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Colorado professor discusses livestock, challenges of autism at Sycamore lecture

SYCAMORE – New equipment is not as important as the people doing the work, Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin said at a lecture Tuesday at Sycamore High School.

In town to give a talk at Northern Illinois University on Wednesday, she came by and addressed 650 people, most of them members of National FFA Organization chapters from across northern Illinois. The people present were concerned with not only the subject matter of her lecture, “Improving Cattle Stockmanship,” but with what Grandin represents and what she has accomplished.

FFA members said that Illinois is not only corn and soybeans. They said there are farms in the area that have livestock, and learning from Grandin could be applied.

“She’s a big inspiration,” said DeKalb High School junior Grace Gerhke, an FFA member.

She said her family has cattle on a farm right outside of DeKalb.

“We use her techniques when handling our cattle,” Gerhke said.

The visit was put together by CSU’s Tiffany Dallas and Sycamore High School teacher Kara Poynter. It quickly became much larger than expected.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Sycamore High School junior Mindy Smits, a member of the Sycamore chapter of the National FFA Organization. “It’s so much bigger than we thought.”

Diagnosed with autism when she was young, Grandin’s struggle with the obstacles it created in her education was made into a movie starring Claire Danes in 2010. She consults in industry, lectures and is a best-selling author who has won many awards for her work in agriculture.

She said her academic work is the most important part of her identity, and she wishes that also could be the case for others with disabilities. Grandin said she’ll meet kids who come up to her and tell her they’re autistic.

“I’d rather they say they’re raising a lamb or building a telescope,” she said.

During her lecture at the Sycamore High auditorium, Grandin told the FFA students about a trip she took to the Kennedy Space Center and how it could be applied to identity.

“The geeks and the misfits built the stuff,” she said.

Known for agricultural science and for raising awareness for autism, she said the agriculture was the most important part.

Anna Hulstedt, an adviser for the FFA chapter at Genoa-Kingston High School, said she had seen Grandin speak before and that it was a worthwhile experience for the students.

“We wanted to bring them out to have a chance to see Temple speak,” she said.

Grandin said that getting out, working and doing things helped her when she was younger, and autism made it difficult for her to learn at first. She never passed algebra, she said, because she was a visual learner instead. It was working on farms that gave her a goal.

“I was saved by 4-H,” Grandin said. “Then I was interested in studying because studying became a pathway to a goal.”

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