when I was really young, I thought I could build a self-managing, cattle-handling facility. There’s no such thing as that. Good equipment makes good handling easier, but you have to have the management to go along with it. That’s the thing that often gets left out. It’s like, “Oh, we put Internet in the schools and that will make the schools wonderful.” Well, it did not. That doesn’t replace really good teaching.

I think that a lot of your students would say that they agree in that they received a lot of great education from you.

I want to see students go out and do constructive things.

PHOTO: Joe A. Mendoza, CSU Photography