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Temple Grandin's advice to students: 'Focus on what you can do'


May 18, 2012

Editor's Note: Read about Temple Grandin's academic career at ASU – and how it launched her into the field of animal science – here.

When Temple Grandin met with a group of students from Garret Westlake’s class, her words of wisdom and advice followed a common theme: Always focus on showcasing your unique strengths as opposed to the challenges and difficulties you face.

Grandin, a researcher and professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is widely influential for her innovative work in animal science and her dedication as an author, speaker and advocate for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

She received her master’s degree in animal science from ASU in 1975 and was recently presented with an honorary degree at ASU’s spring commencement.

Westlake, director of the Disability Resource Center at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, and students from his Technological Entrepreneurship and Management (TEM): Disability as a Catalyst class met with Grandin to present their final class projects and discuss opportunities for people with ASD.

“This program and focus on entrepreneurship for students with ASD is really unique,” said Grandin. “They get to do stuff, do projects – everything is hands-on. Then they have to present their ideas. These real-life work skills will help them get employed.

“What Professor Westlake is doing in his class is really innovative,” said Grandin. “He approaches the program from what his students can do, which is what we need to concentrate on.”

The TEM program at ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation bridges the gap between technology and business for students who want to launch their own technology-based ventures or prepare for a career in product or service design and development. The Disability as a Catalyst course is a section of TEM that emphasizes disability as an incredible asset and catalyst to abstract problem solving because of the unique perspective it offers.

Four student teams launched companies as a result of their innovations in TEM: Disability as a Catalyst this semester. 

Preston Yeschick, engineering student at CTI, presented his business idea to Grandin. Yeschick invented and developed a product called the Personal Symphony, a desktop-sized robotic pipe organ that plays live music. Its unique design allows people that may not be skilled musicians to create personalized music at home, while also being engaging enough for experienced musicians. Users will then have access to an online community where they can share music tracks to play back on their Personal Symphony.

“When I told Temple my plans for the Personal Symphony, she gave me advice on how and where to produce the product in order to protect the integrity of the engineering and technology behind the device,” said Yeschick. “She gave me high praise for the concept and suggested that I continue to pursue this idea because she thinks it has great potential for commercialization.”

After all of the students presented their final projects, they were able to ask questions and discuss the challenges and opportunities that Grandin sees for people with ASD.

“Something that stuck out to me is that Temple believes that people with ASD should focus on showcasing their unique strengths,” said Yeschick. “She believes that they should show people the amazing things you can do as opposed talking about challenges and difficulties.”